A few months an excerpt from the Wallstreet Journal caught my eye: “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which was written about Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother/lawyer/author about her controversial parenting guide titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.
While the general population took great offense to what her book had to say, in many ways I completely related to her experiences and even further, the excerpts lead me to a moment of clarity about the constant conflicting relationship with my father. I was that girl who practiced piano an hour a day, attended summer school every year since I was 4 and when homework was done, there was more assigned work -- ranging from advanced math problems to memorizing new vocabulary words.
While my mom was mostly in charge of teaching me manners, how to maintain a household and how to cook, my dad was in charge of school work, piano and art. I’d remember he’d be so intense about grades – “Straight As or nothing!” Any time I knew I had a possible B coming up on a report card I’d cry on the way home, my stomach would be wrangled with anxiety. I remember one time I even tried to smudge my B with an eraser – “Joy what does this say? Why can’t I see this letter??” I never got away with anything.
And that’s what it’d always felt like -- I was a constant disappointment and everything I ever did always felt like it was never good enough. It was always “You know, Nancy’s son Michael, he’s going to Duke and making $70,000 a year from stock, how come you don’t do this?” or “You hear about Jenny? She won 4 piano contests. FOUR how come you do not win?” For the longest time I held that grudge against my father, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he couldn’t be a positive parent like all my non-Chinese friends’ parents were. It seemed as if my friends could do no wrong, if they made a B they never got grounded or yelled at – some even got money for Bs. At school recitals the parents would always congratulate them on what a good job they did while my dad would point out “I heard that mistake towards the middle.” They even didn’t have to practice, like ever – while I had to be stuck at home on weekends playing endless hours of scales, chords, and Bach.
But then that moment of clarity hit me like a ton of bricks: it was never about him being disappointed in me, it was his hope that his daughter could exceed what he felt were her own limitations. He pushed me because he wanted me to reach my personal best and I was just too afraid. Afraid of failure, afraid of disappointment, whatever it was, I often regret for not trying harder. My parents came to the states at the end of the Cultural Revolution with one goal in mind: to succeed in this new country and provide a promising future for their child. There was no time for fancy family vacations, birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese, or new outfits every season; instead the money was saved for my piano lessons, summer school and all the books I could possibly want.
Sure there were problems with some of my parents’ parenting styles, but what parent is perfect? They try with their best intentions with all the hope that their children will have a good future. When Collin and I settle down to have kids, I hope to combine the best of our two cultures, The Eastern and the Western, into something beautiful.
I wished for my parents to adopt Western parenting so much as a child and I realized it was mostly for the constant open affection: the I Love Yous, the hugs, the kisses. Whereas Eastern parenting mostly lacks such affection – for my dad to utter I love you would be like pulling teeth. I remembered my mom being almost embarrassed when I’d give her hugs and kisses but after years of my constant coaxing she now hugs me so hard sometimes it hurts (she has ungodly strong arms).
With Eastern parenting it’s the constant push and discipline with just the right amount of negativity, enough to drive the child’s need to be the best and dedicate themselves fully to any tasks they commit themselves to. I wanted to quit piano so many times as a child but my parents never let me until I left the house, I didn’t understand why until now. My god do I thank them for it. Dad might’ve been tough on me but now I understand why he’d accept nothing less, because his daughter has half his brain and anything with half his genes has to be damn smart because he is by far the most intense and studious man EVER (he really is). But what I learned from him is to never settle for mediocrity and to commit every ounce of yourself to a task you’ve committed your heart to and excel at it.
This cookie recipe made me think of dad: a soft, crumbly ginger spiced cookie with a bold dark chocolate ganache. Though during my childhood (especially during adolescence) we often butted heads, what started off bitter ended up sweet. The heart mends itself when you allow it to feel compassion towards others and being able to relate to other perspectives besides your own.
Ingredients for Ginger Shortbread Cookies with Dark Chocolate Ganache (about 18 sandwich cookies)
Prep time: 15 minutes; Total cooking time: 1 hour
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped crystallized ginger, plus ¼ cup for garnish
- 1 tablespoon raw sugar
Combine flour, sugar, spices and salt in medium bowl. Combine crystallized ginger and 1 tablespoon sugar on work surface; chop finely.
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Add orange zest and vanilla. Beat in crystallized ginger mixture. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions. Transfer dough to floured work surface and divide it in half into two 6-inch logs. Shape each log into 2x1x6-inch-long rectangular log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets and cut 1/3-inch-thick pieces from each dough log. Transfer the cookies to prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart (cookies will spread slightly during baking). Mix raw sugar and reserved ¼ cup of chopped crystallized ginger in small bowl, set aside. Place cookies in oven and after 10 minutes sprinkle sugared ginger mixture on top of cookies and bake until golden brown on edges, about 8-10 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets, about 3 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer cookies to racks. Cool completely and sandwich with Dark Chocolate Ganache.
- 8 ounces of high quality dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling, about 3-4 minutes. Immediately pour hot cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth and allow to cool for 10 minutes before spreading.