As with any first love, figure skating never truly left me. Or rather, I never really left it. Every four years I sometimes morph into a pretend pundit for the edification and entertainment of my friends, who are gracious enough to listen to my commentary. However, I’ve had other suitors foisted on me before, by my own parents no less.
Male parent threw out a thought, “What about trying equestrian or golf?”
And I appropriately responded with, “Huh?”
I say appropriate because I had never expressed an interest in either of these activities before. I loved unicorns as much as the next 90’s kid who collected Lisa Frank stationery, I was devastated to be over the socially (and physically) permissible age to ride a pony, but equestrian is serious, no rainbows or ponies allowed. And need I say more about golf?
I would hear him out, since I understood that there must be a rationale. After all, as an accountant in his former life, numbers and logic always had to add up.
“You’re going to be in high society someday, and people in those circles do things like that. You didn’t like tennis, but it’s not too late for these sports.”
My dad was being gracious, for my tennis instructor knew I wasn’t going to be his Li Na after the first lesson. We respected each other’s time and parted ways amicably. My figure skating coach was not so lucky; I stuck around for almost a decade.
My dad continued his explanation, my mom nodding. (Though she likely masterminded broaching the topic.) “If you’re good at golf, you’ll have the respect of other businesspeople and then you can build relationships on the golf course.”
He offered some optionality, another fork in his reasoning. “Equestrian is more athletic though, so maybe you’d enjoy that more. And we live in Texas. There must be somewhere to learn.”
At this point I understood him completely. This was all coming from the same place that prompted him to shut down a passing joke from his colleague that I should start hostessing where they both worked. “She’s not going to work in a restaurant like me.”
Like me. There was a lot embedded in those words.
Like me, who used to be an accountant in one of the best hospitals in Shanghai. Like me, who may have been more than blue-collar middle-class in a country that could be hospitable at times and hostile at others. Like me, who may have become one of those businesspeople playing golf. Like me, who didn’t and who will not let his child feel that she belongs anywhere but in “high society.”
Fortunately, no one in my family has been unemployed for long, but perhaps worse is being underemployed in a job whose requirements one’s education or skills may surpass. (Don’t start about millennial baristas, don’t.) My parents didn’t let it show much, but it would’ve described their status accurately. However, the way they dressed and carried themselves betrayed their convictions that they were of a more “sophisticated” class. (This is also admittedly a side-effect of being Shanghainese; you can verify this with people familiar with the personalities of China’s regions.) On weekend outings with my family, you would never guess that they were waiters.
I’ve picked up many of my dad’s mannerisms in particular. Regardless of his day job, he wanted to look and talk like a boss. Stand tall, shoulders down, speak clearly, show ‘em wass-up. (Latter is entirely my addition.)
Of course, I acknowledge these are all my hypotheses, but I have gathered enough data points to feel confident. These examples aside, my parents proved their executive abilities were as good as any F500 CEO’s by running a household while working long hours. My dad was particularly proud of his neat record and bookkeeping, true to his accountant past. He would use his former training where he could in his life now.
I can’t say for sure, but I guessed that my college admissions provided non-insignificant vindication for years of feeling insecure or inadequate compared to other family and friends. They opted to start waiting in a restaurant immediately instead of trying to redo their education here, but at least I was on the path to joining “high society.” And with a tidy office job now, it would seem that way. Seem!
Without a doubt, I will “disappoint” my parents in one way. I am still not interested in golf, and being thrown off a horse could end any further career I have, equestrian or otherwise.
I prefer to write dinky little blogs.
Thanks for reading! This is the fifth in my series “An Economic-ish Life,” where I write to educate and entertain while attempting to remember and apply my liberal arts education. 🙂 And yes, the series title has changed.
Also published on Medium.