During this awkward time, my Dad was frustrated with his oldest son–that's me. He found little benefit in my impersonations of Richard Pryor or when I told people I met that I was Viet Cong. He found these unfunny comedic pursuits and my less than stellar performance in the classroom reason to be concerned. Being a classic Asian Dad, a man of few words, he would say pointed things from time to time leaving the interpretation to the imagination of his children. One of these poignant moments changed my life.
Dad always told us, the four kids, always to represent the family, to not embarrass the family name, and to be polite but quiet. There is a Japanese concept/value called enryo. It is a giant cultural concept that means self-discipline, self-sacrifice, no-ego, and modesty. But when uttered by a parent it meant, do not touch, ask for, eat anything when visiting someone else's home. Restrain all needs. Defer to others. My parents would say "Enryo!" You can see how this would clash with the good ole American values of rugged individualism, me-first, assert yourself, take control, and lead!
When people came over, especially my parents friends, my Dad requested we greet, shake hands
, and then quietly retreat to our rooms. This was a confusing request in the enryo
world in which we were raised. So we rarely obeyed this command. This was embarrassing to my Dad. After the umpteenth time we did not comply, Dad called my brother and me into the kitchen. As the oldest, I got the brunt of it. As teens we were stupidly inattentive even when our lives were at stake. My father railed against our incorrigible behavior. My brother Mitch and I looked at our shoes and this enraged Dad more. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pulled me onto my tiptoes. He stared me down, as Mitch moved to the furthest and safer corner of the kitchen. Dad said, "Do you know why I want you to do this?–say hello to our friends, shake their hands?" It's because I was never a public
person. My career has been hurt by my inability to make speeches and meet people. You have to be public
people to be successful in America." We had no idea what he meant. We just knew we disappointed him. It was not until much later I realized that being a public person
was being comfortable and confident networking and making presentations. For my Dad, through his experiences of post WWII assimilation, humiliation and prejudice, he never felt fully accepted or welcomed in the business world. He partly blamed himself for his inability to acquire these skills. Nevertheless, my Dad was very successful in his work, and as a father, but he wanted a better life for his kids. And this was one of the many ways he guided us.