Photo: My father reunited with some of his old friends
My father was born in China as the middle of three brothers. His father rose through the ranks in the local college to become the Dean of Foreign Languages – the only one without a PhD. When he was 16, the Cultural Revolution occurred and young people everywhere were sent to be “re-educated” in rural China.
My father spent his later youth and early adulthood living and working on essentially a rice farm with his brothers. They woke up at dawn, worked in the fields, ate giant bowls of white rice and slept in shacks. Sometimes they would man a concrete boat that carried a massive load of manure on a two-day trip down the river to sell in the market. My father and his brothers would eat and sleep on literally a floating pile of cow dung.
The years went on. Some of my father’s friends lost hope of ever returning to the city and married village girls to settle down. But my father believed things would turn around. Instead of playing cards at night, he would read books and study English. Eventually he got a job as a teacher in a village school and no longer had to work in the fields.
My father’s father worked hard to influence the right people in government and the eldest brother was brought back into the city. Then the youngest. And finally, ten years later, my father returned to his hometown at the age of 26, where he entered college with very little formal education for a decade.
He graduated college, married my mother and bore a son, me. Soon after I was born, he was applying to graduate programs and received a scholarship to study at Boston University’s Graduate School of Education. He moved here, my mother and I followed a year later. We built a new life in America.
Whenever we ran into a hard time, or whenever I’d complain about something, whether it be doing my homework or missing out on a TV show, my father always had a different perspective.
Life was wonderful. We were healthy, happy, had a roof over our heads, clean beds to sleep in and fresh, tasty food to eat. We did not spend days sleeping on a boat filled with feces.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to appreciate his perspective. In comparison to his youth, day to day life in middle-class America seems like paradise. I’m now about as old as my father was when he left the farms and I now understand, there really is nothing to complain about.
Jason Shen | Cultivating Resilience Newsletter
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