A year ago, I wrote that my dad and I worked in the same office, but because of my gender identity and not being out to him, I wasn’t sure how to proceed with a career here. Since then, a lot has happened.
There were a handful of coworkers who knew my dad, knew me, and knew about our relationship. Most of the time, I didn’t even work on anything with them. This changed a few months after my last entry, when one of them ended up working on a new project with me. She was extremely impressed by me, and her being quite a talkative person, actually told my dad.
Then the organization started training all their employees about how to be an LGBT ally. As luck would have it, my dad and I ended up in the same training, and the first exercise was to go around the room and state our preferred name and pronoun. Since I was really uncomfortable with the situation, I didn’t even really say hi to him, but I did state Ryan and he/him/his. I also spoke up in class because there was someone who was asking questions that the trainer was struggling to answer. During our first bathroom break, I was excused from the class.
I knew he wanted to reach out for a long long time to me, but in person he usually ended up doing all the talking and I didn’t feel heard. He always thought he knew what other people were thinking. I didn’t feel that he liked when his kids contradicted him directly (and that would be an understatement). I guess my compromise was to just not be open to him at all.
When my sister finally got my dad to use an iPhone, he really got into messaging people. He started texting me too, in both English and Chinese. I couldn’t figure out how to respond sometimes. Eventually our estranged relationship came up in a text. I told him that I felt his values clashed with mine, and he was hurt that I had chosen “right and wrong” over our relationship.
That was the closest we ever got to talking about it, and unfortunately, it is all that there ever will be–he passed away recently right as he was preparing to retire.
At the funeral, the directors put a white yarn-threaded floral pin in my hair and veil over my head. At some point I think one of them perceived me as a son despite my wearing markers of a grieving daughter. I didn’t say anything because it all seemed rather petty pitted against death and grief.
A lot of his coworkers came out to the funeral and there were so many people we ran out of seats in the chapel. The funeral director was completely unprepared for that kind of turn out because we had chosen to have the ceremony during working hours on a Tuesday right before a holiday. The torrential non-stop rain didn’t stop people from showing up either. Right before the burial, our Chinese Buddhist tradition is to burn folded paper money. We folded a lot of it and were running late, so I had to have some of the co-workers help burn it for us. They told me after they were done that they were saying to him that these were from his son. That was when I had to ask them if he would know who that was. They assured me that he had accepted me…
I lost my shit then and I still kind of lose my shit just thinking about it now. Part of it is grief. Part of it is a small amount of regret that I didn’t really give him a chance. I really didn’t know how to say how I felt when my co-workers checked in with me. I don’t even know how to put it down in writing.
My last year’s resolution was to legally change my name. I procrastinated until the outcome of the elections. Without my dad knowing before he passed, I felt that this would be an act of defiance and avoidance to wait until his death. I felt an urgency to settle my name situation on paper for protection from the uncertainty of these times, but I also no longer felt the dissonance of being a bad family member by doing so because of my co-workers’ assurance.
Before we closed his casket, I promised my dad that I would take care of my mom. She doesn’t really care as much about “filial piety,” but she needs some help from her kids – she doesn’t have wages and isn’t able to have conversations completely in English. There’s also a lot of paperwork and other tasks. I hadn’t realized how my name change would actually complicate that. Although I feel that she doesn’t quite accept my gender, she knows about my name change and accepts it enough for her to bring it up when handling paperwork. I hope I’ll figure out a way for her to be open to the possibility of other future choices I make towards self-actualization…