Saturday, December 15, 2012

Resolving Family Conflict Chinese-style


That summer, Pa and Ma visited us in America after Yuni had returned to the Seattle area from his job in California. Pa was having problems with his eyes. They were sore, and sometimes he had trouble keeping them open. We got a referral from my grandmother to her ophthalmologist and took him for a number of exams. The ophthalmologist could not find anything wrong, except that he had dry eyes, so she prescribed eye drops and encouraged him to buy sunglasses to protect his eyes in Taiwan’s fierce sunlight. 

While the visit was ostensibly about Pa’s health problems, he also had two other reasons for wanting to speak with us. First, he wanted to see if he could persuade Yuni to allow me to see my father, and second, he wanted to talk to us about adopting Elder Sister’s daughters, Sheep and Monkey, because they were having trouble in school after the shock of losing their father. Since it was summer, Yuni had quite a bit of work. He was remodeling a bathroom for some friends and laying marble floor-tile in a large old house on Capitol Hill in Seattle. While he was gone, Pa asked me about the situation with my dad.

Pa was hoping to find someone in my family to work with him in traditional Chinese style. If you recall, when my sisters-in-law had problems with their in-laws, they moved back in with Pa for several months. Then Pa and Yuni negotiated with the in-laws to resolve the problems. Pa thought that if my dad’s brother and my brother would be willing to come out to broker a dĂ©tente between my dad and Yuni, he and Ma could place pressure on Yuni to call off his “grandchild embargo.” Unfortunately, my uncle lived in California and my brother in New York. We decided that it would be too much to call on either of them to travel to Seattle for this purpose. As a back-up plan, Pa had brought gifts for my father, which he then demanded that Yuni allow me and the girls to deliver with him and Ma. Yuni said it would be okay as long as my dad’s girl friend was not present. My dad was not amenable to that condition and insisted that since they were getting married soon, his fiancĂ©e should be able to meet my in-laws. When Pa and Ma tried to force the issue with Yuni, he threatened to deny them monetary support during their retirement. And this ended their attempts to restore our relationship with my father. While Yuni was at work one day, Pa and Ma apologized to me for allowing Yuni to be spoiled as a child by his grandmother. They confessed to being unable to control him, and they baldly stated that they would need his support in their old age, so they were afraid of offending him more. I appreciated their efforts and told them not to worry about it. 

Yuni’s ox temper became more deeply entrenched. When we mentioned his sisters and reminded him how their relationship with Pa was so important to their marriages, he countered with the story of the Chinese friends whose bathroom he was remodeling. They were northern Chinese who had moved to Taiwan and then to the US. Their daughter-in-law had not been allowed to return to see her parents in Taiwan for the ten years that they had lived in the US, and she was only allowed one thirty-minute phone call with her parents every month. Pa said that the Liu family had no such rules, but Yuni just growled and glowered at him. 

In the end, Pa became quite depressed about the conflict with his son. Ma quickly suggested that we work on the applications to adopt Monkey and Sheep and that we stop discussing anything related to my “unfilial” father. I was doing a translation job for a client working with an immigration attorney in Seattle, and the attorney gave me the forms and instructions for adopting children as a professional courtesy. He also gave us a list of all the documents we would need, and my sisters-in-law sprang into action getting the documents from the Taiwanese government and having them delivered to me to be translated. In order to qualify financially, we needed to pay off our home mortgage, and all the siblings in the family pooled their money so that we would be debt free. Pa gave us the money to pay off our car loan on the van.

Yuni finished up his two jobs, and before starting his next project, he took off work for ten days so that we could drive down to California with Pa and Ma to visit my mother. We drove down along the Oregon Coast and then spent a week with my mother in Long Beach, CA. We took Pa and Ma to Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Sea World. Pa was not happy. The sun in California was bothering his eyes, he was worried about Elder Sister, and he was annoyed at Yuni for not giving him face in the situation with my father. It was the most unpleasant ten days I have ever spent with Pa and Ma. Yuni also registered his father’s displeasure, but instead of giving in, he refused to talk to them on the phone after their return to Taiwan, and Ma later reported that he failed to send them money the next Chinese New Year. 

I was stunned to learn that Yuni had turned on his parents because they had supported me. I was also pretty angry, but I didn’t let him know it. If he thought that his “ox temper” could win the day in the family, I was going to go mano a mano with my “ox temper.” I, too, was born in the Year of the Metal Ox, and I could be just as stubborn as he. But my stubbornness would be in taking the course of Chinese feminine virtue. I would wear him out by my feminine endurance, just as Elder Sister was planning to endure in her situation with her in-laws. It took three years before Yuni allowed me to speak to my dad again, and it took almost five years for him to allow my kids to spend time alone with their maternal grandfather, but in the end, the relationship was healed.

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