The truth is, I’m a very broken person.

I’ve suspected it for some time, but the puzzle pieces come in dreams or in the quiet nights that I can’t sleep and the cracks on the ceiling read like tea leaves. There are clues. Why I’m so jumpy. Why I’m afraid of confrontation. Why I fear to be angry and would rather run away. I talked a lot about bullying, but I didn’t mention my dad.

I feel all my life I’ve disappointed him.

When I was a child and made a mistake, I knew the closet was coming. I knew the belt was coming. My generation didn’t question it; my cultural background definitely didn’t question it. A flashback randomly occurred last night and I remember the lashing, but what still sends a chill down my spine is the anticipation. If I broke a dish, or woke the old man up because I was being silly playing make-believe lion dance under the blankets. I would get beat, I would be tossed in the closet of my room which seemed like a giant cave to five-year-old me. I would hear sobbing pleadings from my mom for my dad to let me out, and my maternal grandmother, who was visiting, tell her to not let my dad punish me this way. I tried to talk about this once as an adult. Everyone in my generation and cultural background went through it, so they tell me to shake it off. So I did.

My father used to be a cocky young man, making mistakes like any human would. He’s not very educated, but he’s very smart. When he first became a father, he was much younger than I am now. We were poor, my parents being freshly immigrated from Hong Kong. Dad worked very long hours, cooking in hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants to put a roof over our heads. I don’t blame what my father did because he didn’t know better. It’s hard to understand that now, in a more enlightened world, but physical punishment used to be an encouraged, normal thing in parenting. So much of what people do is influenced by what society accepts. I barely even remember this version of Dad, but there was a time I really, really feared him. I was totally a mama’s boy, because she was my shield. My mother never laid a hand on me.

Life severely humbled my dad in my pre-teens. Most people now only know the humble, goofy person he’s become. My dad, for most of my adult life, resembles Jackie Chan. He looks like Jackie, he’s dorky like Jackie (though he can’t fight like Jackie). I’m not sure what caused him to change, but perhaps it’s a life-realized unfulfilled. My dad worked in restaurants all his life and he looks at mine, with the fancy education and the tech know-how and, instead of envy, he admires. The irony is, with all my skills and accomplishments, I am incapable of having confidence because he (and the other instances of bullying from others) beat the humility into me. I’m like a baker who can make wonderful cakes, but everything I accomplish seems tasteless. I still, to this day, fear the consequences of failure, the sounds of footsteps reaching to the cabinet for that belt, the tossing of my skinny little behind into the closet.

My dad and I have a brotherly relationship now. He has expressed endless regret about the monster he used to be. Of course, I’ve forgiven him. We text and tell we love each other all the time. I think I chastise him too much when he makes mistakes, and he loves to write books like me. He admires everything I do; he’s proud of me. I’ve done my fair share of bullshit to him as an adult. It’s strange how the chains that have held him back in life have made him such a doormat. My mom is the bully now; she wears the pants in their relationship. Maybe because he had been bullied too much during his time in America, my dad is also now afraid of confrontation. He found Buddha and that changed him too. All the friends he immigrated here have gotten doctor degrees and moved on, ignoring him. He’s still a humble restaurant worker, folding paper airplanes and making little children laugh. He’s so good with kids now, they flock to him as if he was one of them. He’s like a clown. I look at all this and I almost forget, except in dream fragments along with those insomnia nights staring at ceiling cracks, that he made all his mistakes on his transformative journey on me.

I was the price of it.