Growing up, my mother had a pretty simple — yet effective — way of keeping myself and my siblings in line.
“You’re the only five Chinese kids in this town — so if someone sees you or catches you doing something stupid, it’s not like you are going to be able to blame it one someone else. I’ve got you dead to rights.”
While Troy’s diversity and demographics have changed slightly in the past 30-40 years, we all got her deeper message. As the smallest percentage of any ethnic group in Troy, we always felt as though we had to uphold the family name and be held to a higher standard than our friends. Or, as my mother used to say, “If the Fong name appears in the newspaper, everyone is going to know it’s you.” (Which really does make my career choice pretty ironic, don’t you think?)
It wasn’t easy growing up in the spotlight in a small town, I can assure you. As the fourth child growing up behind three ultra-successful older siblings (and ahead of an equally ultra-successful younger sibling … guess who got lucky enough to be the black sheep of the family?), I got pretty used to the routine. I knew every place I went, I was probably going to get a series of questions about “growing up Fong.”
I knew I was always going to be asked if I was as good at sports as my brothers and sisters (not even in the same universe), if I was going to go to college at one of the U.S. service academies like my two older brothers (not unless all the service academies really lowered their admission standards), where I was “from” (um, Cincinnati, but I know what you are getting at) and which ethnicity I was (Do you ask the same question of people with the last name Jones or Smith?)
It wasn’t always easy being a Fong kid growing up in Troy, Ohio.
Which is why I can’t even imagine what my poor daughter Sophie has to go through.
If I felt like the spotlight on me growing up was glaring, my daughter must think the spotlight on her is nuclear.
Eleven years ago this week, my little Sophie Belle was born. Within hours after her birth, she already had become the subject of one of my weekly columns. Since then, she has been the most-written-about kid in these pages since Ryan Brewer … the difference being that most of what was written about Brewer in his time was complimentary, while most of what gets written about Sophie in the TDN consists of embarrassing stories that will likely one day land her in therapy.
And, as my kid, I can’t even begin to imagine what sorts of questions she gets when people find out her last name. I’m sure the leading question she’s asked is, “Is he really like that all the time?” followed immediately by “How do you put up with him all the time?” I wouldn’t be surprised if “Ever wish you were an orphan?” probably gets thrown around quite a bit, too.
Despite growing up my kid, however, Sophie has somehow managed to succeed the past 11 years here on this planet. She’s an honors student, a Pop Rock, a pole vaulter and — most important of all — a pretty nice kid. I have no doubts her grandmother and grandfather feel as though she’s carrying on the Fong name with pride and dignity (which goes to show both of those traits skip a generation every now and then).
So happy birthday, Sophie. Hope it’s a great one. Look at it this way — only seven more years until you can get out and move away from me.