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I am my father's daughter: Life lessons from my dad

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JULY 13, 2023

This past Father’s Day I went back to the bittersweet place I call home. It’s always weird coming back to your hometown — it holds so many memories, both nostalgic and cringeworthy. What I never expected was noticing that my parents would look older every time I came home. It’s started to make me sad seeing them this way; having lived with them for 18 years, you sort of see them as existing outside of the realm of aging and time, until you move away and now they look different. It’s all such a weird feeling. Seeing my father age at what looks and feels like such a rapid pace has made me see him in a different perspective. He was always this monumental figure to me — larger than life, untouchable and unmoved. Seeing him become visibly older has made me realize the special nature of my upbringing, his sacrifices and lessons and, selfishly, that he has lived a life and transformed into a person much beyond just being my dad.

Like many daughters and fathers, my dad and I didn’t get along when I was younger. I was rebellious and dumb and especially because my dad was an immigrant, he had expectations for me that I resented him for. I hated when people would say how similar we are, but I’ve come to realize with forgiveness and perspective, I really am my father’s daughter.

My dad is the coldest and meanest person I know, and I love him for it. He’s always been a straightforward and blunt person, never shying away from what I needed to hear, nor affected by what others had to say about him. He taught me to never let someone get to me, and to learn and master my craft at any cost. He’s a refugee from Vietnam. He sacrificed so much for me to be here, and he made sure that I knew that. It’s a heavy burden to hold, attempting to accomplish something worthy of all he has given up for me, but rather than achieving the actual goal, I think he just wanted to see me try. My work ethic is a reflection of his. 

Being an immigrant, he had it really rough entering the workforce in America. He was never able to go to school in Vietnam and his English still isn’t too good. But, he never let anyone see him as lesser because of it. Throughout my youth my dad would tell me not to take anyone’s sh*t. He’s always been the guy others underestimated, and he never wanted me to feel this way. He always wanted me to be the best so that no one ever questioned what I was capable of, something he battles with too often. He has instilled a confidence in me that I found has grown within my personality with a great boldness — against struggle and insecurity, I can at least say I try with full force. I put in effort to the best of my ability because anything short would be a discredit to myself — and to him. 

Because of this sternness from my father, I grew up wondering if he ever really liked me. I knew he loved me, greatly even, but I didn’t know if he liked who I was becoming and if in a different reality we would be friends. I was always so sure of this friendship between fathers and daughters in the households of my peers — they would spend time together outdoors or have a hobby they did together. My dad and I didn’t really have this. He works a lot and I always remember him as being tired. But, I look back and think of the moments we shared, and they’re always over a shared meal. 

Food is a major part of East Asian culture, as my dad was never too tired to cook. After working sometimes 10 hours a day, my brother and I always had the most delicious home-cooked meals, ones that we often helped make. I’ve grown to realize my dad actually does like me because of the conversations and stories we share as we eat. No matter what silly arguments we were having, it was always set aside. I’ve learned everything I know about him during these moments — sometimes difficult memories that he only feels comfortable sharing over the food of his home country. I think this is how my dad shows that he cares, rather than with words, he takes care of people with food, something sacred and special to him that he is willing to share.

The most special thing about my dad is what he’s taught me about gratitude. He is a religious man, I am not. I always thought it was silly to thank someone other than yourself for the goodness in your life, much less a higher power. But, I think he views escaping a war-torn home and having more in America than he’s ever dreamed possible as a life many people die for and some kind of miracle. There is something beautiful in the way your life changes so drastically beyond comprehension that you must be thankful, indebted even, toward something bigger than yourself. I was always embarrassed by my family — by our Asian-ness and lack of money in comparison to wealthy white suburbia. I feel incredibly ashamed for ever viewing my life as something less of a miracle. Our lack of sameness is actually so rich in culture, sacrifice and love. My dad is so proud of me for going to UC Berkeley. While I feel different and inept, his pride and gratitude for what I’ve been able to accomplish pushes me to be thankful instead, to bask in what I was able to do instead of worrying about what I have yet to complete. 

I always thought my dad was this grumpy old man who just never understood me. In typical teenage fashion, my angst and stubbornness made me villainize my father for simply wanting me to be a better student and a better person. I wanted to just be young and careless, but my dad always knew I was destined for more. I am so proud to be my father’s daughter.

Contact Mary Huynh at 


JULY 13, 2023