“Now, grab a favorite childhood memory between you and your dad. “
December 2014, I was attending Tony Robbins’s Date with Destiny, a seven-day seminar. My mind went blank. Favorite? Nothing came up. I thought harder. Still nothing.
The only thing I remembered was the beatings. I was about four years old.
‘Stop, you’re going to kill her!’ I remembered mom’s screaming. She was on her knees, pounding on the door. She tried to turn the handle. It was locked. Dad was using a belt, I was crying, Dad was yelling.
I had been given the task to go to the Army cafeteria and get some rice for our visitor, a comrade of Dad’s. I got distracted and started to play in the muddy sand with my friends on the way home. Completely losing track of time, I only realized my mistake when Dad picked me up like a ragdoll and dragged me home with a furious expression on his face. They had been waiting for a long time until Dad finally had to come out and find me. He was very embarrassed but waited until his comrade friend left to give me a lesson.
You deserved it. I was told.
Years later when I brought it up, Mom said, ‘It has been so long, who would remember it.’
Dad didn’t say anything.
Beating children for discipline was just a common practice in China back then. We were the property of our parents. Long ago in China, children used to be sold in exchange for food. Especially poor peasant girls who were sold to richer families to be child brides as young as 10 years old.
“Now keep grabbing more memories and putting them in your favorite childhood cassette tape.” Tony continued.
Think, think harder. I told myself. Still, I only saw the angry face of my father. How could I have no favorite childhood memory? Do I only remember the bad stuff? A slice of sorrow crept in.
“If you can’t find any in your own childhood, you could use someone else’s,” Tony said.
Plenty! My spirit immediately was lifted.
I saw Serena sitting on Samuel’s shoulders and watching Disney’s fireworks.
I saw Samuel wearing a T-shirt printed with Serena’s seven-month-old laughing face and holding her in one hand. Both smiling.
I saw him taking photos of her going to Ms. Meena’s magical homeschool on the first day at the age of three.
I saw him sitting in the little chair in her kindergarten classroom and reading the note she left for him.
I saw him holding her hand high and proud after her first firewalk in front of a firewalker poster at the age of seven.
The memories kept flooding in!
“Now replace those favorite moments with the ones you don’t want to have and make them your own.”
One by one, I grabbed these precious moments and put them in my own favorite childhood cassette tape.
That was brilliant! Who said that we can’t rewrite history?
The human brain stores our memories. What if we could choose which memories we want to keep and which ones we want to let go?
What if we let the new tape of love and joy play in our head instead of the old victim ones?
And what if we intentionally write our life being our own author, regardless of our childhood trauma?
If you ask me today what are the favorite adult memories that I had with my Dad, “Plenty!” would be my answer.
The time that he was so proud when I called him “our big butler” (as a term of respect) because he took care of our household needs in America.
The summer afternoon he rode a bicycle in Stanley Park, Vancouver, with a tiny trailer in the back with Norden sitting in it.
The time he called a DidiTaChe, an app similar to Uber, to take me to and from the hospital when I had food poisoning in Shanghai.
The moment he told me he always shared with his friends how his oldest daughter took care of her parents, renting them an apartment in Shanghai. A proud smile on his face.
The moment he shouted “Golden Bomb!!!” when he stepped on the poop Norden purposefully left outside their room when he was being toilet trained at the age of three. Dad was smiling and laughing. The old Dad would have been furious, but the new Dad was loving and sweet.
Not too long ago, I re-watched The Shawshank Redemption. There was a scene when Morgan Freeman asked for parole and he told the committee, “I am a changed man. I no longer pose a threat to society.” When asked about the horrific crime he committed, he answered, “That was when I was young and stupid. Not one day goes by that I don’t regret it.”
I thought about Dad. He is absolutely a changed man.
The past doesn’t equal the future. What life stories are you playing in your cassette tape?