I am always curious how one person who has everything will struggle so much and another person who has faced a tremendous amount of adversity can become successful. That thought haunted me last year because a JA reader of my column sent me an email and said that he appreciated “A Mother’s Take,” as it “serves as examples of my own expression, which I am capable of giving, which have not been nurtured in me as a child growing up.”
My curiosity peaked by his initial outreach. I felt compelled to respond, saying, “I would love to hear more of your story.” I did not expect to receive an email that was so vulnerable and heartbreaking. It was four pages long. He said, “I will trust you with my story, which I never before revealed to anyone.” He has also trusted me to write this article.
Tad (not his real name, but the name he asked me to use) and his family were incarcerated in Heart Mountain in Wyoming. After camp, Tad’s parents “desperately wanted to leave behind their Japanese heritage … anything Japanese was prohibited … even the word Japanese. I can recall concluding I was a burden on my parents as a reminder of their Japanese heritage. Today, I cry for them to have lived such lives to be unspeakable.”
Tad’s life was unbelievably hard, and I would even go further to say cruel. His parents hardly showed any love and affection to each other and to him. “When other students lied about getting into a fight with me, my mother would drag me away by my ear and whip me. She would scream at me and be so distraught.”
“On one occasion, she began to beat me with my father’s golf club. My father took away the golf club and told her to use something else. It made me feel like my father cared more about the golf club then his own son.”
When Tad brought a friend home, they were never good enough. “My friend would say to me that my mother was ‘crabby’ and would refuse to be my friend. When I discussed this with Mother, she would scream at me and accuse me of it being my fault. … I was no longer able to share discussions with her.”
Reading through Tad’s life made me very sad. There were so many other scenarios that he described, but they’re too numerous to lay out in my column. He would explain that “my feelings as a child were always suppressed and even invalidated.”
But in his journey of self-determination, he has always looked to people who possess worthwhile values and sought to learn from them how to be brave and generous. “They have helped me overcome my difficulty in expressing feelings of my own.”
Today, Tad is retired and has had a successful career. “I learned to be resilient under disappointment and to be myself no matter how different from other people.” However, there was a price for his difficult childhood. “I feel uncomfortable when I receive praise … because I never deserved such from my own parents. I decided never to have children. … I feared that I would become a parent like my own parents.”
As we begin this new year, I usually want to start with something upbeat, but somehow, Tad’s trust in me made me feel like his story could be a beacon of light to all of us in 2023.
How can we be better at showing love and affection? How can we be better listeners to others? How can we be “chosen family” to those whose family are not there for them?
There was something very inspiring about how Tad was able to find success after such a horrible childhood.
Tad is part of an organization that works toward social justice, and I am sure he lends his mind and knowledge to further their work. As difficult as his life has been, he has not let it stop him from doing good. I was so proud to get to know Tad and honored to have him trust his story with me.
People have the ability to face adversity and emerge strong, but they need to find people who will nurture and believe in them along the way. If our own family does not provide love and see the potential in us, we cannot control that. What we can control is to find value within ourselves, create a chosen family of support and not allow the voices of others to tell us who we are or who we are not. …
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”