… in honor of valentine’s day, and some people that i love very dearly.
the way he tells it, my dad was a hot commodity in his day. he’s a good-looking guy, and his family was relatively financially stable at a time when taiwan was dirt-poor. i’m not sure which was more important, but regardless, he apparently had many women interested in marrying him. (he tells of riding his motorcycle with the girlfriend of the moment hanging on in back — an image that becomes funnier to me the older he and i get.) my grandmother, interested perhaps in further securing his future or in making sure he didn’t end up with a gold digger, also tried to set him up with numerous single ladies from well-off families and would send him their pictures while he was away at school.
my father, however, had different ideas in mind. strongly influenced by the catholic missionaries who lived in his hometown, he had decided that he was going to become a priest. (never mind that he’s buddhist — he sees all religions as basically the same, so he could be catholic as easily as he is buddhist.) he would live a quiet, contemplative life, a life full of scholastic work and celibacy. this, he says, is what he told the girls who wanted to procure an engagement before he left for graduate school in the states; and this is what he told his mother as he set aside the pictures she sent.
he had stints at brigham young (the taiwanese FOB amidst a sea of lily-white mormons, whose church had permitted entry to non-whites a mere 8 years before his arrival) and princeton (where he claims he was chased by a mexican american girl and dissuaded from aggressive women by his mentor) before settling at wayne state in detroit, where he would finish his phd. the young, taiwanese grad student was devoted to his studies, mentally preparing for a life in the priesthood.
but then something funny happened: he met my mom.
… at a dumpling party, of all places. well, actually, he had seen her in the elevator before but thought that she was korean (beautiful, but near-impossible to communicate with). but then they showed up at the same dumpling party over thanksgiving of 1976, and lo and behold, pretty girl from the elevator was actually from taiwan.
i can’t remember exactly how the relationship started, but all i know is that it centered around food. at one point he offered to cook for her… and it ended up taking him 2 hours. and there was something about them walking around campus once and happening upon a piano, and my dad played something for her (he was, and still is, quite the pianist), and she was impressed. i remember another story where he and his roommate wanted to cook dinner for the female friends from whom they mooched food relentlessly, and they invited my mom to help, and she ended up having to cook the entire meal. (she must’ve really liked him to continue hanging out with him after that.) but the gist of their dating relationship involved them eating together every night. they would go grocery shopping together, she would cook, and he would do the dishes. since he ate more, he paid 2/3 of the bill, and she paid 1/3. (“but i ate 3/4 of the food, so i got a good deal!” my dad exclaims with glee.)
my mom had apparently had her share of suitors in grad school, but my dad was the first one she could really talk with. and she liked that he played the piano. oh, and she was also impressed with his statistics prowess. what woman wouldn’t be, really.
after 9 months of this eating-and-talking business, my mom started a post-doc at columbia. my dad drove her to new york, and she cried when he left, and when he got back he was lonely. “nothing tasted good anymore,” he said. so one day, he ended up calling my mom and suggesting that perhaps they should get married.
“are you serious?” she said.
“yes,” he said.
“okay,” she replied.
and then the ball started rolling. she flew to taiwan over christmas break and met his mother, whom he had instructed to buy my mom a ring. my grandmother, peeved that her son had rejected countless young ladies of wealth that she had chosen, was convinced that my mom, being an unmarried phd student in her late twenties, must have been beaten with an ugly stick. but alas, my mom turned out to be lovely, so my grandmother changed her tune. when she introduced my mom to all of her friends, she bragged that this was her son’s fiancee, a phd student, beautiful and smart. booyah, grandma.
when she returned to the states, my mom arranged to do her second year of post-doc in michigan, where my dad was still working on his phd. they got married in august of 1978, not long after she moved back to michigan, less than 2 years after they met. and that’s the story of how my dad didn’t become a priest.
it was the friday of our first week in orvieto, the fourth day of our class. the twenty-five of us fuller students, along with our lecturer and professor, boarded a little bus to siena, where we would be spending the day. i took a window seat on the left side, and not long after, a tall blond fellow asked if he could sit next to me.
“i’d want to sit there,” he said contritely, gesturing to the seat next to our professor, “but i need to finish the homework.” i smiled.
poor guy didn’t get any of his homework done on the bus. we ended up talking the whole hour-plus way there, a bit while we were there, and then the whole way back. at some point in the conversation, he mentioned that he was half-seriously contemplating becoming a priest. he certainly had the aura of one — calm, centered, present — though he also admitted that it was partly because he hadn’t really met anyone he was interested in dating since this thought had first entered his mind.
a month later, after two more long bus rides, four long late-night walks (including one where we got to see fireworks), and two weeks of wondering if our chemistry in italy (the most romantic place on earth) would translate in los angeles (a decidedly less romantic place), this boy expressed interest in dating me.
“what about you wanting to be a priest?” i asked.
“i’m not serious about that,” he said.
“okay,” i said.
and that’s the story of how robert’s halfhearted aspirations to the priesthood ended.
the moral of these stories: if you’re thinking about becoming a priest, stay far away from the women in my family. i don’t know if this phenomenon is romantic or blasphemous, but one way or another, consider yourself warned. happy valentine’s day. 🙂