by Jennifer Zhan, editor-in-chief 

Since we were young, my dad helped me and my sister get ahead in math, slowly walking us through multiplication and long division at a time when a lot of our peers were still trying to figure out how to add without using their fingers.

It paid off for my sister. She ended up going on to represent the United States at an international math competition. As for me, I would eventually appreciate that I could always rely on math to be one of my easier classes, but at the time, I wasn’t very thankful. I seethed during my dad’s patient lessons. On one particularly mutinous day in elementary school, I didn’t do my problems and instead used my time to labor over a short essay explaining why asking me to do math at home was equivalent to forced child labor. Unsurprisingly, the hope that I would develop into some sort of math genius was short-lived.

I’ve always felt the most different from my dad. He has a bachelor’s in engineering, a master’s in applied mathematics, and a PhD in systems engineering. He thinks calculating restaurant tips in his head is a fun game. I think challenging myself to read the entire Harry Potter series in one sitting is a fun game, and I’ve always been pretty sure that I would be the first person in my family to major in liberal arts instead of a STEM-related field. I love my dad, but growing up, I didn’t see myself in him at all.

My attitude changed because of a place I’d never have expected him to be: social media. 

WeChat exploded onto Chinese markets several years ago. The mobile app, which provides free messaging and calling, quickly expanded to become an integral part of Chinese society. It’s now a common way of exchanging money in the country, and users can call taxis, schedule appointments, and browse the web without ever leaving the app. Meanwhile, Chinese-Americans discovered that WeChat provided a way to keep in touch with family and old friends without needing to deal with international fees and poor service. It also was a way to connect with other Chinese-Americans.

“I have to read through the college group chat when I get up because most of them still live in China and talk when it’s night here,” my dad said one day over breakfast. “And when all of us who moved to America talk, they’re sleeping.”

I looked up from Facebook, where I’d been scrolling through the sophomore group chat – I hadn’t been online the night before and was trying to catch up on the messages I’d missed.

Although it was a bit unsettling at first, I got used to my dad getting as many notifications as I did, seeing him use a selfie stick to take photos for albums on his profile, and having him share videos with me that I could only assume they were the equivalent of Chinese memes. I reasoned that it wasn’t fair to limit the older generation to leaving uncomfortably personal comments on Facebook forever.

But this year, he did the unthinkable. He started sharing blog posts through WeChat– and he was successful. As of last week he’s gotten over 18,000 visitors, and last month, when he went to visit a friend in another state, a stranger recognized him from the pictures in his posts.  

I built my entire middle school identity on the fact that I had a blog. Now, granted, my dad blogs about hiking trips and marathons, not preteen drama, but the resemblance was impossible to ignore. I never expected to think that my dad reminded me of myself, but there he was, getting excited about his first post, editing drafts over and over again, checking to see how many views he got, and answering every comment. I was astonished to realize that I’m not the only person in my family who feels more comfortable expressing myself on paper than out loud. 

Yes, I have done my best to wipe all traces of my ridiculously sparkly middle school blog from the internet. But I wouldn’t ever want to delete that experience. Blogging was how I realized how much I liked writing and having my writing be read by others, even though my couple dozen followers now pale in comparison to my dad’s audience. It was incredible to see my dad fall in love with writing in the exact same way, to find out that we were more alike than we thought. 

My Chinese vocabulary is roughly on the level of a first grader, so I can’t evaluate the quality of his writing. But I can say that it is incredibly visible and beautiful when a person discovers something they love to do. My dad tells me that when he was young, he picked engineering because it was the most competitive major, and assumed that made it the best. He’s good at his job, and has the patents and research papers and textbooks to back it up. But he never really thought about trying something else. He never had to write anything that wasn’t technical. Besides, there wasn’t really a good place to share writing in Chinese.

Social media gave him access to a community where he could talk about himself and his experiences in the language he knew best. It allowed him to realize that like me, he liked to write. Though we had always felt that we had little in common, I suppose that living in the digital age, it shouldn’t have surprised us that there was an app for that.  

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