Never Thought I Could Walk in My Dad’s Shoes

Jing Cheng (+Video)

To my dad who just wants to do his job.


Following workplace sexual harassment, a daughter regretfully re-examines her father’s work torments twenty years before.


A veteran physics teacher, my dad was promoted to principal of a middle school run by the China National Petroleum Corporation. Under his guidance, many students went on to prestigious colleges. However, he was most known as a 6:00 a.m. runner, even in winter, in a pair of camouflage sneakers from his obligatory military training. They were used for slogging through water and mud, but in cities where there is mostly concrete, they looked absurdly ugly. Despite all of this, my dad shone in them.

But it all ended when his higher up, Xu, took over. He fired all the people promoted by his predecessor, my dad included. My dad’s life collapsed like the Soviet Union.

For the next three years, my dad actively avoided old connections and exhausted himself working extra hours at a new school for lost wages. He never ran again, I never saw his sneakers again. Light no longer flowed into his soul. Something was taken and left him hollow.

We had to move. Our new home was in temporary accommodation provided by the school. Dirty and small, it had no hot shower and just a squat toilet. In winter, the view through the window of my bedroom was of black smoke coming from the communal coal-fired furnace. We had to bike fifty minutes each way to school. But that was just the start of the new nightmare.

Though the new school was a prestigious middle school, it had dirty squat toilets and no bike storage room. Thousands of bikes were squeezed together at the edge of the playground. Whenever I tried to extract my bike, they all fell like dominoes. My desk-mate was horrible too. Since my dad was teaching there, I asked for his help. It took my dad two years to get me an even worse desk-mate. I found out later that kids of the rich and powerful were favoured by the snobbish teacher.

This was 2000-2003. Whenever I was desperate about my situation at school, my dad would act like a trapped beast, or a turtle retracting its head into its shell. Talking about his demotion was taboo in our family. I was a teenager, and I thought my dad was useless.

Twenty years later, I was living in Canada and had been working at a company for two years.
I was contented and seemed on track for a promotion. But over time, my boss began making inappropriate comments. I still wanted to continue working there. I didn’t want my job to be affected or interrupted. However, when I made the CEO aware of the situation, an immediate demotion followed. And then the anonymous pornographic messages began.

I felt I was being blamed by everyone. The air seemed to crackle around me. My dad noticed my despair. I told him I was thinking about quitting.

“Don’t quit. It is a bad time: the pandemic.”

Four months later, I got a second demotion. I quit then.

My dad asked with deep regret, “But wasn’t it a good job?”

Twenty years ago, he himself rejected a humiliating demotion. My mind whirled back to his running shoes. They were no longer ugly. What was really ugly was the coercive control that had targeted him.

Jing Cheng is a software engineer in Vancouver. A Stradella accordion soloist, she made her debut in classical music and jazz under the belt of a button freebase Hohner Morino/Artiste IXD. She is also a previous ping pong champion with Stiga Rosewood NCT II as her current favourite blade.

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