Ulterior Motives: Everybody Has One

November 28, 2010 § 7 Comments

As I get older, things become less simple. Family parties lose their glitz & glamor, friendships become tainted with divisions, and problems in my family show up acutely. I am helpless to change most of those and reluctant to take on the rest. But these are some of my observations from the past week:

1. Before coming home for Thanksgiving break, my mom told me that our family friend, a guy who had stayed at our house over the summer while I traipsed around Asia, was going to visit again. She EXPRESSLY warned me not to see him as boyfriend material. It was the first forewarning I’ve ever received, and I laughed. Really hard. He’s 25 and goes to IU in Pennsylvania? Let’s call him JS for short.

i. “He booked his plane tickets for Saturday through Tuesday,” mother told me. “Apparently he didn’t know which day was actually Thanksgiving. He’s been in America for a year and a half — how can anyone be that dumb?”
“Is he good-looking?” I asked.
“No. And he’s short, too.”

ii. My mother’s a blunt woman, but she’s usually not that harsh, especially with people whom I haven’t met before. It seems like she said those things to deter me, even though JS is actually a somewhat distant cousin of mine. C’mon mom! I have SOME standards.

2. Is it REALLY possible to think that Thanksgiving occurs on the weekend? Yes, but what kind of person neglects to look into this matter before booking plane tickets?? I didn’t get to know JS that well, but I figure maybe he didn’t want to stay for the whole week. I mean, all he did was play basketball with my dad and watch my brother play COD. My family’s really not that fun.

3. When mother and I came home from shopping on Monday, we expected dinner to be somewhat ready. After all, it was 5:35, and my mom specifically directed me to call my dad to remind him that dinnertime was 5:30. Instead, we found an empty kitchen table, my hungry brother playing XBox grumpily on the couch, and my dad & JS playing ping pong in the basement.

i. One reason I love watching Desperate Housewives is because despite all the drama [or perhaps because of it], petty feuds and occasional scandals, I learn from it. Lynette and Tom Scavo have stuck together despite all the children, his mid-life crisis, etc. I figured that my dad was just pulling a Tom and was happy to have found a new buddy, especially since his own son refuses to go anywhere or do anything [e.g. Larry spent their 3-week summer trip to China at my grandparents’ house playing on his iTouch, which was bought as a bribe to even go in the first place].

ii. Later, my dad told me what he thought of JS.
“Do you really like him or something?” I asked when we were alone in the car.
“Did you know that his father is overseas?” he replied. I shook my head.
“After JS was born, his father really wanted to go abroad,” my dad continued. “He couldn’t get into America, so he went to Hungary. I’m not sure if he meant to stay there, but he met another woman there and married her.” My eyes widened. “He basically cut off all contact with his family, and JS’s mother hasn’t even known her husband’s location since then. She can’t divorce him because he isn’t deceased. If I’m able to provide a bit of fatherly attention to JS, I’m happy to do it.”

4. My mom got pissed the moment she saw the empty kitchen and remained pissy throughout our dinner of hotpot.

i. The next day, she told me that she wasn’t planning to invite JS back for Christmas break.
“I heard your dad asking JS when his winter break started, but I need to have a talk with him,” she explained. “You saw how he ignored his own hungry son to go play ping pong. That is unacceptable.”


Every time I come home from school, things feel cheerful and relaxed. But time & time again, I realize that nothing at home changes. My mom still gets angry at every little thing, my dad lets his frustration build up, and there’s a total lack of communication. Before we left for our final dinner engagement of the week, the two of them had an all-out screaming match in the kitchen. Then mother came outside, where I was watching my white breath dissipate into the rays of the sunset, and took it out on me.

“Why can’t you ever do something useful? You just stay holed up in your room all day while you know your father and I are working hard in the kitchen!”
Whatever, mom! If you and dad insist on behaving like screaming children, it’s not my job to get in the middle of it.

It started before I woke up. By the time I went downstairs at 1:30PM, mother was on her way out the door.
“Where are you going?”
“The YMCA.”
“Where’s dad?”
“I don’t know.” She was curt. He returned from the YMCA five minutes after she left.

Right before we all piled into the car to go to someone else’s house, mother insisted that we take a family photo in the living room with our new Canon T1i. My brother, as usual, had to be dragged downstairs and basically acted like an asshole the whole time, rolling around on the ground refusing to get in the picture. Mother & father both tried to handle the situation from their respective places by the Christmas tree and behind the camera but just ended up frustrated at each other.

“Why do we have to take a stupid family picture?” Larry whined.
“Look at the one we took four years ago,” mother replied, gesturing to the frame sitting by the front door. “You looked so happy in that one!”

But he refused to play along with the façade, and it was yet another reminder that no matter how much mother wants us to try to fake it for the camera, deep inside we all know that this family has been dysfunctional for years. I just thought that my parents would have at least mellowed out with age, but clearly something like that will take more than just passing time.


§ 7 Responses to Ulterior Motives: Everybody Has One

  • mrarr0gant says:

    1. Just because JS has been in America year and a half doesn’t mean he’s going to embrace everything American.

    2. Why does your brother sound like he’s in his terrible 2 stage?

    3. Your mom sounds like a perfectionist

    4. I like your father’s mentality of trying to be one of the father figures in JS’s life. That’s extremely important

    5. Ping Pong table in the basement? So Chinese! Lol

    6. When you’re older and wiser you’ll cherish your family more, even if they’re messy and dysfunctional.

  • jolly says:

    I hate to say it, but it sounds very similar to what my family’s like (we even have a ping pong table too! only not in the basement… lol)

    Maybe parents are just afraid. Their power is weakening, their grip on us is loosening. They’re losing control. And rather than accepting and letting ago, they’re choosing to fight it.

    A stranger told me, “Well, you need to be the change you want to see. You can be the one to start the communication, to turn that unhealthy power-based relationship around into a more open one.” This guy was European so of course I thought, “puh-leese. what do you know about being Asian and opposing centuries of traditional values?” I guess what I was really thinking was, “It’s going to be damn hard; do I want to go through all that pain?”

    And according to this er, wise guy, “Parents can freak out a lot, but when you get older, like in your 30’s, they start learning from you. They mellow out.”

    OK so I totally babbled but just wanted to share this tidbit with you.

  • jay says:

    your friend came on the weekend because plane tickets are cheaper then. he knows exactly when thanksgiving is (you don’t think there’s people around him who ask him what he’s doing for thanksgiving?).

    thats a sweet gesture by your dad, but you don’t change years of parental neglect over a weekend. that kid only looks out for himself and has a “take what i can get” mentality (probably why your mom said what she said). who’s to blame him? he pretty much grew up as an orphan.

    laura i’m glad you’re learning about people’s motives.

    always remember: if anyone has a reason to lie, then they probably are lying.

    what i can’t figure out is what he had to gain by spending time at your house. did his dorm close and he needed a place to crash??? or was he trying to hit on you? help me out here, it’s bugging me.

  • kaiti says:

    wow. jay makes a good point about the plane tickets. never thought of that. but i think there’s a chance that a Chinese guy whos been here for 1.5 years wouldn’t know when Thanksgiving is. I make assumptions and like to think about every possibility, but i never settle on a conclusion without sufficient evidence, which i feel like my mother does a lot when she assumes the worst in people.

    I think your dad.. I guess maybe his priorities are kind of out of order.. which is like my dad too. but his intentions are good. or maybe he prioritizes some quality time with JS over an on time dinner.

    I guess my parents are like a less severe version of your parents. My mom is usually the one yelling and criticizing my dad. My dad just stays quiet and takes it. But usually.. it is cuz my dad did something wrong, but my mom takes the lecturing too far and I think she gets really caught up in the anger. I agree with the thing jolly shared.
    I’m usually the referee when this happens. Even when I used to live away from home..sometimes my parents would each call me separately when they have a fight and complain to me and tell me to tell the other to do this or that or stop doing this or that. The other night i came home and my mother was yelling at my father for something. And I told her to stop yelling and repeating the same insults. Then she started to complain to me about what my dad did wrong. And so I explained to my dad what he did wrong..and he gave his reason..and of course as the judge, i give my perspective on whos right whos wrong on what. And they’ll simmer down after that. -_-
    I feel like married couples get into a sort of pattern when theyre fighting that it’s hard to break out of unless there’s some sort of intervention. Like for my parents, my mom will be the aggressor and yell and stuff-repeat the same things over and over again unnecessarily and throw insults..and my dad just sits there and take it. And that’s unhealthy and annoying, so i try to break them out of that moment at least.

    But it seems ur mother is a more formidable wmoan than my mother. My mother is a bit scary when shes angry, but other than that.. shes pretty good and listens to me on things. So yeah i dont know what u should try to do.

    My mother complains about some of our family friends too..our mothers are picky.

  • […] was clearly atypical, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. At least he was a lot cuter than our last house guest. My parents set him up in the guest room and we all went to […]

  • […] families of random people (maybe because they usually seem much closer to one another than my own dysfunctional immediate family), so I appreciated the opportunity to observe his kinsfolk in their natural […]

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