September 20, 2015

DENG | Remember Your Roots

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Yesterday, I had one of my first spells of homesickness.

It came as a surprise. Not because I thought I would never get homesick (which would be arrogant to assume), but because everything has started falling into place for the past week or so. And just when you think you’re adjusting, life saunters in and reminds you that you’re on your own.

In high school, I was so bogged down by extracurricular activities that for days at a time I’d only go home to sleep before waking up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school again. Now, I truly feel the consequences, regretting the time lost that could have spent with my family: the only people I know who love me unconditionally, even more so now that I’m in college.

When I was saying good-bye to everyone at the airport, my dad said three words:

“Make your mark.”

They were so simple, but they struck me in way I’d never forget. I looked at him, seeing him as I never did before. I saw all the years in his eyes. All the pain and the determination. The brooding look that seems intimidating to those who don’t know him. But behind all that is a man who just wants to do good for his family.

My dad is a man of few words. He isn’t particularly expressive and seems almost sullen at times, especially after a long day at work. I used to look at other dads who were so social and outwardly affectionate and wonder, “Why couldn’t I have that?” Although I knew that making these comparisons was unfair, I couldn’t help it sometimes. I was being selfish. I didn’t understand how hard it was for him, and I wasn’t being very considerate of other aspects that mattered.

As a United States Postal Service (USPS) employee, he leaves home daily at 6:00 a.m. to brave the hour-long drive to work and returns almost 12 hours later. He works whether it’s frigid or blistering outside. In recent years, USPS has been closing many of its local branches and laying off thousands of workers. He participates in a union to fight the wave of unemployment, but nevertheless, he worries about the future because the industry is shaky, threatened by its own policies and the rise of more streamlined delivery services. He tells us about the injustices and flaws in the system and why they anger him; there were superiors benefiting from these flaws, treating them as standard practices so that there was almost nothing the employees could do to fix them. The odds were against his favor.

Considering all of the above and more, his decision to continue fighting for all of us is miraculous. That he powers through the exhaustion and still has time to make sure that we live comfortably is a blessing. That he never hesitates to answer my frantic calls – even during work! – is more than any daughter can ask for.

I still remember the night I had a particularly ugly outburst. I stormed into my room with no intent of talking to anyone for the rest of the night. He came in and, instead of chiding me, told me some of the most reasonable, compassionate things I’d ever heard. After some point, my icy demeanor melted and my troubles sank beneath the horizon.

“Make your mark.” Comforting to hear, but simultaneously frightening. Where or how do I even begin? Thinking about my dad has led me to realize that I don’t need to start with grandiose visions. I’ve chosen to follow him: to be action oriented and efficient, to have meaningful words for others. Concise and powerful.

Start small and remember your roots.