Picking up the pieces
Waking up in the middle of the night to hear his parents shouting, slamming doors and attempting to kick each other out of the house. Any fight between parents is never a healthy experience for their children to overhear, let alone observe. At five years old, sophomore James Lin had witnessed the fight that caused his parents’ divorce and the separation of his family.
Following his parents’ divorce, Lin’s mother took custody of him and his younger brother, while his father became his older brother’s guardian. Since the divorce occurred when Lin was very young, he was unable to fully comprehend his situation until he was seven. Through a majority of his childhood and adolescence, he experienced the lack of a father figure, which made him stronger emotionally.
“It kind of makes you stronger emotionally. When your parents get divorced, you’re like ‘If they got married at some point, that means that they loved each other. But does love die at some point?’ You kind of get that idea. That was when I started really thinking about the divorce. It wasn’t just a little kid’s thought. It was when I actually start to think about the events that happened,” Lin said.
Lin established a close relationship with his mother growing up, as they both had to adapt to the new changes that came with the divorce, such as Lin’s mother working both day and night to provide for the family. Lin would often fall asleep before his mother returned home and see her car heading off to work again the next morning.
“I felt like I understood more. I live with my mom, and she’s a very mature person, so I had to adapt to that. I realized that we weren’t this perfect family and had real issues that made us different,” Lin said. “When you have one parent, it’s just kind of you and them against the world.”
Lin had to undergo many lifestyle changes due to his parents’ divorce. He had to fit visitations from his father into his schedule. These experiences often emphasized the tension and awkwardness between Lin and his father. In addition to visitations, Lin often has to consider the two distinct sides of his family when inviting them to special events, such as his graduation and birthday parties.
“[When] kids who have parents that are divorced really start to understand [it], it hits them hard because then they start thinking too much and worrying. It just kind of breaks them down. It’s really real because at that point, you’re still pondering thoughts. So you’re like ‘What if this happens? What if this happens?’” Lin said.
Not only did Lin face familial struggles, but he also confronted the issue of feeling distanced and separated from this peers because of the divorce. Although he was afraid of being seen in a different light, he encouraged himself to gradually open up to his friends about his family.
“At first, I felt like I was an outsider,” Lin said. “A lot of these thoughts of people looking down on you, thinking of you as a lesser of a person you think you are or what they thought you were before. It makes you think whether you really want to tell [your friends] or not.”
Lin has struggled with his parents’ divorce and its effect on him, but he has come to terms with his family’s situation by understanding that he wasn’t at fault for the breakup.
“There is too much emotional burden with my parents that I really couldn’t change it. As soon as I realized that, I was like ‘Okay, I just kind of have to accept it and go on with my life without letting it dig into me and rip me,’” Lin said. “As I grew older, I realized that this memory would affect me more and more if I thought about it. I had a plan for myself in life, and I was determined to not let it get in my way.”
Despite his initial fear of revealing his familial situation to others, Lin realized that his true friends would accept him even if he told them about his parents. Lin consistently relies on his support system of friends. To others who were or are currently in his situation, he advises them to find and turn to a group of accepting people.
“You’re going to fall at some point, and no one’s going be able to pick you back up because you’re just drowning in this pit of sorrow. But [my friends] were supportive, and they still are today,” Lin said. “Having a group of friends to support you and be understanding is one of the best things you can ask for.”
“[My mother and I] are very close and always talk to each other about our problems. But, with my dad, it is still awkward. However, we have no ill will against each other, so I’d define it as a relatively good relationship,” Lin said.
A daughter has not talked to her father, who works in Beijing, in over a month. Suddenly, her father comes to America for her mother’s birthday. During the visit, her father and mother exchange harsh words, her father leaves for another business trip and she finds out that the majority of the money in the family savings account is gone. She tries to get into contact with her father, wondering what happened, only to find out that she cannot reach him. To many, this may seem like a cliché found in movies and television shows, but for senior Tiffany Yeh, her last encounter with her father was anything but fiction.
Ever since Yeh was a child, her father has worked as a businessman in Beijing. Every few months, Yeh would go to Beijing to visit her father or vice versa. However, ever since high school started, the visits became increasingly shorter and less frequent. Around the summer of 2016, Yeh’s father stopped coming home, and Yeh witnessed angry phone calls between her mother and father.
With their father as the sole provider of their family throughout Yeh’s life, Yeh’s mother decided to be a stay-at-home mom. However, after Yeh’s father severed communication with the family, her mother checked their joint family savings account, only to find that most of it had already been withdrawn.
“This is just the onslaught of their relationship slightly breaking down,” Yeh said. “It was a tough spot around sophomore year. We used to be a pretty well-off family, [with my father] as a businessman with multiple jobs. All of a sudden, it’s all gone.”
After 15 years of being a stay-at-home mom, Yeh’s mother went searching for work. This transition was not easy, since English was her mother’s second language. Despite this challenge, she decided to Uber people to and from locations, which helped her gain connections and further her career in the trucking business.
“Going back into the workforce with that huge break in time and a language barrier on top of that was rough,” Yeh said. “She made a few connections with Chinese people as well, and they would request her to drive them to the airport. [She would] talk to them about business, and through one of those contacts, she ended up learning more about the trucking business which is what she does now.”
Because of her ability to understand the engineering aspect of trucking, Yeh’s mother began a trucking business. She received a large loan from Yeh’s uncle in order to start up a company in his name.
“For the first two years, it was rough. There was lingo, things you need to learn, rules you need to follow. You have to set up the insurance, [fill out] a lot of different paperwork,” Yeh said. “I ended up helping her with a lot of that stuff, [such as] writing contracts.”
In order to help out the family financially, Yeh tutored and started taking on more household chores. As a result, she was forced to cut down on the time spent on her extracurricular activities, such as golf practices.
“Advanced courses, clubs and golf, that’s a lot of time to dedicate that I didn’t have anymore. My mom was working, so she couldn’t drive me anywhere I needed [to be] anymore,” Yeh said. “One of my biggest regrets was a lot of the stuff I could have been doing, I just didn’t have time for anymore.”
Yeh and her mother did not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things over the two years when they were on their own. As a result, Yeh and her family resorted to blaming each other for the abandonment.
“We could see each other struggling, but sometimes it’s emotion-wise, and you just can’t take it anymore, so you take your frustrations out on other people. My mother is a pretty reasonable person. When she’s frustrated, it overloads on her, and she takes it out and gets frustrated on the most miniscule things,” Yeh said. “We really can’t blame her because she really is stressed, and going through emotional upheaval, that was insane for her. I couldn’t even fathom what she was going through.”
“We started accusing each other, we were like, ‘It’s because you needed all of this, you needed all of that, maybe that’s why he didn’t want to support us anymore,’” Yeh said. “It was tough, I learned a lot of different things about my family, stuff you normally wouldn’t learn.”
Throughout the two years that they were learning to cope with their father’s departure, Yeh eventually gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for her mother.
“We learned it the hard way, and I was thinking, ‘You went through this yourself, why would you do this to us?’” Yeh said. “All the scientific research, it’s like, if your parent does this, you’re liable to do that too. We’re sitting here, and we’re like, ‘Why would you do that to us, having gone through that yourself?’ That was bewildering.”
As a result of taking on more responsibilities, Yeh was able to realize the importance of family and finding a balance between school and home.
“Other than learning more about my family, it changed my worldview. Beforehand, the most important thing to me was getting good grades, getting to the best college I could and getting a job from there. Suddenly, I was stressing, thinking about family, thinking about relationships in general, what I value in life, and it was really, really exhausting,” Yeh said. “Sometimes you just get defeated. I thought our family was strong, but apparently it wasn’t. It was confusing, and I was dealing with that a lot in the past few years.”
In hindsight, Yeh recalls her mental breakdowns and feeling overwhelmed as she spent time trying to fit all her extracurriculars into her already busy schedule and learning about maintaining balance in life.
“It really did open up my perspective a lot and now just instead of thinking the end goal is getting to college, getting that degree, becoming a doctor, lawyer or something like that, it’s just really made you think. I have this stuff I need to do in life, like taxes, saving money, like my family, friends are obviously things that I can’t live without,” Yeh said. “I can’t always think about getting [good] grades, sometimes you just got to balance that out. Oddly enough, with all the stuff that’s been up lately, it makes me really appreciate taking time to myself. The things I used to think were chores, playing the piano, drawing or reading a book, have now become my favorite hobbies.”
While Yeh does believe that she has missed out on opportunities during high school that her peers were offered, she has learned to prioritize her family and focus on more significant topics.
“Sometimes I [look back at] these few years, I should have been living the best time of my life. It’s high school, I should be going out with friends, going to all those high school parties I never got a chance to go to,” Yeh said. “Sometimes, there’s a little bit of regret but other times I’m thinking, ‘Well, my family’s emotionally okay now. We’re financially stable now, more so than before to support ourselves.’ And after this, I just know that I love my brother and sister so much, and we’re all going to be together. Hopefully, I won’t repeat the same mistakes that my parents made.”
Yeh has not only developed a better mindset about her situation now, but has also gained life skills from living with just her mother, such as cooking, saving money, writing legal contracts and filing taxes.
“I did grow up a lot faster, but it’s kind of that part where you’re put in the position where you’re old enough to know what’s going on. So, you’re old enough to do something about it,” Yeh said. “It was either, ‘Grow up, take care of all your stuff,’ or forever be bitter at my parents.”
By Alison Ho, Joy Wang and Flora Lei, Feature editors and Arts editor
Photos by Natasha Amanda and Isaac Le