“Who do you look up to when you were growing up?
Your father, mother? A teacher?
Believe it or not, no one had asked me that question before, so I found myself fumbling for an answer over dinner last night while devouring a piece of hot and spicy fish fillet at a Szechuan restaurant in New York.
“Humm…. Heather, I don’t think I had a role model….”
In her early 20s, Heather is one of the most inquisitive enquirers I know.
“How about any TV or movie characters?”
As Heather was enthusing over her childhood favorites on American TV shows, I immediately interjected with my favorite TV heroes – all of them female strong and bold – like Julie from the Mod Squad whose kick-ass heroic actions always got me glued to the tube.
The contemporary version of Julie would be Jennifer Garner who was a counter-intelligence agent in Alias – always working with the good guys against the bad guys, and often caught in the middle of the murky waters mixing up the good and bad.
“O yeah…I remember Alias , yes that’s a good one!” Heather giggled.
It’s funny how I looked up to women in America’s law and order world as a Chinese girl growing up in Hong Kong. Somehow, watching them on TV working side by side with fast-moving quick thinking men and women with an unwavering sense of justice moved me to aim high.
Perhaps I see myself in them. Perhaps I admire their guts to go after the troublemakers. Or perhaps I admire their brain in calculating risks and crafting ways to get in and out of danger.
But those were the days when I was young and restless, looking up to people who were larger than life and outside of my world. As I get ready to visit Hong Kong next week for the holiday, I am reminded of the one person who has not only inspired me to aspire, but also selflessly let me go as far as my ambition would take me. My father.
Truth be told – I had not looked up to my father as a child because he was always beside me. He was always talking to me more like a trusted friend than an authority figure. His tone and language were never top down but often solicitous and sensitive. He had always made himself available and approachable as a sounding board, a counselor and a protector.
These days when I talk to younger friends like Heather, I realize how much the way I come across actually comes from the way my father has always been to me. Although I had not looked up to him then, he’s certainly become a part of me now. He’s inspired me more than I know.