A few days later in California, I sat with my parents in the waiting room of the Hoag Center for Movement Disorders, waiting for my mother’s quarterly check-up. An obese woman walked by, her pumpkin-shaped butt undulating underneath a faded mumu.
My father, himself with an insatiable sweet tooth and a belly like a yoga-ball, raised his eyebrows, made a face. I was reminded of POI’s conditions.
“POI says I can gain ten pounds,” I said in Chinese, though wondered if my phrasing was correct.
It was not. My father lurched to attention and waved his hand at me, a wild urgency in his eyes.
“No!” he said much too loudly for a quiet hospital waiting room, “Don’t fall into his trap!”
I laughed, wondering if he feared POI was a chubby chaser. For the past ten years, since I was sixteen and gained thirty pounds when I joined the badminton team my sophomore year of high school, my father has been not-so-subtly hinting that I ought to lose at least twenty pounds.
“At least,” he always emphasized, “At least.”
After college, I lost ten and tried in the way I try to do most things (not very hard) to lose ten more. But certain pants stayed very tight and… in the back of my closet.
But my father continued to stress room for improvement.
“Don’t eat that,” he would say, if he found me helping myself to coffee ice cream, “It’s all fat.”
Or, if I got another bowl of rice at dinner, would tsk tsk and say, “Ten pounds? What happened to losing ten pounds? Don’t you want to?”
But my father is a conflicted man. He is strong and sturdily built, an athletic man even now, with that rotund abdomen. He sees the same in me and cannot help but take pride in my similar albeit more feminine build (minus the gut) – my wide knees and broad, square shoulders (my mother, though far from petite, has soft, weak legs and sloped, almost pointless shoulders) and my rather strong neck, which, when I showed up to the first day of a college seminar wearing a Cal crew neck sweatshirt, prompted the professor to ask, “And what sport do you play for us?” – all these are genetic gifts from my father.
My father also likes to eat. No, he loves to eat. As much as he wanted me to lose ten pounds, he wanted more to eat with me and for me to eat. He cuts fruit at all hours of the day, including right before bedtime, unaware that fruit is fiber and sugar water, as capable of causing weight gain as ice cream. And because the Chinese savory crackers he likes to eat are “vegetable flavored,” he thinks they are healthy and thus perfectly fine if downed twenty at a time. But he is most conflicted when he tries to stop me from eating something.
“Don’t eat the ice cream,” he’ll say, then see that I’ve already scooped it into a bowl. He will reach for another bowl, “Well, give me a scoop then. Or two.”
Or, seeing that I’m already up at the rice cooker, hand me his bowl, “I could use some more rice too, I guess. But you really shouldn’t eat so much rice.”
But then he will put more of whatever dishes we are having into my bowl as well, because he’s my father and that’s what fathers do.
“Listen to me.”
My father sat up, the image of the fat woman still waddling in his mind. I turned around and saw that she was still in his line of sight, inching down the long waiting room.
“You do not need to gain ten pounds,” he said, “You need to lose ten pounds.”
I wanted to tell him that he had misunderstood, that POI had meant that there was a ten pound maximum, but my father’s tone said he was not to be interrupted.
“You lose ten pounds,” my father continued, “And Tom will come running.”
I nodded that I understood but he wasn’t finished.
“Not just your Tom, all the Toms…”
He paused to grin before his final, genius point,
“And Jerry too.”