March 7th, 2018
I distinctly remember watching my father fill our tub with ice-cold water and pour in ice cubes until the temperature dropped to freezing. I sat next to the tub, fully clothed, dry-heaving, my red hot face covered with salty tears. I was sobbing and emotional, yet my father couldn’t quite understand why. I was eight. I couldn’t grasp how fitting in was so difficult.
My parents come from two completely different cultures. They're both one of six children. Both their families moved to New York chasing the American dream (the one where you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all that jazz). My mother, Burmese, moved to a tiny apartment in the Bronx and only knew one routine—school and work—for the next 25 years of her life. My father, Puerto Rican, is an intelligent man, yet he has been looked down on by his peers for most his life.
My father holds a dear place in my heart because I can identify so much of myself in him. He’s scrappy, entrepreneurial, and smart as hell. But he suffers from being misunderstood. People often take advantage of him. He never holds back when he tells me the story of being mugged at high school by a gang of students. Or the story of receiving a full scholarship to Cornell, and then leaving midway through because he couldn’t afford to live like his peers. Or the story of how the company he created in his mid-thirties was taken from him by his two partners. He’s suffered, yet he’s been able to hide his pain through hard work and an unforgettable smile, which I love so much.
Back to the ice cold tub. I'd been trying to explain how my life was difficult. How I couldn’t identify with the girls I went to school with. How they didn’t accept me. I couldn’t adapt to my surroundings, be fully myself, and feel confident. I couldn’t understand the world we lived in. These words resulted in a full blown sob-fest. I hoped my father would understand and embrace me. That he'd tell me everything was going to be okay. But boy was I wrong.
He argued with me. He told me I needed to control my emotions. I needed to be stronger because this world won't get easier. I was a stubborn kid: I cried more, argued back, and I told him I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make sense. How or why would someone with feelings swallow back their tears and toughen up just because the world tells them to? He filled up that tub and told me to get in. Fully clothed, I obliged. As directed, I submerged my whole body, until every inch of my body felt ice cold. I rose out of the water, gasping for warmth and air. As I stepped out, my father wrapped a towel around me, and told me that if I choose to fight for my feelings and emotions, I'll always fight a losing battle. Instead, I must face life with an ice cold attitude. I must be strong. I must learn to face fear with fire and fury.
I stopped crying. I apologized. I apologized over and over for disappointing him, for not living up to his standards of toughness and apathy. I desperately wanted to make him proud.
As time went on, I thrived. I became a social butterfly who smiled through everything and accomplished more than I expected. Yet I still found it difficult to be the tough girl my father wanted me to be. I still broke down when I faced challenges. My emotions still overwhelmed me.
I’m now 26. I don’t have it all together and I'm still not sure about a lot of things. But I know that my emotions are what make me the unique, complex, and beautiful person I am. I can express extreme elation and joy thanks to a single song. I can feel empowered and strong when I express my opinions on something I believe in. But I still let my sadness overwhelm me and I still find time to sit in a corner and let the tears flow until I am a salty waterfall of emotion never leaving one ounce of feeling locked up.
I strongly believe letting feelings fester inside you will only make you physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick. Emotions, regardless of which ones you express, are windows to your soul. Your emotions reveal your truest, highest self, and they need to pour out of you, like a rainbow at the end of a storm.
My emotions will always exist for the world to see. I will never be sorry for them. I'm proud to be my father’s daughter. I will always love him dearly. But I'm also proud that everyday, I continue to strive to be the best version of myself, tears included.