I recall this moment as a kid, growing up in Tallahassee, where my dad was trying to teach me something about numbers and money. We were standing on the driveway and my dad was probably having a cigarette while I was sipping soymilk out of a can—I must’ve been seven or eight, I can’t remember—and he was trying to help me grasp what it meant to be a millionaire.
“That is lots of money. To be a millionaire, you need to save a million dollars. You know how much I make in a year?”
“No. How much?”
“Thirty thousand.” He wrote this in his palm as he said it. “You know how many years I must work to make a million dollars?”
I frowned. “I can’t do it in my head!”
“Well you can if you actually use your brain.” My dad was never one to hide his disappointment. “So how much will I make in ten years?”
“So in ten years, you multiply by ten—three hundred thousand!”
“So how many in twenty years?”
“Oh yeah, so—six hundred thousand!”
“And thirthy years?”
“Nine hundred thousand!”
He offered me a smirk. “Okay. So you see, I might not make a million in my lifetime.” Then he paused. “But I think if I did, that would be a pretty big achievement—in my dreams, you know? But to have a million dollars at one time—can you imagine—”
At the time, I couldn’t imagine, probably because I was seven, and even precocious seven-year-olds who can multiply big numbers don’t often have ambitions that reach much beyond the modest neighborhoods in the small towns where they happily exist. Looking back, though, I wonder if my dad wasn’t trying so much to have me do the mental exercise as he was daring himself to—to weigh the horizon and dream of what might lie beyond. After all, for a boy growing up on a farm in China, it might have seemed unimaginable that he might one day stand as an immigrant and father on a suburban driveway somewhere in America.
I’ve been thinking a lot about memories like this one recently—and more so since my wife discovered that we’re expecting twins.
There is something about approaching parenthood that spurs us to look back through our memories of childhood, taking stock of what materialized from those dreams conjured up on the fields and driveways of decades past. More recently, I have been stuck wondering what essential dreams remain to be dreamt when the American Dream first adopted by a pioneering generation of immigrants is handed down to you firsthand as no longer a promise, but an actuality. When the big house in the suburb has been purchased and the college tuitions have been paid, when the advanced degrees have been awarded, and the children of immigrants and dreamers now sit perched atop the complex social structures that made summiting a multi-generational affair—where do we go from here?
Because more than anything, I hope that I can stand beside my own children someday and dare to dream as radically as my father did a generation ago. I worry that instead of rising to the multitude of challenges we face as a society, instead of aspiring to step across borders both physical and conceptual, I will settle into curating the products of a previous generation’s bolder aspirations.
As children of immigrants, how can we further the American Dream when the original visions of our mother and fathers have been all but achieved? It’s something my wife and I have been wrestling to answer in a meaningful and intentional way. Because if we believe in bestowing a world to our children that is better than the one we inherited, it seems we must be willing to unmoor our dreams.
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More to come, but for now, here are our two extra reasons to be thankful: