If Austin Powers were Japanese, he would look like my dad. With his unruly, side-swept hair, thick glasses and goofy grin, my father looks and acts silly. He proudly owns an extensive collection of bowties and bucket hats, sometimes wearing the two together, and he always takes my “Stop Dad, you’re embarrassing me!” command as a cue to continue what he is doing. After last year’s baccalaureate services culminated on the Chapel Quad, my 5-foot-4 father gave senior basketball player Nick Horvath a pat on the back, as if they were old buddies, and uttered just two words: “Work hard.” The look on Horvath’s face screamed, “Who is this man?!”
While my father never fails to make me blush, my mother seems to be attracted to his out-of-fashion style and eccentric personality, probably because she, too, shares these same qualities. Although she is the shortest in the Kubagawa family of four, with her height possibly prohibiting her from riding a Six Flags rollercoaster, she is also the loudest. Even the mute button on our home telephone can’t cover her deafening voice, which serves as a source of embarrassment when my friends call and I can’t come to the phone immediately: “MIHO-CHAN! YOU IN BATHLOOM LONG TIME! YOU OKAY?”
Despite my parents’ quirkiness, they complement each other well. This closeness developed after having to move from Japan to America at the start of their marriage, when the University of Alabama at Birmingham offered my father a four-year post-doctoral fellowship to do research in 1976. My parents signed the papers signifying their official marriage to each other before movin, and agreed to have a wedding upon their return to Japan. But, after four years had passed, my parents didn’t move back.
I once asked my mother if she regretted not ever having a wedding, a topic of conversation that every Duke girl seems to have at some point in her college career. My mother quickly replied, “I so shy! I would not have like.” And it’s true; the ceremonial aspect of their marriage held (and still holds) little significance or importance to them. Along with not having a wedding, my father and mother generally treat Valentine’s Day like any other day, an act unheard of here in the Gothic Wonderland. At Duke, February marks the advent of WaDuke dinner dates and “small box” gifts, given by hook-ups-turned-boyfriends. Before you know it, you will be the only one standing at the bus stop not holding someone’s hand.
While there is no exchange of Godiva chocolate or red roses between my parents, I have never once questioned their commitment to each other. Since their arrival in the States in 1976, marked by my father’s first experience with root beer (what he mistook for as “really cheap American beer”) at the LAX airport, my parents had to heavily rely on each other in order to figure out the American way of life. To start off, they bought a book: How to Watch a Football Game.
Even now, 29 years later and still in Birmingham, they are just as devoted to each other as before, continuing to discover and learn new “American” things and sharing them with each other. I delight in my dinner conversations with them. Once, my mother momentarily forgot Hitler’s first name, and before I could answer, my father interrupted with his, what he thought to be correct, answer.
After hilarity ensued on my part, I explained to my parents the definition of “hail,” an English verb that they had obviously mistaken as Hitler’s first name. They then proceeded to write this new vocabulary word down on the restaurant napkin for future reference, both laughing about their misunderstandings.
These are the everyday moments when I appreciate their never-ending desire to learn more about themselves, each other, and this way of life. Despite their quirks and my father’s uncanny resemblance to Austin Powers, they both share the experience of being first generation immigrants, whose commitment does not comply with America’s commercialized view of relationships and marriage. My parents maintain a loyalty to each other that, frankly, can never be conveyed in a lavish gift or Hallmark card.
And that is love.
Miho Kubagawa is a Trinity sophomore. Her column appears every other Friday.
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