Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hollowed Space

By Tuan Nguyen

The money my father earned through hard work left me with an empty feeling inside

“Tuan, this is the last time I’m going to tell you, you better clean the house.” said my father.

“I’ll do it later,” I replied.

“Later?” he said. “Why don’t you just make some money and hire a maid to do it. Then you don’t have to worry about it!”

Coming from a blue-collar background, my father constantly reminded me of the importance of money. It was 18 years ago that he arrived in this country, carrying me in one arm and his hopes and dreams on the other. It was upon arriving in the advertised land of opportunity that he quickly learned that green paperbacks were the only ticket towards upward mobility. It was rough in the beginning. My father was forced to scrap and save in hopes of providing us with a better home. A family of four, we shared a bedroom in which we all slept together, never separated by more than a few inches apart. We did not have much except the daily warmth and undying devotion for one another.

Through diligence and sacrifice, his hard work paid off and newfound success smiled upon us, changing our lives forever. As our new home quickly filled with all the luxuries and amenities the newly reaped profits and investments could afford, it seemed to become emptier to me. Money soon became a substitute for our slowly vanishing relationships.

Lazy Sundays spent with him at the Japanese gardens feeding goldfish were replaced by late nights at the store and a brand spanking new widescreen television. The once friendly dinner table where our lives were intertwined through bowels of rice porridge and bean sprouts was abandoned for meals in seclusion. We ate not together, but in our own rooms. The doors and the walls sealing us off in our own separate worlds, closing us off from one another, and hence leaving only a bad taste lingering inside of me.

It was not until I left home for college that I was able to fully comprehend what was happening. You see, I lived on the inside and my father lived on the outside. Standing on the hilltop of the university, I am able to look out and see all the possibilities my brick and ivy education has opened up for me.

As for my father, his world existed outside the realm of textbooks, computers, and resumes. He is a metaphoric throwback to the primordial days when men dragged in their dinner by the horns. While he took pride in being a provider and protector of the family, he was also poisoned by the romanticized American ideals of status and success. He was mesmerized by the respect, power, and admiration that the almighty dollar commanded.

Although crippled by a lack of education and shouldering a wife and kids, he never loosened his grip on his bourgeois dreams. His unceasing obsession with joining the ranks of the genteel upper class lead him down the destructive path of a new car lease every year, and lavish d�cor for our mortgaged house. He was climbing a stairway with no end in sight, yet he never thought to look back at what he left behind.

For my father, money and success became the measure of his manhood and happiness. But for me, money came to represent the happiness I was deprived off. I saw how the spell of consumerism by media driven Lexus and Mercedes commercials consumed my father and I vowed never to let it do the same to me. I am grateful for the opportunities my dad’s blood, sweat, and hard work provided me, but what I do will be dictated by my thirst and passion, not by the color of green. My father still calls from time to time, sometimes even asking if I’ve been keeping my place clean. I tell him that I do, but more importantly, I must make sure it’s never becomes empty.

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