The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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The American Dream Feels More Like a Nightmare

When I was growing up in Seoul, Korea, my father was a caring person who tried to spend as much time with me as possible. I am the only son of his three children, and I felt like I was adored the most. Every weekend, my father would take me to the zoo or to a soccer game. Sometimes, he allowed me to play in his grand office. We had fun. But this changed when we came to America.

When I was 9 my parents decided to move to the U.S. They knew that my sisters and I would get a better college education here and we’d have an easier time landing good jobs. Getting a job after graduating in Korea is like catching the stars.

We moved to Dallas, Texas, where my uncle lived, and he helped my parents buy a restaurant that sold burgers, fries, and hot dogs. In Seoul, my father was an executive at a broadcasting company and my mother owned a hair salon with a lot of celebrity clients, so this was a huge change for them. They had to work in the kitchen more than 10 hours a day, including holidays and weekends. I pondered how my parents were able to work like this.

However, I also knew that the labor wasn’t the only struggle. One night I overheard them talking in the kitchen. They were sitting at the table drinking their usual late night glass of wine. They were talking about a customer who had talked down to them and insulted them. “These things happen here, you know,” my mother responded with a soft, motherly voice. The conversation got too depressing so I decided to go to sleep.

After a few years, my parents moved to Queens. I don’t know what happened to our restaurant in Dallas, or what kind of work they ended up getting here because my parents told me not to be nosy about “adult stuff.”

But suddenly my parents expected my two sisters and me to do a lot more schoolwork. Their priority went from getting accustomed to the U.S. to making sure we got straight A’s. It was a lot for me to cope with all at once but I did it. If I complained about the work my dad would hit me. This happened in Korea, but only if I did something terrible like lie to him or come home late from my friend’s house. Now it was more frequent.

Always Angry

These days my dad is short-tempered and angry a lot. When he thinks someone is being disrespectful to him, he yells in their face. Once, he took me with him to the phone company to yell at the manager about our bill. I had to be his personal Google Translator and translate all his curses and expressions of rage. (Just kidding, I didn’t. In fact he often suspects me of being too nice and mistranslating his words.) This kind of thing happens a lot.

When I was in middle school, my oldest sister graduated as the valedictorian of her high school and went to an Ivy League college. She epitomized what my father envisioned for us. It was great to see her take this path, because if she didn’t it would defeat the purpose of my parents bringing us here. My parents, who wished for the same future for us as my oldest sister, started to prepare my other sister and me for college. Even though they struggled financially, they sent us to test prep schools and to music lessons.

You’d think my dad would be happier that we are all doing well—but he isn’t. Just the opposite. He pushes me hard to become the best in the family. He wants me to be in the top 1% of everything I do.

image by YC-Art Dept

I can’t help noticing the difference between my father now and 10 years ago. For instance, whenever we’re in the car together, he judges people on the street and tells me not to behave or dress like them. In Seoul, he would never have made rude comments about people.

Too Results-Oriented

My father used to tell me stories about great men like John F. Kennedy or Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, or Bill Gates. He would encourage me to be like these famous men and to set my standards high. Now he believes I’m mature enough to be them. He wants to see results. Instead of encouraging me, now he yells at me.

One night I was studying in my room. My father walked in to check up on me. He saw my dirty socks on the floor and a cup of coffee by the printer.

He instructed me to clean them up right then. I pretended not to hear him with my headphones on. He got really mad. He threw them on the floor.

“Hey!” he yelled angrily.

“Why do I have to?” I asked him.

“Did you just question me? Who do you think you are? Do you think you can go to college without my support? Is that why you talk back to me?”

This was typical. When he picked a fight he would go on for about 30 minutes, also bringing up my bad test scores or previous “incidents” such as my playing computer games without his permission and not being ready to go to church on time.

It drives me mad that no one else seems to care how my father has changed. Sometimes I ask my sisters. I only get responses like, “Just do what he says, then he won’t yell at you.” They are wise enough to go with the flow. It seems as if I am the lone duckling in this situation.

I would love to have more of my old dad back. One day I want to talk to him about why he’s so angry and unhappy. I know deep inside, he’s still struggling because he had to come to a new country and learn the language and culture while having no friends. I respect his strength and the courage that motivated him to come here for his kids. Even though he hasn’t shown it in a long time, I know that he is a great person. But still sometimes I think, how hard is it to say, “Good job, son”?

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