My father never worked a day in his life. I don’t remember seeing him awake much. He was a compulsive gambler who spent all his waking hours playing mahjong, poker and lottery. When he’s home, he was usually asleep. I never knew if he was home or not unless I checked the master bedroom. He came home at odd hours and would leave for days before he reappeared.
My mother was always at work. Most of my childhood memories involved doing homework, reading or being bored at my mom’s job. She’s always had her own business so my sister and I can stay with her at work. When I became old enough (or tall enough? With my height at 5’3 after turning eleven years old, I always looked older than I was compared to other kids), I started manning the shop or running errands for my mom.
Schools in Taiwan required children to report their parents’ occupations every year. I was always embarrassed having to lie about my father’s occupation, “freelancer”, a somewhat accurate title I came up with and scribbled sheepishly in the form every year.
Me and my sister learned to be very independent at a young age. We were keylatch kids before we were old enough to learn the meaning of the word. My mom used crockpot to prepare dinner or snacks for us to eat after school since she can’t be home. Sometimes she just left money on the table so we can buy food. We’re supposed to be in bed by the time she got off work. Except cooking and laundry, my sister and I did most of the house chores. Without any parental supervision or babysitter, we got up every morning, walked or biked to school and returned home, and did our homework on our own.
My father was a foolish daydreamer, wishing a day when he hit the jackpot & never had to work a day (even though he never did work). He pawned all the valuables he can get his hands on for gambling money, including my mom’s wedding ring, jewelry, and several family cars. He also suffered from some kind of psychological disorder; he was never diagnosed since mental illness was a foreign concept back then in Taiwan. Endless complaints of nightmares, hearing or seeing ghosts & (imaginary) intruders, my dad was very paranoid and had trouble sleeping at night. He kept mace guns and a baseball bat by the bed when there’s really no crime at all in the neighborhood.
My mother was a romantic at heart but a pragmatist in action. When she got home after work, she was usually tired and irritable. My sister and I usually tiptoed around her and would avoid all contact at the sight of her dismay. When we’re asleep & my dad was out gambling, she spent her alone time reading, playing video games or watching HBO movies . Somehow she managed to volunteer to help others and learned new hobbies on her free time. On the weekends, my mom showed her gentle and loving side; the three of us often went to the park or took small trips.
After my parents’ divorce, my mother took me and my sister to live with her family in another city. We moved several times from one relative’s home to another. Child support was not and is still not a reinforced obligation by the Taiwanese government. My mom continued to working long hours in the retail & customer service sector. We saw my father probably five times in our teens and he still never held a job.
I believe that’s why I chose psychology as my major in college, trying to figure out my father’s mental pathology and my mom’s hysteria. And the reason why I became an industrial and organizational psychologist, learning the art and science of work.
For a father that never worked and a mom who’s always working. The dissonant duet that shaped my life and made me become who I am. It’s like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head. Involuntarily, I think about employment and labor economics and how they affect people’s lives all the time, over and over.