The Patriarch Speaks (#9)

In which the white girl is silenced. Briefly.
In which the white girl is silenced. Briefly.

Three days into our trip, and my Chinese-American boyfriend’s father had spoken directly to me exactly once. This was solely to bellow, “NO!” when I went to shake his hand. I kind of understood. Jay was trying to film our arrival at the airport in Honolulu, and I broke the fourth wall by acknowledging the camera’s existence. Bad me. A day passed. Jay never spoke directly to me. Two days. Nothing.

I was miffed. Until I realized that Jay barely spoke to anyone. I figured it was because his voice is very low and raspy, and his accent is thick. He’s difficult to understand. I silently and magnanimously forgave him for not talking to me. And then we hit the Chinese Market after Dim Sum. I figured Sunny would do the negotiating with vendors. But it was Jay who stepped forward to dicker.

I nudged Andy and whispered, “Your dad CAN talk!”

“Yeah. That guy is Vietnamese.”

“Your dad speaks Vietnamese?”

Andy nodded. “Of course. When his family fled southern China to escape the communists, they went to Vietnam.”

I winced. “They chose poorly.”

“Yeah. Then they fled the communists in Vietnam for Hong Kong.”

“So your dad who never talks can actually speak Cantonese, English, Mandarin, AND Vietnamese?”

“And French.”

I nodded. “Right. Because the French were still trying to hang onto Vietnam* when your dad was there.” I looked at Jay with new eyes. “Wow. The stories he could tell. In FIVE languages. If I spoke five languages, I would never shut up.”


“I DO NOT talk all the time NOW.”

“Of course not, honey.”


Later in the week, while Sunny was at work, we went out to dinner with Denny and Jay. I made sure I sat next to Jay this time. I was going to pry his amazing stories out of him. Somehow.

Denny had picked the restaurant. The place was very trendy. Very upbeat. Very loud. After we yelled our orders at the waiter, I leaned in close to Jay.

“So how did you and Sunny meet?”

Jay took a sip of water. Paused.

I held my breath.

He said, “In Hong Kong, I worked…”

And that’s all I got. Jay kept talking, but the restaurant cranked the music. Jay’s voice got softer. I didn’t want to be rude and yell at Jay to speak up. I sat next to Jay, nodding – but not smiling because for all I knew he was telling me about being hunted by communists – and I caught maybe one word in five. For over twenty minutes.

Our order arrived. Jay said nothing else. Maybe I missed the wisdom of the universe. Maybe I missed an incredible story of romance, or daring. But the moment was gone, and I couldn’t ask Jay to tell me what he said without looking like an inattentive idiot.

I must’ve put on a pretty good act. Two days later, when we were on the plane to Kauai (for a few days of REAL vacation) Andy said, “You know my dad is would-be dictator, right?”

“Yup. So is mine. It’s why we have compatible baggage.”

He patted my arm. “You did such a good job, honey, of not calling him on his bullshit. I know it was hard for you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know, when he was telling you all that stuff about how he and my mom always discuss things reasonably and compromise and how that is the key to marital success.” Andy rolled his eyes.

“When did your dad say that?”

Andy gave me an incredulous look and said, “You know, when you were talking to him all that time at the table the other night.”

“Holy shit, is that what he was saying?  I didn’t understand a word of it.  I was worried he was telling intense stories about crossing international borders or falling in love with your mom! And I only missed hypocritical pontificating! Oh, that is awesome!”

Andy laughed all the way to Kauai.


*Fun Historical Factoid For Anyone Confused About these Vietnam References: French imperialism in Vietnam led to the rise of communism in the 1950s. The French were smart enough to figure out that they were really fighting a losing battle against the Vietnamese desire for independence. They left Vietnam and tried to warn the U.S. not to get involved. The U.S. was like, “Listen Frenchies, we saved your wussy ass in WWII and we’re going to save everyone from EVIL COMMUNISM! Go back to your wine and cheese and let the real men handle this!” The War in Vietnam ensued.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

4 thoughts on “The Patriarch Speaks (#9)”

  1. My father in law is the same – quiet – although he too can speak a number of languages and has some incredible stories to tell. I have realised over time though, that even though my mother in law is the talkative one, I think my father in law actually likes me better. He is the one who will give me a genuine smile now when I see him, he will ask me a question (maybe one every few months) and somehow these small things have come to mean a thousand times more than the thousands of words his mother in law has spoken to me because I have no doubt that he actually means them whereas I am still not sure my mother in law doesn’t hate me let alone likes me. Like you mentioned in a previous post, I have come to the conclusion she is most likely ambivalent.

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