“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction.”
“How’s your job at the university going?”
I was having the dreaded weekly phone call with my mom and dad. (Weekly, meaning when they decide to call me after I haven’t dialed their number or responded to their voicemails in three weeks).
“Do you like it?”
“How are the benefits? Dental? 401k? What’s your salary?” I could feel my mom inch her ear closer and closer to the phone in increased excitement at each possible benefit she could list off from my imaginary job. For each bullet, all I could do was sputter a high pitched and ambiguous “They’re goooood”, that trailed off into increasing octaves - a sure tell sign of a white liar as well seasoned as a cast iron pan.
I’ve been working for three months in a restaurant- obviously without a 401k, benefits, or any form of salaried pay. I share a room so I don’t have to worry about not being able to afford rent. I also might have lied to my parents about my actual career. To the ten readers I have right now, hear me out: it all started out as a white lie. White lies are nice - they buy you time to figure out life without the judgment of intrusive parental figures. They give you the freedom to start steering your life in your own direction. They also make you live in cowering fear if you don’t clean that shit up soon. I wish I could give some ennobling excuse, like that I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents their proclaimed golden child, (which I now realize is the kiss of death), has abandoned all of their dreams of pharmaceutical stability to become an hourly servant, or that I didn’t want them to worry about how I was going to survive in today’s economic climate. The more accurate explanation is that 1st generation immigrant parents can be fucking scary. Especially ones that were lied to by their son about allegedly being some sort of tour guide sales rep for the college he graduated from some time ago.
“How’s work at the university?” they inquired, trying to probe for an answer different than the last twenty times they've asked.
I went for it: “I work at a restaurant.” (Okay, my delivery is admittedly terrible). Two pairs of wooden chopsticks dropped onto the counter.
“What did you say?” they whispered. Looking at the expression on each of their faces, one could have assumed I had just told them I got a DUI or was arrested for dealing crystal methamphetamine. “Like as a server?”
“No, in the kitchen."
My mother, whose own home kitchen was always in a state of fastidious cleanliness, abandoned her dirty chopsticks on the counter; her expression morphed quickly from surprise into stonewalled bewilderment. "Why??" she stammered.
I couldn't help but smirk at their astonishment - I've been cooking at home ever since I was twelve, and she was the one who made me fold wontons and do prep work when I was in second grade at the restaurant. It was like asking Adele why on earth she would decide to pursue a singing career out of the blue.
“How are you going to support your family?!” they demanded, ignoring for a moment the fact I’m a single twenty three year old male. “If you just went to pharmacy school like we told you-you wouldn’t have made this mistake!”
(Now, before you lambast them for being the world's most unsupportive parents, I will concede that surviving The War as a refugee will give a certain mindset to a pair of humans. Living in squalor is a very rational fear, especially to those who have experienced it themselves. )
“It’s not too late to change careers. We’ll pay for you to go to undergrad again for biology!” they continued. As morbidly concerned as they were, I couldn’t help but laugh a little at how ridiculous they sounded- I imagine both of their inner consciences were running around in frantic circles, trying to put out the fire I had just ignited, as it engulfed their imaginary doctor's office with my name on it. “We know someone who became a dentist after he turned 30!” they cried.
It went back and forth for quite some time - me justifying that I was very happy and in fact, not a chain smoking alcoholic like a majority of cooks while they kept arguing that unless I quit tomorrow I'd be miserable for the rest of my life. Comments that I would be poorer than everyone else in the family when I retired in forty years were made (which I have already come to accept), and questions were brought up about if I went into cooking because I couldn't get a normal job like all my peers. (My mom suddenly noticing the burns and cuts littering my forearms didn't help her mild anxiety attack).
"Promise me this", they concluded. "Just do it until December. Come back home and get your MBA at UCI."
I murmured a brief "Okay" in that ever increasing pitch. Now, I obviously have no plan to go home in December- I told myself I’d work in a professional kitchen for at least a year. 15 weeks down, 39 more to go.