“Go ahead, Christopher. Reach out and grab your destiny,” said Jimmy, as the dozen guests, who had gathered to celebrate his son’s first birthday, oohed and aahed, eager to see which item the boy would pick to set the course for the rest of his life.
Jimmy thought the boy, who’d taken on only his and Grace’s best features, looked incredibly handsome in a traditional hanbok. The things one could buy on the Internet these days. A couple of clicks on a computer and a hanbok, sized perfectly for an average one-year-old boy, had appeared at their doorstep.
Guests shouted encouragements and offered commentary as Christopher’s hands wandered over the items in front of him: a toy stethoscope, a toy golf club, gold coins, a flute, a wooden spoon, a bundle of thread, and a calligraphy brush. A buffet of life trajectories spread out for all to see. Each item, a portent of what might be.
When Christopher’s hands moved toward the golf club, Mark, Jimmy’s good-natured brother-in-law, shouted, “Looks like there’s going to be an athlete in the family!”
Then, when Christopher’s hands moved toward the toy stethoscope, Jimmy grinned in anticipation. He had purposely set the stethoscope directly in front of the boy. He found it funny that he was behaving like the stereotypical Asian parent when his own parents had been so atypical. They’d never pushed him to be a doctor or lawyer. A part of him was grateful for this, but a part of him blamed them for not holding true to the stereotype. Had they crushed his dreams when they’d had the chance he might be a successful doctor or lawyer by now instead of the struggling writer and Hausfrau Dad he’d become.
Just then, Christopher’s hands settled on an item Jimmy had placed at the farthest edge of the table.
“He picked the calligraphy brush. That means he’ll grow up to be a scholar just like his father,” Jimmy’s mother shouted proudly like only a mother can do about a mediocre child.
Jimmy’s heart sank. It hadn’t even occurred to him to include the calligraphy brush on the menu for the day, but his dear mother had shown up with it and insisted on its inclusion.
“It’s tradition,” she’d reminded him. “You yourself picked this very brush on your first birthday.”
Tradition. With that single word, Jimmy’s mother had changed the course of Christopher’s destiny. As guests congratulated him, Jimmy forced himself to smile and told himself over and over that nothing is written in stone and a calligraphy brush didn’t have the power to determine a life. But he didn’t find himself very convincing.
About the Author
Yongsoo Park is the author of the novels Boy Genius and Las Cucarachas, the memoir Rated R Boy, and the essay collection The Art of Eating Bitter about his losing battle to give his children an analog childhood.