I know I write a lot about my father, but this post is really about me and some of the (not-so-good) choices I’ve made.
When my father was dying, he talked a lot about some of the things he had lived through: Trying to protect his younger siblings from the brutalities of the Korean War; working hard and sending ALL of his money back to his family, only to have them spend it all and not save a penny for his future; studying so hard at night while working full time during the day that he was spitting up blood from fatigue and lack of nutrition.
My brother asked him: If he could go back in time, what would he have changed?
My father smiled and said: “I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
Even though a few different choices would’ve made his life so much easier, the changes also would’ve meant that he wouldn’t have met my mother and they wouldn’t have had us. The end result, he said, was worth all the hardships he had went through.
As my brother relayed some of these stories during his eulogy, I remember laughing and crying. And I also remember thinking, “I would have done a lot of things differently.”
I would’ve studied harder at university. Maybe I should’ve gone to law school like I had planned. And regardless of where I ended up careerwise, I would’ve been less concerned about getting along with my colleagues and more assertive fighting for my rights.
I also would’ve sued a few people who truly deserved to be caught up in litigation. But, that’s another story all together.
As far as dating was concerned, I would’ve encouraged a couple of really great guys to not let fear prevent them from coming out. And I would’ve excised myself earlier on from a couple relationships that had F-A-I-L-U-R-E written all over them from the get-go.
You know how people talk about how each of their relationships was a valuable learning experience? Yeah. That’s not how I viewed mine. (And why did I have to repeat my experiences, for Pete’s sake?) If I could’ve, I would’ve gone back in time and not wasted those years with boyfriends who weren’t good matches for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I dated some really nice men, who I’m happy to say ended up with truly wonderful partners who are perfect for them. But I also dated some inappropriate men who clearly didn’t like me, much less love me.
To be fair, people change over time and so do feelings.
When my friends lament about some of their relationships, I tell them about a boyfriend who called the police on me.
He had picked a fight with me, accusing me of calling his friends and telling them all his dirty little secrets (he was an alcoholic, he had family issues, etc.). It’s probably telling that I was so accustomed to his wild accusations that I wasn’t phased one bit. (At one point, one of his flings had been calling people pretending to be me. He chose to believe her, rather than me, even though I had Caller ID on my side.)
But when he started making threats to kill himself, I wasn’t sure what to do. Although I didn’t particularly like him at this point, I also didn’t want him to die. I suggested he call his therapist, or at least one of his friends, and talk it out.
Long story short, he was pissed off and said he was going to call the police on me. I didn’t think he actually would, because that was just crazy talk.
But when two officers showed up at his apartment, I was amazed. Not just because this ass had actually wasted the police department’s time, but because of how his demeanor changed. It was Oscar-worthy. He had stopped crying and ranting and morphed into a pleasant, reasonable guy who simply wanted his irrational girlfriend to leave his apartment.
The police weren’t stupid. One of them took me aside and said, “Miss, are you OK? This doesn’t look like our usual domestic disturbance calls.”
I told him that my boyfriend broke up with me and that I was relieved. But, he was threatening to kill himself and I’m not okay with that.
The police officer couldn’t have been nicer. He said, “Think about yourself and your safety. That’s what I’d tell my daughter.”
He was right. I left. It was liberating not to feel responsible for another person’s happiness.
When I told my parents about what had happened, my father was furious. He told me to never stick around when a man is that angry and that my life is worth more than his (to my parents, anyhow!).
Much later, as part of his 12-step program in Alcoholics Anonymous, he would apologize and admit that he had manipulated me.
Honestly? I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad sign that if I was in this kind of relationship today, I would walk away and let him do what he wanted. It would be his choice.
Suicide would come up again later, when I called a good friend to let her know that my father had just died. I was expecting some words of comfort. But instead, she told me about her boyfriend’s mother, who was threatening to kill herself. I went numb as she talked about this, thinking, “My father was struggling so hard to stay alive, and he’s gone.”
I ended up reassuring my friend, who I’m sure was doing the best she could to deal with her situation. And then I helped plan my father’s funeral.
My brother and sister were so much wiser than me when it came to dating. They picked kind, smart, compassionate people to date and later marry. Their relationships were relatively drama-free. The same goes for the man who would become my husband.
As I grew older, I had a few more relationships where men tried to change me — mostly my looks: I was too thin, one said, while another said that I would look so much better if I joined Weight Watchers. But I had little desire to change for them when there was nothing wrong with me.
My standard answer — knowing they’d never do it — was, “Sure, but first, I’d like you to read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ and answer a few questions about it, OK?”
As I age and parts of my body hurt — not because I worked out too hard, but because I woke up funny — I am thankful for being healthy and strong (both physically and emotionally) and for having the family and friends that I have.
It took me a long time to get to where I am today. But I finally grew up enough to make some smart choices.
So, yeah, I guess I do agree with my father, after all. Without having gone through some unpleasant experiences, I wouldn’t appreciate my (relatively) drama-free life today. I wouldn’t have met my husband at a time when we were both unattached (timing may not be everything, but it’s certainly a big part of the equation). And without him, we most certainly wouldn’t have our little boy, who truly embodies all that is good in this world.
Knowing all that I do now, I wouldn’t have changed anything, either.
© 2014 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved
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