By great fortune I met Bijay and his family. My last night in this hostel, Bijay emailed me inviting me to stay with his family. Bijay got an email from Robert, who I stayed with in Johannesburg. Robert is married to Marina. Marina is old friends with Jon, and Jon’s son, Max, is a friend of mine from Vanderbilt. Thanks to all of these people, I moved from a $3 hostel in Bangkok to an apartment with home-cooked meals. Bijay and his family also made each of these interviews possible. In this first interview, I spoke with Pat, a colleague of Bijay's:
I’ll try to give you advice, but you just take the information and make your own decision because the environment is very different.
He didn’t even finish high school, and then he moved to Thailand. When he came here he had to work to get money for food on a daily basis. My dad is away from his family. When he came to Thailand, he could not be a kid anymore. He would sleep with the family at night, but during the day he was out of the house away from his family finding another job. My grandpa was a dressmaker for men, and my grandma was a housewife. My dad wanted to learn to be a dressmaker to make a living but he had to find other opportunities. There was nothing inThailand back then except for agriculture. He worked for someone taking care of a pig all day. That was the biggest struggle for him. He told me he was thinking, “Is this what life is going to be like? If so, for how long. My dad asked the owner of
a gas station with the same last name, even though he didn’t know him, if there is any opportunity available for him. My dad told him they were family, and he became an employee for this man. He started by pumping gas and now he owns a gas station.
I followed my dad everywhere. My mom focused more on the boys, which I don’t judge her. I accept it. My older brother is the oldest and my parents would show everyone that they have a boy. That’s number one and very important in that age. Here comes number two and I’m female. So they are not so glad, but my dad carried me everywhere. Maybe he liked having a girl. If he put me somewhere, I would stay there and watch him not moving. I remember when he was the owner of the gas station, and he felt like he had to know how the engine works. I just sat beside him and learned what he was doing. I was just happy to be there.
This project is called "Spending Time with Your Father". Pat really enjoyed that time. In this next interview with Ko, she did not. My friend Tom, from Vanderbilt, connected us the first week I got to Bangkok. Ko shared her story over some coffee at Siam Paragon Mall:
My dad and I never sit like this and have deep conversations. It’s because of me. I try to avoid deep conversations with him because every time we get into a deep conversation he always asks about Mom.
When he came to see me once at university, my stepmom sat out in the car with her kids, and he asked about Mom. I said, “No, stop. I don’t want to talk about this.” He would continue to say, “How is your mom?” And I would always say, “Stop, I don’t want to make this meal bad.” I know he really cares about Mom. When I’m back home, I ask Mom, “Do you want to know about Dad? He asked me about you.” Mom would always say, “No, I don’t want to hear.” I feel uncomfortable when he asks me about Mom. I feel that when Mom talks to me it’s private. We talk about money status, good careers, and even her students because she’s a teacher. Even when she talks about her good students I still feel like it’s a secret between my mom and me. I would feel like I betrayed her even if I told something little about her to Dad because I know my mom doesn’t want me to tell him anything. My dad is not like my mom at all in these situations. With Mom, when I say, “I don’t want to talk about this.” She’d say, “When you’re ready,
then come talk to me.” With Dad, we’re not together and he’ll always want to know about my life. I get it.
You have to make your children feel like you’re their safe person. Trying to be a good dad is so hard. For my dad, when I say, “I don’t want to talk about this.” He keeps asking, and after I see the same behavior I know I should avoid being alone with him. Don’t make your children try to avoid being with you. When they are with you, they should feel safe to be quiet. Walk together or sit together and you already feel good and comfortable not talking. I think it’s better than you trying to ask. I think it’s better than a dad trying to ask because maybe your daughter is in a very bad mood. She wants to cry and doesn’t want to say anything. Just shut up and let her. At school, you might be in a very bad mood from your teacher. When you come home and complain about the teacher, the very first thing I want to hear from my dad is that he is still by my side. We should blame the teacher together. I know it’s bad, but when you get in a very bad situation, even if you are wrong, you want someone by your side. The next day, she might be calm and then dad can talk to her.
Pat and Ko walked away from their time spent with their dad with different impressions. For Pat, she loved their time together. For Ko, she avoided it. I do not know exactly what led to Pat and Ko’s different experiences so that a dad reading this can see exactly what to do with their family. One can only ask, “How am I doing as a dad?” I interviewed a lady who said she would sit with her 8 year-old daughter and ask, “How am I doing as a mom?” If Ko’s dad asked this and really listened, he could have turned their experience around and they would bother be much more content with their relationship.
Ko said it best: You have to make sure your children feel like you are their safe person. A safe person is someone to talk to when you need them and will not force you to talk until you are ready.