My grandfathers on both sides had one thing in common. When Mao took the country, they took to running. That’s the end of the similarities. Howthey fled tells two different stories.
My mom’s folks left a life of superb affluence to forge anew in Taiwan. Assets, properties, possessions- all left behind. I cannot imagine those fearful, uncertain times that shook the region. A desire for life and liberty was undoubtedly a driving force in their decided course. They would come to live a simple life. Crowded, hot apartment. Concrete floors. Decrepit motorbike. They lived far below their means as to give their children and our family as much as they could- even though we didn’t need it and were living extravagantly by comparison here in the States.
Meanwhile, in Mao’s ascension, my father’s father would be facing jail or death due to his career and political position. He left behind his son, my dad. His flesh and blood, his only son. My dad was left wandering the Chinese countryside searching for family, nearly starving to death. Growing up, I couldn’t conceptualize it. What was almost more mind-boggling was how my father harbored no resentment. He figured his dad did what he had to do; it “was what it was.”
As I entered adolescence we saw this grandfather more, to include cohabitating. I never got the sense he had “lost” much. He had assets overseas, in the US and Canada. He had financial wealth and family on multiple fronts who lived with him and provided care in his declining health. He still had my dad’s loyalty. It made me a confused child, later a frustrated young man. Despite his father’s life with affluent position and comfort, my father was one of the most frugal people I have ever known due to the personal hardship he endured. He was emotionally unsupportive. This laid the foundation for how he was- how he wasn’t a family man.
Uncertain times for two fellow countrymen, faced with the same adversity. What different paths they took. The motivators were the same: Legacy. The difference is, to one man, his legacy was about self. Himself. His name. His son (only for the means to carry it). Arguably, me for the same reason. For them, when you have family, their duty is to you. Regardless of how you raised (or didn’t raise) them. Self.
In the other corner, my mom’s dad, Ti. His legacy was his family. His children- his children’s children. We were his greatest joy, our wellbeing his ultimate priority. No name of his to be carried on. It didn’t matter. For him, it was clear that duty went in the other direction. We were his responsibility.
These decisions created ripples that shaped several generations to come. I reflect and wonder what would be- what wouldn’t be if things had been different. If both men had taken the road of self-preservation. My parents were shaped by direct result of the critical choices made. I was shaped, just the same.
I feel fortunate that with age, experiences, and (dare I say?) maturity, I have made progress on clearing the lens by which to view these factors. To continue to analyze, reflect on my family history- as it serves as the Foreword in my “Life’s Story.” So that I can form my own outlook to best serve my wife and child today.
We have been in uncertain times... for quite some time. We all have choices in how we respond to the unprecedented stressors of today: the politics, the media, the strife. The Us vs. Them in every flavor of every issue. We have to remember our actions will have intended and unintended consequences. How we process our fears and determine our course will not only have a direct impact on our lives- but those that are connected to us by proximity and time.
For our families. For generations to come.
It will be our legacy.