“Parents are not interested in justice, they’re interested in peace and quiet.”
— Bill Cosby
The first big controversial pop culture topic of 2011 was penned by Amy Chua, the Yale Professor who wrote the column in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. It was all done to promote her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. The key word is promote. As a marketer, you saw right through it when you read the article and you see that she refers to both men and women parents and then notes that this isn’t just about Chinese mothers. I was miffed at two points:…who says this is about Asian women only and why was she giving all the credit to Asian moms? What about the dads? Every parent out there was either saying what about me or what a B*&^% that lady is.
The whole point was to raise discussion on parenting and on that she was successful. In fact, as a Chinese person I was indifferent to the stereotype. I nodded my head in agreement about some parts of the article and in other parts shook my head and said that this was just a crazy mother who happens to be Chinese. I also felt it was a generational thing. My old grandmothers never were like that. They were strong but passive women. In a traditional Asian family of my grandparent’s generation, the mom was the cleaning maid and cook as it appeared to me. The father was the driver. My two Chinese grandmothers raised 15 children between the two of them without husbands around who were absent trying to make ends meet during the Depression era. Maybe that is where Amy Chua gets her intensity. Trying to be like her own mother but in today’s modern society.
One of the controversial moments in the article was what people who read the article refer to as “the piano lesson”. It was an unbelievable example of tough parenting. Then I heard my wife and son arguing the other night over his lack of practice on the piano. It got loud and I stayed out. And yes there were tears. For those who don’t know me….my wife is not Asian. She’s apparently the Italian Tiger Mom. Myth #1 broken.
I should caveat and say that my own mother had me in Chinese school, basketball, soccer, baseball, dance, karate and swimming. Not to mention that I worked in our family business. My mother might have been a Tiger, but she wasn’t a tyrant. She ruled with a stern prodding, but never a harsh tongue. Expectations awere always high and friends (even other Chinese friends) said they noticed it. People often say that some parents rule with an iron fist, well I think Asian parents amonst some other cultures are probably known for parenting via heavy guilt!
When I first read the article I went digging for a note that my dad once showed to me. It was actually a series of letters. They were written by a wealthy multimillionaire businessman from Taiwan who was good friends with my grandfather on my mother’s side. These two old Asian patriarchs would often go for walks on their large properties in Menlo Park, CA (a wealthy suburb of San Francisco) and discuss Asian philosophies and how they related to the Western business world and western parenting. These two men were the first two minorities to move into what had been an all-white stuffed collar community. When going to visit this my grandfather and his friend my parents told me to always listen to their stories before running off to play in the swimming pool. It was boring for a 10 year old, but my dad must have kept the letters knowing that I’d find them again some day. My grandfather’s friend gladly shared these letters with my dad and grandfather and must have been quite proud. The letters were written to his eldest son who had just graduated from Harvard and was about to take a job with the McKinsey Consulting Group. I have changed the names and not mentioned the business to protect the family which is a very high profile Asian family (otherwise, all improper English is because I have kept all the imperfect grammar intact on purpose):
This is the first letter I write to you and I will give copies of it to your brothers. It tells how your parents think about their children.
You and your other brothers and sisters are always occupying the largest part of our heart. This is the same as any other parents do. First we worry about your health, your education, and then, your work, your marriage, and your family. We do not know how our children think about their parents. Sometimes, I heard complaints from your brothers. They said, “Dad didn’t play with us. Dad didn’t travel with us as other parents did. They play with their children and travel together with their children.” After I heard these complaints I used to wonder why they did not compare themselves with another group of children who work hard to earn more money to support their family. I mean I don’t need more money from your working to support the family, but I mean sometimes working is a kind of education and the experience from working can never be got in school.
Today I write this letter to you is for the purpose of answering your question whether you should work for the family business or in other company after you graduate from Harvard.
Before I answer your question, I want to tell you of my concept of managing a company. If you become a member in the management of the company, you must understand the following concepts and principles.
- You should work much more and much harder than the ordinary employees,
- You should work for the much more difficult task than the ordinary employees, and
- You should work for the task with much more important responsibility than the ordinary employees.
If you want to work the family business, before you have made yor decision, you should convince yourself that you can surely comply with the above-mentioned principles. It means you need to work more and harder and sometimes you may make some sacrifice in your private life. But it will reward you in a later date. Otherwise, you could work outside and you might enjoy an easy life for some short periods.
As regarding to the work experience from working in other companies, according to my past experience, it seems to not be very much useful. Especially when working in a big company or institution, you re just like a a little piece of screw in a big machine. Therefore the experience you acquired is very limited and sometimes useless. Sometimes, you may even bring back some bad habits which will also influence you when you come back to work in my company. Therefore, I do not one hundred percent agree that your experience from working outside will help your work with my company at a later date.
With respect to the future business of our company, if our Chinese venture into apparel cannot succeed, there are lots of other business that you can start and/or develop. The important thing is whether you can convince yourself if you can follow the above-mentioned Chinese principles when you come to work in my company.
This letter is an educational letter. I hope you will keep it.Sometimes it will answer your problem, if you want to know how to manage it.
I read this many times over the years and couldn’t believe the audacity of a dad to move his children to the Western world and not support them in pursuit of their own American or Western dream. Was my grandfather’s friend right? I’m not saying he was or wasn’t but his son has gone on to be quite successful owning some high profile businesses and having become a lead investor in many well-known technology companies. Oh, and his father got his wish. His son never went to McKinsey and I remember him being very frustrated at first.
My dad was a kinder and gentler dad, but in passing this letter on to me, he didn’t have to tell me anything more. Blood and my ancestry enough for going to be enough to help me by providing me with the right principles. My grandfather on the other hand was no picnic. He would insult his adult sons. When one of his six sons got divorced, I remember my granfather shaking his head and telling me that my uncle (his son) was now only half a man (in reference that he had to give half of everything to his ex-wife). My grandfather was perhaps the original Tiger Dad.
So I guess in reading Amy Chua’s document I needed to self-reflect and ask if I am that kind of a dad. This morning when my daughter said she was too sick to go to school, I told her to suck it up and go. She’d already missed several days of school and misses school for the slightest problems. I remember that missing school was only if you couldn’t get out of bed. My wife said I was being tough, but I guess I’d rather be tough and involved rather than not involved.
My father always told me his father him he wanted a life better for his children than he had. He then told me he wanted the same for me and my siblings. I think the current generation is different. We want a better way of life for our children. My father gave me a lot, but he wasn’t able to share in it with me just like his father couldn’t with him. I think it is any parent’s wish (Asian, black, white, Jewish, Latino, etc.) to see their kid succeed and to share that fulfillment with them, but hopefully it is not at the expense of too much angst.
If you’re curious, neither of my children is a concert violinist or pianist (in fact, far from it). My children do have and go on sleepovers and playdates although I think too many. We do NOT have an xBox, Playstatio or Wii. Both my children take piano (my son teaches himself guitar) and both play soccer and basketball. My son also plays golf and baseball while my daughter takes gymnastics. I do take pride as well in the academics of my children who I believe get above average grades. My son (11) has indicated that he feels the pressure to succeed and sometimes puts pressure on himself, but on several occasions when asked, he said he was alright. It is a tight balance we run with our children, but as I tell my son, I am happy that he understands that we want him to succeed as does every parent.