My father does not know how to apologize. Throughout my 19 years of existence, I have only heard a singular “I’m sorry,” occurring after he rear-ended another car for the very first time. Rather, instead of verbally owning up to his actions, his means of apologizing took a more physical form: cooking. Man, he could cook. One slurp of his infamous noodle soup cured anger like no other. Its comforting broth, smelling of strong Vietnamese spices, had a way of relaxing every nerve and muscle, temporarily releasing frustration, until my sensitive heart would shake the calming effect upon the next harsh word and return to a state of yearning for that apology. One that I eventually understood would never come.
Yet throughout that years-long routine, I felt myself grow bitter towards my father in my adolescence. No matter how many times I explained that I did not want cut-up fruit, or a cup of tea after an argument, my father still brought me sustenance whenever he caused me pain. These gestures felt meaningless, as they were not what I believed would resolve my hurt. All I desired was to hear him admit I was in the right, and for the very first time, he was in the wrong. Over time, after seeing that my efforts were in vain, I accepted that my dad was too stubborn to show he could inflict pain on the same being that he was meant to protect. And so, I bottled up my frustrations and carried on.
Years later, I found myself all grown up. I packed my things and moved a whole 15 minutes away to college, where I could be my own person, someone who I could be proud of. Not a single soul told me that the so-called “best years of my life,” would present such adversity, such pain. In moments where I felt like I needed a hug, where I needed love, I cooked. Whenever a companion needed cheering up, or a little extra care, I tried to feed them. Making fancy ramen out of the cheap crap you buy at the grocery store became a specialty of mine, and watching my friends’ faces light up after taking a bite brought my soul unexplainable happiness.
On a cold fall day, when my friends could feel the weight of midterms and stress sinking into their skin, my roommate and I invited them over for a pause within all the madness. Immediately, I started fixing them something to eat. I believed to my core that would fix the tension, at least for the moment. As I placed a bowl of noodles in front of the last friend of the bunch she said, “Mallika, feeding people really is your love language. I appreciate it,” then began to eat.
How blind I felt. Blind to the love my father had shown me throughout my life. Blind to the fact that the irritating bowl of cut melon he placed in front of me after a fight was his apology. Every dish was. He was not taught to use his words, having left his traditionally patriarchal Asian family as a young teen, so he instead used his actions. Coming from starvation while living in a communist desert, food was the most valuable thing in existence. In his eyes, it far exceeded a measly “I’m sorry.” Hearing my friend’s compliment acted as a pair of glasses to aid me in seeing the world from his perspective, and I realized that I’d grown to be more similar to my father than I could have ever anticipated. And instead of despising this similarity, I also grew to understand that having it caused me to be someone that I was indeed proud of.
Reflecting on my past self, I wish I could tell that little girl who yearned for an apology that she had received one. It was simply delivered in a different fashion. However, the past is not something I am able to change. Although my past is set in stone, my future welcomes me as a space to apply what I have learned. I hope to continue to empathize with my parents’ shortcomings, for it is a blessing to understand how the people who love you, love you in the ways they know how. So, to my father, who has still never given me a verbal apology to this day, I forgive you.
About the Author:
Graduating year: 2025
Hello! My name is Mallika Huynh and I serve as the vice chair of the Social Committee for the DEI Honors Council. My position within this council allows me to aid honors students in being exposed to DEI related forms of enrichment, resulting in a warmer, more understanding, and more knowledgeable program. Outside of Honors DEI, I participate in volunteering with Table to Table, directing Agni – Iowa’s multicultural acapella group, and working at Maggie’s Pizza. In my free time I love cooking, painting, reading, and spending time with friends and family!