I never met my paternal grandfather as he passed away before my parents were even married. Judging from the stories my father would tell of his childhood in the 1920s and ‘30s, my grandfather was a strict man who set high standards for his family. I saw this trait in my father, too, especially as it pertained to our scholastic achievements (or lack of). Dad’s father rewarded Dad with special treats if he came first in his class. Ranking any lower than first place meant he received nothing and his father let his disappointment be known. My grandmother once told me that she remembered one occasion when my father was very young when he wouldn’t come into the house after school. He just moped around outside. She tried to coax him to come in and was asking him what was wrong. It turned out that Dad hadn’t ranked first in his class for that particular reporting period and knew his parents would be very disappointed in him. I felt sorry for my dad then.
When I was the runner-up for the scholastic trophy in Grade 8, Dad said as we exited the awards ceremony, “I don’t know if it was worth my time coming here tonight since you only got second place.” He was treating me the way his father had treated him but I still thought he was an insensitive hard-ass. As a result of those types of encounters, I vowed that if I ever had kids of my own, I would never treat them so heartlessly. I didn’t know if that was characteristic of a Japanese male or if it was a personality quirk unique to my father. Fast-forward a few decades and when my own daughter was awarded the scholastic trophy in Grade 8, Dad’s reaction was an even-toned, “pretty good”. Sometimes I think it’s easier to get blood from a stone than a compliment from my dad!