I look like ain’t nobody touched me
But if you really knew me,
You’d know that I had to overcome much to become me.
A smiling face,
But deep in his heart
I wanna tell you some stories from my childhood.
I remember when I was ten and my sister was eight. My family was broke because my dad gambled away all the rent money. My dad never held a job from when I was two years old.
We were broke, and he forced my mom to call my uncle in Canada to beg for money. My uncle said no.
My dad then told my uncle:
Okay then, if you don’t send us money, you take care of our kids then.
My dad then put me and my sister on a flight; one way ticket to Toronto.
My dad then called my uncle, and told him that me and my sister were at the airport, then hung up the phone.
Imagine me ten years old, and my younger sister eight years old, alone at the Toronto airport. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but I knew something was weird. I remember the night before, my mom and dad yelling, my mom heart broken with tears. She was powerless.
I don’t remember all the details, but either my uncle or my cousin picked me up from the airport. We spent the next two weeks at my uncle and aunt’s home. I have fond memories playing Mario Kart with my cousin Willie (he was in college at the time).
I think eventually my uncle finally caved in, and sent my family money. I’m not sure what happened to it, but I’m pretty sure some of it went into paying rent and the rest of it my dad gambled away.
I think about this experience and how emotionally scarring it should have had on me, but it didn’t.
I was eleven years old, and my sister was nine years old.
My mom was finally tired of all my dads shit, and she had a plan: she would escape and run away from him.
She then packed up all our stuff, and took me and my sister on a one way flight from Alameda, California to Queens, New York. We didn’t tell my dad.
We arrived in Queens, with literally one suitcase. We literally had nothing. I’m not joking, we had fucking nothing.
I still have a vivid memory of our first apartment. It was in the basement of some small apartment in queens. We had a fridge (empty), one bedroom, and no furniture. The place was dark, and empty. The owners of the property (think they were Korean) gave us some blankets, and we laid them out on the ground and slept on the floor (Asian style).
We had no tv. No couch. Nothing.
I remember being in elementary school at some school in queens, and my peers told me:
You don’t own a TV?
We had no money. My mom had to look for work. Me and my sister went to the public library, and picked up a shitload of books. I remember demolishing 400+ page Star Wars fiction books. I had an insatiable hunger for books. I consumed about four hundred pages every day or two. As a kid, I had no other form of entertainment.
But strangely enough, I never felt “poor”.
I still remember, we visited the owners of the property (lovely people), and the Ajoomah (Korean lady) made me a grilled cheese sandwich. I still remember her slagging on fat slices of butter on the grill, and toasted the Kraft milk cheese perfectly. Crispy, and butter dripping down my hands.
Fucking makes me so bittersweet, when I think of it.
My dad tracked us down from one of my moms “friends” who ratted us out. My mom begrudgingly let him back in, after my dad begged that he would change.
He was the same. Smoked cigarettes, and watched tv and movies and read books all day, while my mom slaved away. My mom was essentially toiling away 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week, working under the table jobs as a cashier, cleaning homes, and picking up any menial (below minimum wage) jobs to pay the rent.
I still remember my first moment of empowerment. My parents bought me my first computer: an ACER Aspire, 1GB hard drive, 38.8k modem, and an Intel Pentium I processor (MMX).
I became a pirate at age twelve. I used those free AOL cds, and joined “warez” and “cerver” chat rooms and would download Grand Theft Auto 1, part of one of thirty files as a .RAR file, and even the first version of Visual Basic. I taught myself programming for fun. I learned how to build a “punter” which kicked people out of chat rooms by overloading them with gibberish code. I learned how to hand code my own HTML website. I downloaded music via Napster, I still remember it took an hour for a three megabyte song.
If internet piracy never existed, this destitute twelve year old could have never had access to culture, information, technology, and couldn’t have escaped his shitty life and predicament being dead broke.
At the end of the sixth grade, my parents made a bad investment in a grocery store in the Bronx. The Korean couple that sold the business to my parents lied, and we inherited a million dollars of debt. We had to file bankruptcy, and then after a sorrowful goodbye to my friends, we drove back to California in our black 1991 Nissan Maxima, with peeling black paint, faded purple tinted windows. Several nights we slept in the car, because we couldn’t afford the motels.
I was twelve, and entered the seventh grade at Lincoln Middle School. I made new friends, and was the new kid on the block.
Being a kid was tough. I was punked and bullied as a kid. I remember being called gay and faggot all the time. These punk ass kids would fuck with me, and I let them do it to me.
When I was in eighth grade, I was like fuck it, I ain’t letting nobody fuck with me no more. I started to work out. I befriended some of the kids who were gang affiliated. I felt cool, and badass. I bought clothes that were cool. Nobody knew I and my family were still poor.
In eight grade, my best friend A joined a gang. I still remember one day after we were playing Super Smash Brothers on his Nintendo, he took off his shirt and I saw all these scars on his back. I asked him what happened. He told me that another gang jumped him when he was alone and got knifed up.
My friends sold weed and ecstasy at age 13 in the eighth grade. I still remember my friend T came over my house, and he took a (full) tablet of Ecstacy, and touched my walls and carpet for the next few hours, telling me how incredible it was.
I was addicted to watching anime (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Dragon Ball Z) and playing computer games (Starcraft and Counter strike). Perhaps it was a form of escapism from my everyday reality.
I remember one day, my friend J told me that another crew was fucking with us. On the phone he told me to meet at the local park and to bring a strap (gun) if I had one. I told him I didn’t. He told me to bring a kitchen knife instead. I said okay. I took the biggest kitchen knife in the house and wrapped it in a small white rag from the kitchen. He then called me and said they chickened out. I put the knife back into the wooden holder.
My friend A told me his gang leader wanted me to join me. He told me that he liked how I was smart. I tried to avoid the conversation.
I got lucky, my dad convinced my mom for us to move from Alameda to Castro Valley for a better high school education for me. He knew that Alameda was starting to go to shit. All the gang bangers from Oakland were infiltrating Alameda. He wanted me away from these negative influences. We ended up moving, against my moms will. Thanks dad, I owe you for this one.
I entered Castro a Valley High as a freshman. I had to start off again from scratch.
Shit at home didn’t get any better. My dad still didn’t have a job, while my mom toiled away at work, working as a waitress at Sushi House in Alameda; commuting over an hour and a half a day, and struggling to pay $3,000 a month in rent (a place we couldn’t afford, but my dad wanted to live like a king).
The home was lovely. My mom had a big ass backyard. She tended her garden, planted flowers, and veggies and fruit.
I’m fifteen years old, and I wanted money to buy a car. I get a job as a busboy at Sushi House, getting paid under the table, and getting tips. I make $3,000 that summer. I toiled 12 hour days. I saw how hard the Mexican guys in the back worked. They fucking hustled so hard. I admired them for their hustle, and never complaining. Sending money back home to their family in Mexico. They were my role models. Whoever says Mexicans are lazy; fuck them. Whoever says deport Mexicans back to Mexico and build a wall; fuck them. California couldn’t have existed without their fucking slave-like labor. Trust me, ain’t nobody want a job that Mexicans do. They’re the most heroic people I know, who get paid next to nothing, so we can have our $20 Tacos in gentrified fusion restaurants.
My dad then says he has a business opportunity in LA, but needs money. I believe in him. Like a fool, I gave him the $3,000. I still remember all that money I put in my Adidas shoe box.
I had a feeling my dad was going to never give me the money back. I didn’t care. I believed in him, and wanted to take a risk and a chance.
Of course he gambled it away. He left home for a month. Before he left, my mom checked the odometer of his two door, automatic, 1995 Acura Integra (red) and discovered he never drove down to Los Angeles. Rather, he only went a few hundred miles. Probably went to Reno to gamble away the money. He was addicted to gambling, and this why I fucking absolutely hate gambling. These motherfucking gambling companies fuck up families like ours.
When I found out my dad betrayed me, I didn’t take it personally. To be frank, I kind of knew it would happen. I vowed to myself to never trust him again.
I’m sixteen years old, junior in high school.
Shit at home gets ugly. My dad is even more mentally abusive to my mom.
Everyday, he tells her that she is a worthless bitch, a piece of shit, and she deserves to suffer.
My mom is literally going insane.
One day, when I’m not home, this is what happens:
My mom comes home early, and my dad is home (watching tv, and smoking cigarettes). He demands for the rent money. My mom says no. They get into an argument, and my dad grabs my mom by her short curly hair, and slams her face, repeatedly, onto the kitchen counter. My mom, eyes red, reaches to her right, and grabs a kitchen knife.
My mom told me,
Eric, at the moment, I wanted to kill your father.
My mom then only slightly cuts him, and she exits her maddened trance. My dad then says,
Haha, you stupid bitch. I’m going to call the cops, and they’re going to lock you up forever. And you will rot and die in the prison cell, like you deserve, you worthless bitch.
He calls the cops. The cops come. The cops interview my mom and dad.
Me and my sister come home. I have no idea what is happening– there are at least two or three cop cars outside.
The officers with a kind smile, ask me if they can ask me some questions upstairs. I say okay. I sit in my parents master bedroom with a cop on the bed. He asks me what has been happening at home. I tell him everything. I tell him how my dad has been mentally and physically abusing my mom (pretty much as long as I can remember). He hugs me and tells me that everything will be ok.
The cops then cuff my dad, and take him away. He doesn’t come back home for at least two weeks. My mom tells me that they took him to jail. My mom holds me and tells me not to worry ever again, my dad will never ruin our family.
Like a fool, after about 6 months, my dad comes back home, and begs my mom to take him back. The grandma (Russel halmunee) who rents one of our bedrooms is the one who empowers my mom, and tells him absolutely to reject him. My mom is overcome with guilt, and still lets my dad back in.
Eventually a month or two later, my mom wants to formally divorce him. My grandma (my dads mom) flies in from Korea. There is a formal intervention at my house. There is my older aunt, my uncle, my grandma, my mom, me, and my sister, and my dad.
My dad tells me and my sister Anna, that we have to choose to stay with him or go with my mom. My dad tells me not to be an idiot and to go with him. My mom tells me and my sister to make whatever decision we think is best.
My sister says she is going to go with umma (mom). My dad disowns her on the spot. My sister bursts into tears, and runs into her room.
I am standing there, with everyone looking at me. My heart heavy; I knew I wanted to go with my mom. But I felt this fucking immense pressure, to somehow satisfy my dad and my entire family. I knew the right answer, but I didn’t have the courage or the balls to say what I really thought.
I then have a flash back to all the times my dad beat my mom, or called her a worthless bitch and piece of shit, and how she deserved to die. I fucking wish I had the courage to intervene. To fucking beat the shit out of my dad, to bloody my knuckles, and to throw him onto the floor. I wish I stood up for my mom.
My dad was a small and skinny scrawny man. I could easily beat the shit out of him. I could have told him to never fuck with my mom again, or else I would kill him.
But I didn’t. I was weak. I didn’t know how to stand up for my beliefs and ideals.
Eyes all still on me, I tell them that I want to go with my dad, but it might be better for me to go with my mom, for practical reasons– she worked and made money, and my dad didn’t. My dad said he would work. I knew he was spewing bullshit.
I was more firm. I said I’m going with mom.
My dad then says fine, you’re not my son anymore. He disowned me. But I didn’t care. He had no more power over me.
My dad visited the house a few more times, but my Russel Halmunee convinced my mom to call the cops. My mom put a restraining order on my dad. He was put in jail one or two more times.
I’m 18 years old. I become an Eagle Scout.
At my awards ceremony at the Free Masons Club in Alameda, my past scout masters: David Dial, Pat Ransil, and Mike O’ Connor are there. All the adults who helped me get there.
My mom gives a speech. She chokes up as she says the words in her broken English:
Thank you so much for raising my son. Thank you so much for showing him the light. Thank you so much for helping my son.
My mom is choked up. Swollen eyes. A look of admiration.
I look at all the adults in the room as I am in the podium. I realized, if it weren’t for the community, I would have been on the streets, or in juvenile hall.
Thank you mom, God, and my adopted fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, mentors, teachers, and friends.
I didn’t invite my dad to the Eagle Scout ceremony. He found out in the local newspaper.
Ten years later, at age 28, he finds out I married the life of my life, Cindy, via this blog, on how I photographed my own wedding.
I think my dad has Schizophrenia or some other mental degenerative disease. He has lost touch with reality. He once told me how he saw Lucifer in the pixels of this blog. I know my dad had a fucked up childhood too, and in turn, he fucked me up too.
But somehow, regardless of all these scars, I emerged triumphant and stronger.
My life lessons include,
One, life ain’t fucking roses. Living life is an act of courage. To live everyday, with fear of being homeless is tough on a child. But it taught me to always be grateful of what I have. It taught me, even though I lived in constant fear, I could fucking hustle my way out of poverty. With enough willpower, I could achieve the American dream. And I have.
From age eighteen to twenty nine, I have gone to UCLA on a governmental scholarship and work study. I have had some of the finest teachers in the public school system. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m unapologetically pro American.
The American dream does exist. It just doesn’t happen to everyone. I just got lucky. I had the right luck of the right leaders, and the right guidance from my parents. Even though my dad was horrible, he was a great anti role model. In terms of learning how to be a father figure, I learned to do the opposite of him. I have never put a finger on Cindy, nor said any word of malice to her. And my dad did emphasize education, so thanks dad.
My mom is my mother Mary, and my personal Jesus. She sacrificed everything for me. She taught me my morals, ethics, and my innate source of hustle. Thank you mom for everything, you legacy of selflessness will live on forever.
Second, I learned success can only come from opportunity. I was lucky to have good opportunities from my local church, local Korean American community center for youth, my Boy Scouts troop, work study opportunities, and governmental aid to go to college.
Third, I learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Even though my heart was scarred every since I was ten years old, it became calloused and muscular. I built an adamantine heart. I learned the petty shit of life didn’t matter. I learned the fear of death of a young age. And the appreciation of life.
My friend Simon Kim died from getting hit by a drunk truck driver at age sixteen. I never picked up another bottle before driving again. I learned that life was fucking unpredictable. And to never take a single day of my life for granted.
Fourth, hustle is the key to success. Honestly, nothing more than hard work. Fucking hustling for 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week. To never expect to get anything handed to me. To know that I have to work for anything and everything.
Fifth, poverty is a blessing. You learn to appreciate the value of money. I now am fucking rich, I have over one hundred racks in the bank (thanks Cindy for teaching me how to be frugal, my rule is I’m not allowed to buy anything over $300 without the explicit permission of her), and combined we make over two hundred racks a year of income. Seven days a week of hustling, twelve hours a day of blogging, and taking risks is what helped me become an entrepreneur. Oh yeah, being poor taught me the spirit of the American drive for the American dream.
I especially thank my mentor Greg Lowe, my tennis coach who was like Mr. Miyagi from the karate kid, who taught me everything I know about hard work, dedication, consistency, not caring about my gear (he only used a wooden racket), and the zen of life. He taught me that there was no losing; only not winning.
Sixth, life is a beautiful struggle. That is what makes it wonderful. Life without sacrifice, pain, and suffering would be meaningless. I am grateful for all my rich experiences as a child, to see the real world, to be attached to the ground, and to never forget to love humankind, and dedicate myself to serving others. Because I couldn’t have made it this far without the help from my role models.
Seventh, to whom can we cast the shards of blame? My dad was fucked up to my mom and family. But he kept me from joining a gang, by forcing my mom and family to move to a better city and school. So he was a good guy in that way. But a bad guy. He was just a guy, fucked up like the rest of us. But ultimately, I think he wanted the best for me and my sister. Dad if you’re reading this, I love you and forgive you for everything.
Lastly, thank you Cindy. You always believed in me, and helped me start this blog, embark on starting my own business, and for me to dodge the haters and the poisonous venom of those trying to kill me. You helped me emerge stronger. You are always right. Thank you dearie, now and forever.
And lastly you my dear reader. Thank you for joining me on this personal journey.
The reason I share my story is to encourage you to share your story. Don’t be afraid of the scars of your past. Fucking write about that shit, and be proud of how you’ve been able to overcome hardship in life. Remember, you can only create iron by applying a thousand degree furnace to your ore, and to slam you with a hammer. You are the iron, the frenzy, and nothing can fucking destroy you.
Blog about your experience, and show your scars proud.