Dear Mom and Dad,
I want to talk to you about that one night we don’t talk about. The night in college when I called you at 2 o’clock in the morning. I know I made sleep disappear from your eyes with my tearful voice.
Wait. No. Wrong night. I meant another night when I called you to tell you…..
…that I was changing my major. I made it sound casual, I know.
“Weather’s fine. The food is great. By the way, I’m changing my major. I’m not going to be pre-med anymore.” Both of you paused. I could feel the moment, Mom, when you passed the phone to Dad.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I’m sure, it’s just not me.
“I don’t like the subject.”
“But you’ve always talked about becoming a doctor.”
You’re right, I did. Alll the time. The truth is, I figured out very early it was the fastest way to gain approval from adults. It became a quick answer to imploring questions from Aunties and Uncles. They would nod with approval while patting me on the head when I stated I would be a doctor when I grew up. “We need a doctor in this family. Now, if we could only get your cousin Essi to become a lawyer and cousin Joel to become a banker, then we’d be set.” Having that answer kept me from responding to questions I really didn’t want to answer.
I remember as a kid dreaming about becoming a nun that owns and runs a chocolate factory/bookstore/reading room. I imagined you saying, “We’re not even Catholic. You can’t be a nun!” while I scramble to think of a reasonable response. So I tucked my little fantasy inside me, away from criticism and questioning.
It was a silly dream, I know. But I guess, at the core of all those career fantasies was the desire to make people happy, to help make their lives a little better. I didn’t realize this until I went to college and met other daughters and sons of immigrants who like me also wanted to become doctors. They, too, wanted to help make others’ lives better.
Yet, many of us carried expectations (some of it, admittedly, self-imposed) from our parents to become those doctors..and engineers..or lawyers. Some of us continued through college and fulfilled those expectations, graduating with one of those desired degrees.
Some of us did not.
I remember our conversation years later when I was still scrambling to find my path. You reminded me that I refused to continue on the one you saw as clear for me. It took a long time for me to realize that for you, choosing a career path was never about doing what you liked and felt you were good at.
The values you grew up are the ones you tried to instill in me. When given certain options, you pick the most rigorous one and you do your best with it, regardless of whether you enjoy it or not. You urged, “Challenge yourself.” I, on the other hand, had sat in too many career centers and read too many career development books to believe that choosing a path needed to be devoid of enjoyment.
Mom and Dad, in 2017 however, I think I understand a little better what you wanted for me. These days, the words “refugee” and “immigrant” are being thrown around in the media enough to make one’s heart tremble. We watch the news nervously. We debate and try to keep our hope intact. I see you come home from your multiple jobs and share with me what you’re hearing, what you’re thinking and what you’re hoping the future will bring.
You hoped that the medical school option would provide a clear, stable option in an environment that isn’t always safe, kind or open-armed to immigrants. You see all that you’ve left behind and sacrificed and you hope that, through your children, it will all mean something.
I wish I could say, Mom and Dad, that you don’t have to worry. That I’ve figured it all out, I took the road less traveled and it made all the difference. But I’m still figuring it out day by day. You taught me to take it one step at the time, to work hard and to believe in the goodness of people. I plan to continue doing just that.
Mom and Dad, thank you for the sacrifices you’ve made, the sacrifices you continue to make. I hope that one day, it will all, indeed, mean something.
Your incorrigibly, idealistic daughter