My Father's Daughter This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

January 26, 2013
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Baba remembers China. He remembers the crisp twilight air and the dusty, unpaved roads around his tiny village. Half a century does little to dampen the memory of his childhood.

Baba remembers hard times too. Baba said he never understood the stress lines in his mother's brow as she ripped old rags and pressed them into home-made shoes for her four children. Baba never understood the sweat dripping from the brow of the farmers as they grimaced from the ache in their backs. Baba never understood why their family of six only shared one pound of meat per year. Baba never understood poverty.

So when Baba entered school, he didn't understand what it was for at first. Baba was smart. Every day, Baba would return to the village with a bright light in his eye and wonder in his words at the interesting knowledge he acquired that day. Baba's mother and father proudly nodded at their son. And Baba's sister looked longingly from the corner at him and wished for a chance to attend just one day of school.

When Baba was accepted to the best high school in the county, he was ecstatic and scared at the prospect of living away from home. But Baba soon adapted. He lost himself in the learning and yearned for more. He lost himself in the complex, paved streets in the city and the bright lights. Baba lost himself in the grandeur of a new home. And Baba liked it.

Baba went home every week to his village. He watched as the men and boys toiled in the fallow fields, trying to save some last crops before the first frost hit. Baba watched his older sister as she sewed rags together to try and save cloth for a new winter coat. Baba saw the dim flicker of the kerosene lamps as the chilly winds blew and oil ran low. And Baba says it was that moment that he knew he wanted something different.

Baba threw himself into the exams at school. He finished first in all of his class and was accepted with a full scholarship to study in Beijing, the hubbub of the country. After receiving a degree, he started to work, and continued to wonder. Baba thought about his family and his sister, about the farmers in the village, and about his childhood. Occasionally Baba returned to his home and was reminded of his motivation to stay in school.

When Baba met Mama, a new page turned. The two hatched an impossible plan- to leave the familiar and venture into the mysterious grounds of a country with a completely different language, culture, and face: America. There, they hoped to raise a child without the experience of what they both had experienced when they were younger. On a scholarship, Baba went to study in Texas, where a daughter was born. Every night, Baba sat the girl on his knee and told her stories of the chill Chinese air in the twilight, of the dusty dirt roads of the village, and of distant childhood memories.

She grew up a happy child surrounded by a comfortable life. But as she grew older, things changed. Her tongue of Chinese was lost in the folds of the English language. The food, clothing, music- they were all rejected. Baba's daughter became completely critical of her father's culture, and essentially, hers as well.

But one day, after digging through a musty closet, she found a yellowed photo album. In it were photos of her Baba at around her age, with a young, bright eyed wife at his side. She could see the fresh wonder in their eyes and their sense of adventure to what was to be the biggest journey of their life. She flipped through and found photos of her, dressed in hand-me-down, yellowed baby clothing with used cribs. Suddenly, she saw her young father, studying intensely at the university while trying to keep his wife and daughter fed and warm with a measly nine hundred a month. The photos aged and she saw a young girl hugging her father, who worked overtime in his lab using himself as a test subject for a prospective project aiding diabetics. She remembered his swollen fingers and disgust and confusion to why he was using himself as a guinea pig. The last photo in the album was one of her and her father at a current age. Now the same height, they stared at the camera with the same tenacity and steadfastness. Baba's daughter saw the pain, hard work, and sacrifice etched in her father's aging brow, but saw his early childhood resilience in her own eyes. In that moment, as the twilight sun hit the crisp air and fell on the small photo in the room, Baba's daughter finally understood.

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