Asian millennial dads on becoming fathers

Cold Tea Collective spoke with four Asian North American millennial dads as they opened up about their transition to fatherhood.

When you think of the typical Asian dad, the stoic Appa from Kim’s Convenience or the meme of High Expectations Asian Father might be what comes to mind. 

As Millennial dads become parents for the first time, they are redefining what it means to be a dad and challenging traditional roles and expectations. In fact,  Millennial dads are now spending three times more time with their children than previous generations.

When it comes to parenthood, the focus tends to be on the mother, usually due to physical factors.  By shedding light on the equally important and individually nuanced experiences of the father, we can reshape the way fathers, their partners, and society embrace and celebrate fatherhood (and not just on Father’s Day!)

Cold Tea Collective took the deep dive with four Asian North American millennial dads—all with ultra-adorable kiddies under four—as they opened up about their transition to fatherhood. 

RANDY LOWE

Dad to Karina, 4 months

Image provided by Randy Lowe

“One of the exciting, and beautiful, things about being a new father is discovering it all for yourself.

What was it like to hold/meet your child for the first time?

It’s a bit overwhelming to think that you had a part to play in bringing this precious life into this world. The period of waiting is finally over and the fruit of it all is here. She was beautiful. 

It was weird to know that in a moment, I was now a father. My fatherly instinct told me that I wanted nothing more than to love and protect my baby. Next, I had to inspect her features. She definitely has my nose!

What has been the toughest part of becoming a new father?

Accepting that time moves so quickly.  Everyone tells you to cherish every moment, but you don’t really know what that means until you look back. I just want to go back and enjoy the early stages for a bit longer.

What is something you wish you knew before becoming a parent?

I think one of the exciting and beautiful things about being a new father is discovering it all for yourself. Discovering the role through spending time with your baby is humbling, but it also brings so much joy. It reveals a lot about yourself and your own shortcomings.

What did you learn from your parents that you are carrying into the way you parent?

I had a great childhood and my parents always gave us their best. They encouraged us to keep learning and participate in extracurricular activities. My dad taught me so much about sports and is the reason why I love sports. I hope I can do the same for my children.

What is a family tradition you’d like to pass on or start?

I plan to set aside some time each week for a father-daughter “date” and enjoy something special like ice cream, tell silly jokes, and enjoy each other’s company.

I can already picture the laughs we’ll have and the chocolate ice cream all over her face. I don’t know how long this tradition may last, but I hope that heart of it will always remain – that daddy will always set aside time to spend with her and be present with her.

What is something you’d like to tell your child?

Simply that I love her. I want my daughter to know that she is loved so much and valued—not because of what she has done, but simply because she is my daughter. I hope to keep showing her affection and not to be afraid to be the same loving father at home and in public.

Growing up in an Asian family, this wasn’t something I heard very often. Feelings are rarely talked about or communicated in a direct or uplifting way. I hope by letting my daughter I love her, it’ll change the way she sees the world, treats others and values relationships.

See also: How I forgave my Asian parents

YIK PENNER

Dad to Noah, 4 and Emilia, 2 

Image provided by Yik Penner

“As a millennial, we try to read up on what’s right parenting, but it’s about knowing that you love your kids and you want what’s best for them. Sometimes messing up is part of parenting.”

What was it like to hold/meet your child for the first time?

My first experience [with Noah] was when I could first feel him moving or kicking. Even in the womb, he was in tune with people around him. Whenever he heard my voice, he would move.

It was surreal. When he came out, I felt an overwhelming relief that he was healthy. First you feel anxious, but all of a sudden, a sense of excitement comes ahead. It was a beautiful moment.

What has been the toughest part of becoming a new father?

In talking to some dads, they felt this loss of identity because they had to give up what they loved to take care of their kids. To mitigate that, I tried to get everything I wanted to do out of the way so when my kid was born, I wouldn’t feel like I had to give up everything all of a sudden.

What is something you wish you knew before becoming a parent?

Parents just need to extend themselves a little more grace when it comes to taking care of kids. As a millennial, we have access to all this information. We read up on what’s right parenting, but it’s about knowing that you love your kids and you want what’s best for them. 

Sometimes messing up is part of parenting. We should have the freedom to iterate what parenting is, experiment and to have the wisdom to know that you’re on the right track even if it’s not perfectly aligned with what you are reading. 

See also: Jake Choi, Single Parents, and the importance of representation

Image provided by Yik Penner

What did you learn from your parents that you are carrying into the way you parent?

I had a unique experience growing up. I am Chinese and was adopted by white parents. My parents were missionaries for the church and they lived a fluid lifestyle. They didn’t always know where money would be coming from. They knew they had to rely on each other and did whatever needed to be done to ensure food was on the table and kids were being looked after.

I didn’t have any fixed ideas about my role as a dad or expectations of what my wife should do. I go with the flow and just do what I need to do as a dad and partner.

What is a family tradition you’d like to pass on or start?

One thing we started doing recently is turning off all the screens and enjoying dinner time together. My kids don’t make a whole lot of sense right—they are four and two—but I just want to spend time with them and hang out as a family.

What is something you’d like to tell your child?

With the stress of working a full-time job and having side hustles, there is a sense of guilt about other people taking care of your kids. When you do have your kids for a few hours, you’re not always patient. I make sure my kids know I love them and that if I go off on them, it’s not their fault.

I hope they can look back and know that I was present, engaged and supportive – and that I have their backs.

See also: Learning to enjoy the sport of table tennis after ‘Asian-style parenting’

REUBEN HEREDIA

Dad to Rita, 1 

Image provided by Reuben Heredia

“Even though I was feeling the kick in the womb, I didn’t feel a connection until I held her. When she came out, nothing else mattered.”

What was it like to hold/meet your child for the first time?

Even though I was feeling the kick in the womb, I didn’t feel a connection until I held her.

Rita was delivered through a c-section, after the doctors noticed that her heart rate was dropping. It turned out the cord was wrapped around her neck. 

When she came out, nothing else mattered. This was the first time I felt unconditional love. When I held her, I felt protective, anxiety, fear, and joy. It was like everything had culminated at that moment. 

What has been the toughest part of becoming a new father?

The toughest part is trying to set boundaries, especially when she becomes a toddler. She now understands action and consequences.

What is something you wish you knew before becoming a parent?

EVERYTHING! If anything, it’s the importance of a routine. People think of routines as fixed and rigid, but having a strict schedule during the day actually gives us more freedom.

What did you learn from your parents that you are carrying into the way you parent?

There is a tug-of-war between the information we tend to get in North America and from our upbringing. I can’t just discount everything my parents are saying because I am looking at it from the lens of an Asian diaspora. It’s about sifting through the positive and negative things about your experience and figuring out what you want to bring forward in a positive manner.

What is a family tradition you’d like to pass on or start?

Cooking meals together. My mom has three sisters and is the only one who cooks exactly like my grandma. She has my grandma’s recipe book, who wrote down everything before she died. It’s one of the few links we have to her and to Bombay.

My wife is Vietnamese and I’m Indian, so I hope Rita gains an appreciation for both cuisines. Food is likely the only connection to her heritage since my wife speaks Vietnamese, but English is my first and only language. 

What is something you’d like to tell your child?

You do you. She is so interesting right now and her personality is very visible. When she gets older, we are going to start molding that. Hopefully, who she is is not lost in that process. 

See also: How I became my family’s translator and emotional support system

CHRIS SIU

Dad to Noah, 1

Image provided by Chris Siu

“He will always be my son. I will always be his dad, and I will always love him.”

What was it like to hold/meet your child for the first time?

Noah came about seven weeks early, so it was a bit of a shock. The whole day was a whirlwind. My wife had contractions, so we went to the hospital at 4 AM and we were told to be prepared to give birth that afternoon. There was no earth-shattering moment or sudden shift in identity. It wasn’t magical, but it just was. 

Honest talk: I was expecting him to be ugly, especially since he was a preemie, but he was actually really cute!

What has been the toughest part of becoming a new father?

The hardest part is having two people come together and sort out how they are going to take care of this child—while adding in the lack of sleep and stress of being new parents.

What is something you wish you knew before becoming a parent?

It would’ve been good to have someone to remind me that I’m figuring this out and that’s ok, and that it’ll be confusing for a while. At the end of the day, you care about your baby and you’re trying.

What did you learn from your parents that you are carrying into the way you parent?

Start firm at the beginning when they are younger. Establish certain routines and boundaries, so as they get older, you can slowly let go.

My dad was a doctor who worked 1.5 times more than a regular doctor. Never once did I feel like he didn’t have time for me and my brother. That’s what I want my kid to grow up knowing—that I always had time for him and got down and dirty to help him if he needed that support. 

See also: How eating plant-based connected me to extended family

Image provided by Chris Siu

What is a family tradition you’d like to pass on or start?

During major holidays, my family would get together with other families who also have kids. It was like an extended group of family. We weren’t as close with our own relatives and didn’t have many here. It takes a village to raise a child, and it was nice to have a group of adults to watch you grow up. They also helped me practice speaking Chinese. 

Another thing I’d like to try is Monster Nights. One night a week, the kids can create their own meals and make their own rules. 

What is something you’d like to tell your child?

No matter what, I will always be there for him. I will always love him no matter how mad I get or how sideways things go. He will always be my son. I will always be his dad, and I will always love him.

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