In his new memoir Stay True (Doubleday), New York author Hua Hsu recalls his teenage years as a time of crossing great distances—both generational and global—one page at a time.
When I was a teenager, my father moved from our home in California to Taiwan for work. My mother and I stayed back in the US. So my family bought a couple of fax machines.
In theory, this was so that my father could help me with my math homework. It was the early 90s and faxing was cheaper than long distance calling and more efficient. There were no awkward silences.
I was starting high school and everything, like my grades and extracurricular activities, suddenly seemed consequential. Like many immigrants, my parents believed in math – you couldn’t discriminate about the right answer.
“I’m sorry I can’t be around all the time to support you whenever you need it.”
I could always fax my dad a question at night and wait for an answer until I wake up. My homework requests were usually marked “Urgent”.
He responded with equations and proofs – and comments he thought I would be interested in.
“This year’s World Series was pretty exciting, wasn’t it?”
We were like two strangers exchanging small talk in a hardware store.
“That’s the dilemma of life: you have to find meaning, but at the same time you have to accept reality. What do you believe?”
Through these impromptu missions, she tried so hard to parent and relate. When Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, killed himself in 1994, my father wrote:
“We have to have emotion. That’s what differentiates the human from the machine, the robot. But we also have to know how to control it.”
But I was a teenager. It was the heyday of alternative culture and I desperately wanted to be different – from my parents and from everyone else around me. My father’s faxes helped me understand difficult mathematical concepts. However, there were questions that neither he nor my mom could help me navigate.
“What I want to say is that we have to have the ideal thinking to change the world for the better.”
Just as he was reacclimating to Taiwan, a place he had left decades before, I was trying to find my way around the suburbs of Silicon Valley.
We managed to stay connected. But I was an American kid, I was restless and I was looking for my people.
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Story production by Mary Raffalli. Editor: George Pozderec.