The other night I asked Vương, my youngest son, who started kindergarten this year if he liked school and if he had made any friends. His response was that he didn’t like school, but he made a few friends. I asked him what he liked about school. He said the playground and went further to tell me that he just wanted to play alone at the playground, and not with friends. I reassured him that it was perfectly fine if he preferred to play alone. I was actually glad that he was comfortable with being by himself when he wanted.
His older brother, Xuân, who is in second grade, on the other hand, always needed to please others. He always wanted to be liked, and that worries me. He would get into trouble for doing things his peers find funny, but his teachers find unappropriate. I know exactly what he is going through because I spent most of my life trying to please others. It didn’t go too well for me. I want him to break the cycle.
I am at the point in my life where I don’t want to pretend to be nice. I want to be honest. I am tired of trying to please people—even the ones I loved. I have always wanted to please my wife because I was afraid she would leave me. It exposed my insecurities and weaknesses. Saying “I love you” had lost all of its meaning because it sounded pretentious. I didn’t throw the phrase out of nowhere. I wanted confirmation, but most of the time I got a silent response. Maybe it is still a taboo in Vietnamese culture to express your love verbally. Whenever I spoke to my mom in person or over the phone, I always said, “I love you” and her response was always “OK.” The last time I said “I love you” to my mom, a tear rolled down her eye as she departed this world.