Fresh Off the Boat
This week, we get a closer look at the parenting styles of Louis and Jessica Huang, seen through the lens of every small child’s nightmare: being forced into a hobby that they want nothing to do with.
The Huang brothers are watching Tiger Woods when Tiger Woods was at his prime — he’s dominating the Masters, but God forbid Jessica finds out. He’s half-Asian. “You know how Mom gets when she sees an Asian person succeed publicly,” Eddie says, with the world-weary tone of a child who has been forced to attempt a lot of extracurricular activities at the behest of their parents. Evan breaks immediately when Jessica enters the room. She’s intrigued and I have a feeling their lives are going to get a lot harder.
Jessica sees herself in Tiger Woods’s parents — not his mother, but his father, Earl. Earl pushed Tiger to be the best, just like Jessica fights tooth and nail for her children to succeed. Louis, on the other hand, is like Kultida, Tiger’s mom. You know, the nice one. The soft one. The one who didn’t push her kid to success. Or, as Jessica puts it, “the forgotten one.”
Their discussion of the parenting roles continues while they wash the dishes, fold the laundry, and make the bed. Louis resents being known as the boring one, mostly because they actually co-parent. But his parenting philosophy is more permissive. And that’s the end of that. Louis is more lenient because his father was hard on him, but Jessica thinks she does the heavy lifting to “push her kids towards success.” Louis, being less of a tiger parent and more of a chill dude who wants to be a cool dad, prefers to let his children find their own way.
Meanwhile, Emery’s making it his mission in life to share the gospel of Tiger Woods’s background, starting with Eddie’s friends first. They don’t realize that Tiger’s half-Asian — but none of them have ever heard it and none of them are willing to believe it either. This is the hill that Emery will die on.
How better to test your parenting skills than a friendly bet with your wife involving your two children who are likely not interested in golf in the slightest? Desperate to prove that he’s more than just scenery wearing a sunhat, Louis proposes some friendly interfamilial competition: Each parent takes a kid, teaches them to golf for two weeks, and then they hold a mini competition. The winner will decide who is the true “Parenting Champion.” Jessica takes Evan and Louis gets Eddie because that’s what was left. Can’t wait to see how this goes.
Each kid gets a golf instructor at the country club and the parents are there only as cheerleaders/life coaches/people who will yell or whisper encouragement from the sidelines. First up, Evan’s training montage, which begins with 5 a.m. wake-up calls and countless swings of a golf club as Jessica intones, “Again. Again,” while wearing a visor. Finally … he hits the ball. It goes maybe two feet. Maybe golf isn’t for Evan, but seeing as his life is technically not his until he graduates from high school, he has no choice.
At the pro shop, Jessica runs into Louis, who is warming up to the idea of hats and taking a break from his less-than-rigorous golfing schedule. On her way back to her youngest son, she passes Eddie, who’s hitting balls like he’s been doing it his entire life. Hmm. Maybe there’s something to Louis’s theories after all? Or maybe Evan’s not a good golfer. Either way, this won’t go well.
Emery’s crusade to educate the world about Tiger Woods’s biracial heritage isn’t going as well as planned. No one’s taking the fliers he’s passing out in the hallway at school, treating him like one of those Amnesty International people you dodge on the street on your way to the gym. The only way to get this message out, of course, is to infiltrate the announcements, via Reba, the girl who loved Eddie and still does. Reba reluctantly agrees.
Back to the competition! Jessica’s got a plan: She’ll subtly manipulate Louis into letting her coach Eddie instead of Evan, so that she can win. By spinning it as a favor to Louis, she offers to swap sons. Louis gets the dud and Jessica gets the star.
Ted’s coaching Eddie now. He’s less obedient than Evan, but it doesn’t matter. He’s actually just good at golf. But now, he’s getting worse. Jessica’s insane training schedule, with the arms and the setups and the early wake-up have ruined his game.
Louis and Evan — a.k.a. “The Little Kitchen” because he always sinks it — are practicing putting in the driveway ahead of the competition. Everything Jessica thought to be true is false. Louis might be the better parent. “I ruined two kids in two weeks,” she said. The pushing that she’s so fond of has actually just held her kids back — a trap of tiger parenting that can occasionally make your children resent you briefly for their teenage years, only to realize down the line you were really doing what was (sort of) best.
Louis’s point is this: Parenting is full of gray areas. Their kids are good because of both of them, but since Jessica’s so bummed, the bet is off and they’ll just try and enjoy a nice day at the club, as a family. Is this a carefully constructed ruse, much like Jessica’s watertight lie about being too sick to go watch wrestling?
Emery’s one-man quest to educate the students of Abraham Lincoln Middle School continues unabated. Really, it’s remarkable that no one knew this information; I thought it was common knowledge, but maybe that’s because I’m half-Asian and we look out for our own. Emery’s not trying to take away anything from Tiger’s father, but he wants to give credit to his mother’s heritage too. The decision about whether or not to share this with the world is in Reba’s hands.
Back on the putting green, the competition that is no longer a competition continues. Eddie’s good again. Jessica’s doing that thing where she’s feeling sorry for herself while also sitting on her hands so she doesn’t butt in with all of Louis’s very questionable parenting decisions, like getting a platter of Mexican egg rolls from the clubhouse instead of one to split four ways.
On her way to sulk in solitude, Jessica spies a familiar sunhat. It’s Kultida! Jessica needs to ask her a question: What is the secret to Earl’s success? Kultida’s approach, it turns out, was anything but soft. A mother’s job starts when that child is literally pushed out of her body into the world; from that moment on, you are responsible. Discipline isn’t necessarily about results that you can see immediately — the years of piano lessons and swim class and Chinese school or what have you merely lays the foundation for whatever success you child will reach. Earl gets all the credit because Kultida’s work is behind-the-scenes. Jessica’s been right all along. She’s actually the Kultida! She’s the foundation that her children’s success will build on.
The old Jessica is back. And this time, they’re keeping score. Some quick housekeeping, however: That wasn’t Kutilda, just another Thai woman wearing a big hat. Earl Woods, on the other hand, was sitting right behind her.
What of Emery’s quest to educate the masses about Tiger Woods? Reba’s convinced and gives him the mic. He delivers a heartfelt speech to an empty school, because everyone’s outside watching two kids fight over having the same backpack. A fitting end to a fine episode.
+300 packages of extra-long golf tees for this entire discussion about parenting styles and Jessica’s all-or-nothing approach to raising her children. This is what Fresh Off The Boat has been hinting at all along — Jessica’s a tiger mom — but without the appropriate vocabulary to say it in Orlando circa 1996, they’ve had to show instead of tell. Jessica’s a good parent, but her tunnel vision in pushing her kids to be the best by any means necessary is one of the most real things about this sitcom. For all the kids out there who took dance lessons and piano and chess or whatever and resented their parents the entire time, remember why they did it! They did it because they love you.