I've Made a Huge Mistake

Sometimes I worry if I made a mistake cutting out my family. I know I haven't, but I'm haunted by this thought. I like to do the right thing. I haven't been convinced that I'm doing the wrong thing here. Having been gaslighted for most of my life, I have a hard time trusting my own perception of reality, so sometimes someone else is able to shape it to their own advantage or convenience.

"I didn't let you down. Your expectations were too high."

"It's your own fault for failing."

"You're not unhappy with me, you're just tired and grumpy."

Venturing out into the world without my family is hard because I got used to relying on their advice. Luckily I have close friends whose perceptions and judgement I trust more. Having a group of people who give you advice and support is great because you don't have to develop skills or gain experiences on your own. Living vicariously through someone else's experience, you can imagine a virtual life and gain some insight. It's like reading a book. When I started questioning the accuracy of my family's judgement, I wanted less and less to live in their version of reality, so I wrote my own.

I talked to one friend this week who left his country to live in Canada. He wanted a better life for himself, and he sponsored some of his family over to live in Calgary. Even though I appreciate his perspective, he being a father of two daughters whom he adores and cherishes, he threw me for a loop when he said I should be infinitely grateful to my dad since he brought me to this country to have a better life. Besides, look at how great I turned out. He said he doesn't know what happened between me and my dad, but he said I should always be thankful I'm not living somewhere worse. I smiled and changed the topic.

Even though I know better, it made me feel bad. There are a few layers to unpack. For one, I do appreciate that my dad lives in Canada instead of Vietnam or the US. For another thing, my friend was projecting his own experience onto mine. Maybe he wants his daughters to feel that grateful to him. Either way, he's not really seeing my full situation, which is fine because I didn't want to get into the details either.

Eternal gratitude sounds like it'll take me right into the danger zone. It's a form of power and control. Asians feel a responsibility to take care of their parents in their old age, but what happens when they suck the life out of you and you don't have time, energy, or money to pay it forward to your own kids? I hope when I'm old, my own kids won't feel like I'm a burden. I hope I can still play sports at 90 (and that I make it to 90). I also hope they cut me off if I negligently and recklessly harm and oppress them, refusing to change despite repeated meltdowns, confrontations, and serious sit-down conversations.

My friend also used the excuse that I turned out okay anyways, so what's the harm? I don't think anyone can take credit for me fighting back against a stronger force. If you watched the TV show "Community," there's that episode where an absent father visits his adult son. He walked out when his kid was really young, but then he takes credit for his son's success in life. Similarly, I don't think my dad can take full credit for the positive aspects of my development. Do bullies take credit for their victims fighting back? Should victims be grateful to their attackers for making them stronger for the experience? When life gave me lemons, I made lemonade; call me LêJoncé. As I've mentioned before, I'd rather have an absent father than be manipulated by mine. I won't let my freedom rot in hell. Hey! I'ma keep running 'cause a winner don't quit on themselves.

Further, why should I appreciate living in Canada if, in an alternate reality, my parents chose to live somewhere else? Who's to say that I would still exist? What if they didn't have four kids? What if one of them were a different gender? There is an infinite universe of "what if's" when we play that game, so I don't see the purpose of playing it besides to manipulate me. They gave birth to me, and then some events transpired. Turning the tables, they should be eternally grateful that I didn't turn out worse. Even though I cut them off, they should be happy I didn't do anything worse, like go to jail, drop out of school, get into a ton of debt, or turn out to be a terrible person. Infinite gratitude seems like the real mistake.

I have another friend who has relationships with all my family members yet is unable to accept my family's dark side. It seems outside of his reality that people can operate differently based on context. If they're nice to you, that means they weren't oppressive to me. I'm pretty nice to most people. Do you think I can be hurtful to people I like? You can be uncertain that the sun is shining, but another way of checking is to look for the shadow it casts. You can be uncertain that my dad has the capacity to abuse, but you can look at me to see if I have emotional bruising.

Why should I subject myself to my family's oppression? Why is it better that I suffer? What if I told you that I mistreat my friends in similar ways to how my family mistreated me? There's a saying about working with databases:

Garbage in, garbage out.

That means you can't clean up the data if it's not entered in an organized manner. I was a bully in elementary school. Could it have any link to my dad bullying me? Is it my fault for blowing the whistle or is it his for not taking responsibility for his effect on others?

I worry that I made a mistake. Sometimes I'm handcuffed from moving forward with my life because I don't have people who agree with me. Some problems are so complex they need crowdsourced answers, which I guess is basically the entire premise of all human stories. I worry that I don't understand what true forgiveness is. I worry that I'll face retribution because what goes around comes around; maybe my kids will cut me out one day. I worry that I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015. I worry that choosing my happiness over that of my family was a huge mistake.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le