9: Happiness Is Being a Parent

9: Happiness Is Being a Parent

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Happiness Is Being a Parent

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.

~John Barrymore

The thing that stood out about my family was the fighting. My mother was a fierce, volatile, and determined woman who insisted on being right. When I was five, she left my father in Hong Kong and brought me to the U.S. to start a new life. My stepfather was so emotionally wounded as a child that he lied about his age to join the Navy in order to escape his family. He dealt with his pain by plunging himself into a sea of alcohol. While growing up, I witnessed these two in knockdown, drag-outs that made the Ali/Frazier bouts seem like polite tea parties.

I learned from my family that I shouldn’t have kids; I didn’t have a clue how to be a parent. My mother and stepfather showed me the devastation two people could inflict on each other, and the thought of doing that to my children scared the hell out of me. Besides, who needed that kind of responsibility? So I bailed on the whole concept of being a parent. Deep down, I was afraid I’d be a miserable failure in the most important role anyone could undertake — raising a child.

My wife, Quyen, and I dated two years before getting married. Throughout the course of our relationship, I told her I didn’t want to be a father, and she never tried to change my mind. Still, I understood her desire to be a mother. She came from Vietnam and lived through the horror of the Vietnam War. In the aftermath, her family lost their home, the restaurant business that supported them, and all their possessions to the Communist government. All they had left was each other.

Quyen grew up in a family of eight children and helped take care of her siblings. She cherished the role. Her dream in coming to America was to start a family so she could raise her own kids, yet she still married me knowing my stand on being a parent. This thought always leaves me humbled beyond words.

I remember the day my life changed. Quyen and I attended a friend’s party. Among the guests happened to be a couple with a baby boy. When my wife caught sight of him, she lit up like the angel atop a Christmas tree. She asked to hold the infant and gently cradled him, her expression of unadulterated joy readily apparent at the bundle of life gurgling in her arms.

Quyen stayed with the baby as his parents mingled, and I marveled at how he gazed into her eyes while she sang lullabies. She dabbed dribble from his mouth with a Kleenex. When he cried, she retrieved a bottle from his mom, fed him, and patted his back until he burped. My wife was utterly enraptured. I watched her slowly rock the baby to sleep, his head nestled upon her shoulder like a kitten on its mother’s belly.

I made a decision that night; I would be a father. I still didn’t trust myself to do it right, but I knew Quyen would more than make up for my shortcomings. When we arrived home after the party, I conveyed this to Quyen, and let’s just say a child’s first glimpse of Disneyland wouldn’t have held a candle to the radiance bursting forth from my wife. She pulled me to her and cried the kind of deep, sobbing tears that well up from the core of your being when you experience something that truly matters.

After a time, Quyen clasped my hands as if to impart meaning through her touch. Then she looked at me with an unwavering smile. The sureness in her eyes communicated to me before she spoke. “You’re going to be a great father,” she said.

Today, we are blessed to have ten-year-old Kevin and seven-year-old Kristie in our lives. We named our son after Kevin Costner because Quyen and I loved Dances with Wolves. Kristi Yamaguchi’s grace and artistry on the ice gave us the inspiration for our daughter’s name.

Kevin can spend hours on his Nintendo DS Lite, Wii, or anything video game related. Quyen and I have to set strict guidelines or he’d be playing 24/7. He’s a chatterbox who can’t get enough company. His favorite food is Kirkland macaroni and cheese. He is so sensitive that his eyes tear up when his cousin from Hawaii departs after staying with us for a week.

Once, Quyen and I were discussing our ideal careers at the dinner table and I asked Kevin what he wanted to be when he grows up. My son thought for a moment before proclaiming in complete earnestness, “I want to be a free man. That way I can stay home and play games with my kids all the time.”

Kristie snuggles next to me as I read her children’s books. She unleashes a lilting medley of exasperation if I don’t tell her a bedtime story every night. She teases me by pretending to fall asleep in the car whenever we are driving home from Costco. Her favorite food is microwaved chicken nuggets. When I’m feeling down, she somehow senses it and spends time with me. My funk immediately disappears.

Kristie asked me a question last week. “Daddy, there’s a Father’s Day and a Mother’s Day. How come we don’t have a Kid’s Day?”

To say my children mean the universe to me is an understatement. Put simply, they give my life a purpose and I thank the heavens each and every day for the two most precious gifts a father could ever receive.

~Ray M. Wong

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