In her essay Daddy Issues, Sandra Tsing Loh, a Chinese American, talks about the plight of people who are faced with caring for their elderly parents. Lest her words sound unfounded, she reinforces her essay with a philosophical (and psychoanalytic) example of Franz Kafka’s The Judgment. In addition, the author actively considers the stories A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross and Bernard Cooper’s The Bill from My Father alongside her situation. In connection with these works, she narrates with sarcasm and humor about her cheerful father, a 91-year-old man who is leaving his strength but refuses to believe it. The audience of this article should enjoy an exciting and hilarious read about a grave issue that covers modern economics, demographics, and existential matters of life and death. In Daddy Issues, Tsing Loh’s thesis is that caring for aging parents can be a substantial psychological and financial burden, but it’s an opportunity to see yourself in your parents. She conveys this message through harsh sarcasm, humor, statistics, intimate storytelling, and existential framing.
Throughout the essay, the author uses sarcastic comparisons and remarks about her father. In many ways, such harsh sarcasm, which does not make readers laugh but only depresses them, is a response to “grotesque paternal behavior” that Tsing Loh cannot cope with without outside help (Tsing Loh). She almost buried her father alive with her sister, but, as she emphasizes, unfortunately, he was only dehydrated. She writes, “I won’t say I wish I had hit him over the head with a frying pan to finish the job when it seemed we were so, so close” (Tsing Loh). Through harsh sarcasm, the author jokes not about her father but about the perception of death, which is read between the lines. The share of the daughter of a sick person is unbearable but, at the same time, inevitable. Therefore, the only thing left to do is to come to terms and express her frustration through such forms of communication.
The atmosphere of the essay remains cheerful, and the audience is not overloaded with serious rhetoric when discussing a grave topic. The author tries to entertain readers, resorting to slightly infantile rhetorical forms and onomatopoeia. For example, the author describes his stepmother: “Alice’s age is… drumroll… 72” (Tsing Loh). Tsing Loh alludes to the rapid passage of years since the stepmother; however, 20 years younger than her father, she is still the same older adult. The lack of a strong shoulder beside her father meant that Tsing Loh had to become a protector and guardian for the capricious older adult. The need for protection develops in the narrative as the relationship between daughter and father changes throughout life. Tsing Loh notes that she went from love to hate for him through many stages. She could work through many of the effects with the help of psychotherapy; however, while helping her father, she realized that the wounds had healed, but the scars still hurt. This essay lacks retrospective moments to increase the emotional coloring; however, the humorous effect of this would have been reduced and moved into the gloomiest.
It would seem that an essay on personal topic in Tsing Loh comes into contact with demographic statistics. Such data, firstly, is rhetorically essential, as it allows skeptical readers to tune in to the seriousness of the problem and not just read emotions. Secondly, the location of the statistics in the text shows that the author’s story is not a unique event of one family (Cooper). Such statistics demonstrate the prevalence of the problem and do not let the reader relax. Each reader, seeing the severe 75%, understands that the same situation may affect him or his close friends in the future. Tsing Loh thus turns a personal essay on the experience of daughterhood into a text that draws attention to the significant social problem of population aging. Better health care will make more people in their 40s-50s feel the same way over the next ten years as Tsing Loh, Gross, and Cooper felt.
Tsing Loh builds the story so that it seems that each of her readers is her close friend. These two friends are sitting in a quiet place, secretly drinking wine or coffee. Such an atmosphere is created due to the rhetoric of frankness, which the author chooses from the first lines. She stunned readers with a revelation, boldly saying that she wants her father dead (Tsing Loh). Tsing Loh screamed it as if she had returned to her cranky childhood. If earlier she yelled from the noise and lack of sleep, now her father has become such an interfering element that takes away her peace. Some may seem that such statements deserve severe condemnation and shame. There is no doubt that Tsing Loh’s first thoughts and feelings of relief from her father’s death were met with hostility by her. It is a common human reaction as people are raised in a culture that values human life and respects parents and age. Now Tsing Loh dares to have a frank conversation with all her readers as she walks around her father’s death in her last years.
The essay lacks existential tension, although one can read between the lines of entries into the problem of life and death. It is particularly noticeable when Tsing Loh quotes Gross: “I was tempted, out of pure small-mindedness, to put on my desk a photo of my mother, slumped in her wheelchair” (Tsing Loh). People rejoice in discussing the care of a baby full of life because this care is about the future. They can discuss even the most unpleasant aspects of care with a smile because it is associated with life. Caring for an aged parent is a farewell to life; in the case of an incurable disease or torment, this is a new death every day. Powerless parents, as Gross notes, ironically go from overbearing and independent subjects who do not listen to anyone’s opinion to becoming utterly dependent on children. It is not easy for both parties to realize this; therefore, a communicative one arises against the background of physical discomfort. The question of slow death in front of observers is very complex and has an existential tension.
This article raises a tricky question that reminded me of Florian Zeller’s The Father, starring Anthony Hopkins. The issue of aging is a profound social phenomenon accompanied by isolation, loss of authority, and reputation, even among close relatives. Readers are left with the thought that a man who has controlled everything for most of his life and has become the center for his children can lose everything he had. The world is changing, and people are not keeping up with it; aging, they fall out of context and do not understand the importance of things that are in everyday life in their children. Health care delivery (and other services) is changing, and elderly parents may not even understand what they need and how to get it – they become highly helpless. Against this background, unresolved issues and unforgotten grievances harm children and make them remember the past in conjunction with a new tragedy.
Cooper, Bernard. The Bill From My Father: A Memoir. Simon and Schuster, 2007.
The Father. Directed by Florian Zeller, performances by Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams, Sony Pictures Classics, 2020.
Tsing Loh, Sandra. “Daddy Issues.” The Atlantic, 2014.