Archives for posts with tag: Dad


When you grow up with a dad who’s probably the only surgeon in America who threw an amputated leg at his boss, you’re bound to have some pretty interesting experiences. I’m happy to finally see a sitcom about an Asian-American family on TV (only took 20 years), but if the network really wanted melodrama, they should have just filmed my family. If I had my own TV series, one of the first episodes would feature an experience I had growing up that is forever seared into my psyche.

But a little background first: My parents had emigrated from South Korea to the US in the late ’60s like many others of their generation. I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC, in a solidly middle-class family. I had two older sisters, who were 10 and 12 years older than me (I was apparently a mistake that happened in South Carolina), and a mom who tended house. My dad was a vascular surgeon whose rounds had him driving all around the Beltway. By the time he got home, he was a twelve-pack of carbonated Psycho Korean Dad Whoop-Ass that was shaken up enough to have a cataclysmic effect when opened.

My dad used to constantly yell at the top of his lungs at my sisters and me when we were growing up—even for the smallest things. Each time he did, it felt jarring and sickening, like my innards were sliding out of my body. Given that upbringing, it was no surprise that I developed my own temper. Unlike my dad, I knew when to hide it, at least in front of him. But one day I didn’t hide it and I’ll never forget what happened.

One afternoon, I came home from high school in an agitated state, furious after yet another wasted afternoon of sitting in detention (my home away from home). To my relief, the house was quiet. My mom was out of town, and my dad was still at work. Confident that nobody was home, I launched into a lengthy, profanity-laced tirade, screaming in that empty house until my ears rang and my throat was raw.

Then I heard a toilet flush somewhere upstairs and my heart stopped. A few seconds later, my father came stomping down the stairs, his face a frozen mask of outrage. He had gotten home from the hospital early and was relaxing in the bedroom. Clad in only a cotton undershirt and briefs, my dad’s plump, ovoid shape made him resemble a gigantic, white aspirin capsule, but he was still terrifying—even more so because he was uncharacteristically silent. Bracing myself, I muttered any apology, which felt as effective as shielding myself with a Kleenex in front of a smoking volcano.

The Vesuvian eruption I anticipated never occurred. Instead, my father looked strangely tired and spoke in a subdued tone I didn’t recognize. It sounded almost like defeat. “Yoona,” he sighed and paused for what seemed like a full minute. “I grew up with my parents fighting. They fought like the cat and dog. My sisters would also scream at each other. So much yelling in that house.” He looked away and shook his head. “When your sisters grew up, I thought the famous Lee temper had skipped this generation. I was so thankful. But then you came along.”

Then his voice changed and began its inevitable crescendo. “If I ever—EVERhear you scream like that again,” and his eyes began to glow, “the next day you will come home from school and you will find me up there”—my father stabbed his finger toward the rafters of the house—“hanging from the ceiling. I will have hung myself to AVENGE you.” He fixed his stare on me for a few seconds longer and turned away. Then the angry aspirin capsule mounted the stairs and retired to bed.

Death threat

I was so shocked that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Once my horror subsided, I phoned my older sisters, who were both remarkably cavalier about the incident. One said, “He’s all talk.” The other reassured me, “Don’t worry. He’s got too much ego to commit suicide.” Suddenly becoming a frightened little girl, I whimpered, “Are you sure? I don’t want him to ki-i-ill h-hi-i-mself,” and sobbed heavily into the phone.

That day I vowed never to show my temper around my dad again—if not out of self-preservation, for his preservation.

Some teenagers get grounded and have to forfeit their allowance or do extra chores as punishment. But lucky me, I get a dad who threatens suicide as a form of personal revenge. But it’s just another day in the life of the Lee family. Now how’s that for an entertaining (and mildly traumatizing) TV series?

Scan 2

NOTE: From a disability justice standpoint, this is very troubling, but it really did happen, and I feel a responsibility to provide a truthful account.

One day my dad made history at his hospital at southern Virginia, and it wasn’t pretty. If you’re at all squeamish about severed limbs, at this point you should probably stop reading.

Earlier, a man had been wheeled in to the hospital with a raging infection in his leg. The hospital reached a consensus that the leg needed to be removed below the knee. My dad, the surgeon in charge of the amputation, examined the man with great care and found the infection had spread to where the leg needed to be removed above the knee.

To save the patient’s life, my dad decided to modify the operation, even without the hospital’s consensus, and perform it immediately. To do this, he required the personnel to stay beyond their quitting time of 4 p.m., which upset many of them. One nurse ran off to complain to the director of the operating room, a brusque and intimidating woman who was feared by orderlies and surgeons alike.

My dad had finished the amputation when the director stormed into the operating room, demanding that he stop what he was doing. She yelled that surgeons could not break protocol by changing the surgery without consensus and keeping the staff after hours. Eyes blazing, my dad marched toward the director of the operating room—his boss—and shouted, “Youre here for the hospital. Well, I’m here for this man,” and pointed to the patient. Planting himself in front of the director, my dad screamed, “Get out of here!” The director didn’t budge, so my dad bellowed, “I’m going to count from 1 to 10, and if you’re not out of here, I will kill you!” In his blood-spattered gown, clenching a scalpel, he must have looked convincing.

The director stubbornly held her ground, and then my dad did the thing that made the headlines: He grabbed the amputated leg and hurled it at his boss. She dodged it and fled, screaming bloody murder.

Of course, my dad quickly suffered the consequences. He was immediately put on probation and forced to work under a famous and eccentric heart surgeon. This surgeon was known for scheduling operations at whatever hour caught his fancy—even 3:00 in the morning. “It took this guy hours to set every single machine before a surgery and we had to all stand and wait for him!” my dad recalls. But the surgeon was remarkably successful in his field, mainly because of his exacting, obsessive nature.

Thirty years after the leg incident happened, my dad visited his former hospital and was introduced to some young residents. The young men fell silent and one tentatively asked him, “Wait, are you the Dr. B.B. Lee who … ?” They probably didn’t know whether to get his autograph or dash out the nearest door.

As for the patient, he was said to have survived and lived several years longer than if the amputation had been below the knee.

Home repair lo res

My dad, BB Lee, was a surgeon who had hands that could cure patients, but he still couldn’t fix a broken appliance. I dreaded having to accompany him to the basement to make a home repair. He’d demand I hold the flashlight and swiftly hand him whatever instruments he needed. Then he’d revert to his operating room voice: “Scalpel. Screwdriver.” If I didn’t grab it in time, or if he said, “Plier-thingy … look like plier, you know …” and I hesitated, then my dad would quickly change from industrious DIY electrician to raging Hurricane BB Lee.

It didn’t help that my dad emitted some kind of weird electromagnetic energy that seemed to affect gadgets around him. If he held them or even stood near them for too long, the phone would stop working or the remote control would freeze up. If my dad couldn’t fix these things, he would just hurl them against a wall or stomp on them, yelling, “FUCKS.” (Gotta love the angry Asian dad English there.) One time he smashed a brand-new laptop on the floor when a software program wouldn’t open. As the liquid crystal began to leak onto the kitchen tiles, his brother came into the room and asked, “Did you restart it?” My dad looked momentarily sheepish before launching into a diatribe against all computers in general and the DUMB STUPID people that design them.

Fortunately, at the hospitals where my dad worked, there were technicians who made repairs. Otherwise, there would have been a lot of yanked wires and strewn debris in his wake. And lots of yelling. Maybe even some lawsuits.

Ironically, the man who could save lives, using delicate craftsmanship on arteries and veins, couldn’t replace a light switch to save his life.