By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The Asian men we talked with, however, still felt that the best way to be respected and have an important relationship with children was to strive for success at work.”
The following quote comes from “Coming to America: Asian Fathers Cross Cultures,” a 2003 article that was a multi-collaborative effort by undergraduate students at Brigham Young University (BYU) from the BYU Department of Psychology.
When I started researching for this article, I didn’t think the response would be as tepid as it has been. Aside from some privacy issues, I don’t have a problem with writing about my experiences as a single Asian American parent.
However, over the course of trying to get people to speak on record, it became an uphill battle.
The fact is that 42 percent of single fathers are divorced and 39 percent have never married, according to a 2004 U.S. Census report. Within those statistics, a good portion of those men are of Asian and Pacific Islander American descent.
And yet, in the days leading up to the end of my research, e-mails were still left unanswered and questions I had sent to bloggers were met with, “Oh, but I am not single.” This begs the question, am I the only single Asian father willing to talk about his experiences?
Many of my closest friends often noted my devotion to my 5-year-old daughter — nights spent with her at her school, teaching her how to swim, and the occasional ballroom dance sessions in my living room with her Snow White shoes clacking together and my feet turning red from being stepped on — as nothing short of “amazing.” But — and I honestly feel this way — it’s just what I have to do.
I champion my daughter’s sense of self-expression to counterbalance practicality. I’ll gladly take a day off of work to stay home with her when she’s not feeling well, and I’ll sit through a movie or play — no matter how boring it may be — just to see her eyes light up.
I feel like I can always improve as a parent. My ex-wife has set somewhat of a high bar, but luckily for me, we’re still friendly enough where we can help each other out in our roles as parents.
No matter how strong our support system is for our daughter, it doesn’t change the fact that it looks bad on paper and the stigma that comes with it: I’m in my late 20s, divorced, and a single parent. I am the anti-Asian parent in that I’m in the minority within a minority.
“Coming to America” largely cites interviews from men who were born in Asian countries, and there is absolutely no mention of divorce anywhere in the report. Many of the men still referenced old world traditions. Asian cultures, by and large, are fairly conservative. I’ve seen family members feel like they had to marry in secret because of who their spouses were. Divorces were never talked about.
“… American fathers, in contrast with Asian-born fathers, raise their children with the specific goals of independence and individuality,” reads the report. Reading further into “Coming to America,” the authors touch on the fact that Asian-born fathers living in the United States work more toward “balance[ing] between having a relationship with their children and making money.”
As we move forward and entrench ourselves deeper in American culture, there’s something to be said about being able to get to know your family beyond providing for it. While the role of the patriarch has surely shifted in the last few decades, in many Asian homes, it has largely remained intact, with many fathers working hard at the expense of spending time with their kids.
“Coming to America” suggests that this stigma is slowly diminishing. I can only hope that the stigma associated with being a single Asian father will diminish as well.
Cultural heritage is just as important to me as encouraging my child’s individuality, which is why she accompanies me to Pista sa Nayon or any other event that is appropriate for a 5-year-old. The relationship that I develop with her is important to my everyday life.
I realize that for many single fathers, not just Asian American or young fathers, have to fight a stereotype of being deadbeats or not having a large role in their children’s lives. It’s a rather ugly stigma that makes me reluctant to date.
I’d rather maintain the relationships with the people I have around me. When I can’t go out on a Friday or if I have to leave an event at a moment’s notice, I don’t have to explain myself, and I find that all the more comforting. ♦
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.