Any dad would be proud when their kid brought home a report card covered in mostly A’s, but not my dad. I was watching a 5 o’clock show when I saw my dad outside through the living room windows, coming up the concrete stairs and unlocking the front door. He was sporting a new cap, a black one with writing on it.
I pulled out my last high school report card from my knapsack. Sure, it was another pretty one, stamped with an honour roll banner. That stamp meant that Dad would give me fifty bucks. High school was ending on a good note.
Dad went into the bathroom to clean up. I waited one step away from the door. His new cap was hung on a hook in the hall, on top of his lanyard with his employee pass dangling from it. Dad worked for a company in Montreal. The cap read:
C.A.S.T.: Canadian Aerospace Systems and Technologies
Dad came out of the bathroom. His face, hairline and hands dampened by exhaustion.
“Here,” I said, handing over my report card with a shy smile.
“A gift for me?” He opened the document and seemed to be reading it line by line, from top to bottom. I had all A’s. And… two B’s.
“What are these B’s doing here?” he asked.
Asians must get A’s. Yeah yeah, I knew the joke.
“Math-related courses are hard. But I made the honour roll again,” I said.
“Do you need tutoring?”
“Math is important,” he sighed. He said that often, so often that it sounded like a mantra to live by. “You need high grades in math to get anywhere in life, especially in medicine.”
“But I got A’s everywhere else,” I said.
“Math is important,” he repeated.
I rolled my eyes. I knew I couldn’t win. Regardless, I was getting my fifty bucks.
“That’s new,” I said, pointing to his cap. He glanced at it.
“It’s not something to be proud of,” he said. “I had to work for fifteen years just to get a cap.”
“It’s exactly fifteen years to this day?” I asked.
He folded my grade report and slid it on the table in the hall, under his employee pass and cap.
“Fifteen years of being discriminated against,” he said. “Fifteen years of having CJAD Radio turned off when mad Québécois pass by, just because I can’t speak French in this city. Fifteen years of being called the China Man.”
I regretted having brought it up. I sometimes forgot I belonged to a Chinese family. Sometimes. Dad picked up his lunchbox and went into the kitchen, past the cream-coloured curtains.
“Being Asian puts you at a disadvantage from the start,” he said. “Being at the same level as everybody else actually means being below them. There’s no respect there. That’s why you need to do better in school, to rise to the top. You have to rise, or be stuck at the bottom.”
I couldn’t see him past the curtain, past his stern outlook on life. I wanted him to be wrong. I wanted to believe that my generation was tolerant and accepting, unlike what my dad thought, but who was I to know?
Linda Nguyen earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University and her B.A. in Psychology from McGill University. She is working on her first novel. Born in Winnipeg, she lives in Montréal where her mind wanders and her fingers type.