Editors’ Note: This piece originally appeared in the 2019 First Year Issue, published on August 2, 2019.
No girl forgets the first time she was asked out. On a chilly November evening on a park bench overlooking the only lake in my hometown of Flower Mound, Texas, my senior year took an unexpected turn. He was a nice guy in my economics class, and we decided to give it a go. Head in the clouds, maybe the moon or even Jupiter, I excitedly drove home to my dad. I opened the door to my 47-year-old father decked out in a pink apron and fumbling around cooking dinner. I charged in and exclaimed, “I’m dating someone!” I then proceeded to explain how I met this guy and why I wanted to date him, sharing my emotions and slightly over-optimistic hopes.
After barely a month, we broke up (inevitably). I was — simply put — confused and upset. Seeing me distressed at dinner, my dad popped out of the pantry with a bottle of red wine and Choya Umeshu, a fancy Japanese plum liqueur. His philosophy is: A little alcohol never hurts. The three of us drank, and I — a little tipsy — spilled to them my whole breakup story.
Every parent-child connection is different. In my case, my relationship with my parents happens to be more like a friendship. I tell them everything and anything, and not out of filial piety or necessity (yes, I have friends). I truly want to tell them about my life.
They’re not tiger or helicopter parents. I manage my own school work, choose my own hobbies and make my own decisions — big and small. I pursued art in high school, and although my dad didn’t quite understand why or like it, he still supported me. During my childhood, my parents were actually quite hands off: I could disappear with my friend to hike until midnight or tell them I was going to a birthday party with alcohol. I just had to be responsible and keep the trust that I had built with them.
I didn’t anticipate a change in my relationship with my parents when I came to Yale, but college offered so many — too many — new ways to spend my time. Yes, I was an excited starry-eyed first year who wanted a taste of everything. Each hour I spent calling home was an hour not experiencing campus events, talking to friends and making new memories.
Unknowingly and gradually, I started to tell my parents less. At one point, I realized that I hadn’t texted back or called home in almost two weeks. I left a mountain of iMessages in my family group chat unanswered. Our scheduled calls got lost in between club meetings, exams and birthday gatherings.
My parents called me a “duan le xian de feng zheng” — a kite with a broken string. College snipped the string, and I flew off. They felt like they had lost me both in my physical and emotional presence. My mother said she sometimes wished I went to UT Austin. Naturally, I felt guilty.
I consciously tried to call more, but doing so evolved into a new problem: I didn’t know what to talk about. I first recognized this issue when I came home over Thanksgiving break. I realized how my stories were filled with people they didn’t know and typical college events they couldn’t relate to.
Explaining Yale was like writing a book from scratch: I had to describe every friend I made, every class I took, every party I went to. Eventually, our talks always devolved into the topic of majors. I’m undecided. They would not tell me to major in economics, but I could always tell that they saw a career in finance as the path to a successful life. But I know it’s just not for me, and I’d repeat my reasoning to them constantly. Talking to them felt like I was stuck in a loop. In hindsight, perhaps this was an underlying reason for why I avoided calling them. My deliberate efforts to find something to talk about fizzled out.
Until one night, my mom texted me an entire paragraph describing how hard adjusting to life without me had been and how my lack of contact hurt her and my father. I was taken aback. I didn’t think about my transition to college from their standpoint and about how my lack of communication could be interpreted as my way of leaving them behind. In my journey to finding my major, friend group and building a new life in Connecticut, I had forgotten about them. Moving forward, I need to find a balance between my desire for independence and maintaining my connection to my parents.
I now know that although I am a kite that can travel wherever I want, I need to remember the people who originally let me fly.
Michelle Fang is a sophomore in Davenport College and a staff columnist for the News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .