September 10, 2000
Mr. TONY KWANG-KAI NIEH
By: Clyde T. Nieh
People who know me and my relationship with my father would be surprised to find me eulogizing him now. My relationship with my father can best be described as formal. He was a typical father of his social background, quiet, not demonstrative, and he maintained a low profile. He did not spend much time talking or interacting with me, other than when he tutored me. He treated the rest of the family similarly. He was not the touchy-feely type; that is so valued in American society today. As a child, whenever I was with him, I was always in awe of his authority, or perhaps even close to fear. It was not until after the birth of my son, Calvin, that I felt more at ease with him. In contrast, my mother was exceptionally nurturing and solicitous to the children. So, I was closer to my mother, and more remote with my father. However, looking back, I am surprised by how much he influenced my life.
My father was borne in Shanghai, China, in 1914. My father had four surviving boys, Edward, Sidney, Clyde and Luther, and one daughter, Marie. He passed away relatively young, at 59 years old in 1973. His widow, Janet, lived with Marie in San Francisco, CA. His only surviving brother, Uncle Leon, lives in Oakland, CA, currently. My father had 12 grandchildren, all living in the USA. Two of his grandchildren, Calvin and Renee, are married now.
By worldly standards, my father, Tony K. K. Nieh, was not an above average achiever. He did not gain a high social position. He did not win widespread recognition professionally. His worldly possessions were limited. These factors might color how others would have evaluated him. Twenty-eight years after his premature death, I know that his achievement should be assessed using a completely different set of criteria. I am proud to call him father. I only wish that I had acknowledged to him personally my appreciation of all that he taught me, and had repaid a small fraction of his gifts.
To a casual observer, His gifts to my siblings were not overwhelming. Materially, that was the truth. I always knew that due to financial limitations, he was not able to support his family as abundantly as he would have wished. I know that not one of my siblings ever resented that fact. Still, I suspect that we as a whole, and I in particular, had not recognized until lately that he gave us a set of values to guide our lives. That gift is more precious than gold. I must quickly add that I am not here to rewrite history. Yet, I feel that I must acknowledge I have been fortunate to receive those values since my childhood. Hopefully, I have applied some of them in my life.
粗略一看，父亲没有赠于子女很多东西。从物质角度来看， 的确如此。我一直知道限于经济能力，父亲不能如他所希望的那样让他的家人过富裕的生活，我们子女也没有一个抱怨的。但是，我们， 特别是我本人，可能直到最近才认识到他给了我们一套指导我们一生的人生哲学。这是比金子还要贵重的礼物，在此我应立即声明我不打算重写历史。但是我是非常幸运的，因为从孩提时代，我就受到他的教导，但愿我已在日常生活中应用了他的一些哲学。
My father gave up an opportunity to attend a famous university in Peking, China due to the premature passing of his mother the year he graduated from high school. He applied and was accepted into the Chinese Customs Service in order to relieve the financial burden on his father. This decision reduced dramatically the potential of his material achievement. He never regretted that, nor was he bitter about the consequences, even though the society so often measures a person’s worthiness by what he possesses.
On the other hand, he tried his best to give all his children a chance to receive post-graduation education. He sacrificed an established career in Hong Kong to start all over again at the bottom step of job ladder in the United States of America in order to give his children a better chance for advancement, and a safer environment for his family. The attack by a neighbor on my brother, Sidney, which resulted in hospitalization, triggered the decision to move the family to USA.
In conversation with his friend, Mr. Y. D. Chow, he acknowledged that he would be handicapped in the job market in the USA, at an advanced age and without any specialized skill. His knowledge of English, which was a valuable asset in Hong Kong, would not be of special value in the USA, since it would be common. He would have to start from the beginning again. Yet, he was willing to sacrifice. True to his expectation, he encountered difficulties finding a job upon arrival in this country. Ignorant persons insulted him when he searched for a job. He did not even mention his sacrifice to his children.
He was a meticulous worker. He had a very clear and legible handwriting (in contrast to his elder sister, Renee). He was proud of his detailed record keeping and his good memory of everything he had done. His employers never ever complained about the quality of his work because he was a very conscientious worker.
He was the one who kept up the family correspondence. Since our mother never even finished high school in China, it was difficult for her to write letters. He would write long and affectionate letters to his children and his relatives, especially to his father and his elder sister, Auntie Renee, about the recent news of the family. I remembered the voluminous correspondence among him, his father and Auntie Renee. The recipients usually treasured these letters since they came straight from his heart.
He always emphasized the importance of education to the family. He always found time to tutor his children when we asked for his help. He did not intimate to his children that education was an avenue to wealth. I do not remember that he ever emphasized to us the importance of gaining fame or fortune in the world, or even living a life of luxury. Living within his means is his lifelong creed. In fact, he said that what happened in China during the second half of the twenty century should teach everyone the transient nature of worldly accolade or possessions.
He did not equate education to simply gaining knowledge. He stressed education as knowing how one should live honorably in society. To him, the single worst evil in a person was being underhanded. Scheming or using anything other than ones merit to advance oneself was totally unacceptable to him. He avoided people with such propensities. Nevertheless, he did not preach much. He practiced what he believed, and set himself up as an example to his children.
He did not just emphasize education to his children, but he also sought opportunities to educate himself. In Hong Kong, he learned French for professional improvement and also for his own interest. He did not have many resources to dedicate to this endeavor, but he tried anyway. After he came to this country and worked at the San Francisco National Bank and later at the Wells Fargo Bank, he took numerous courses in banking to enhance his knowledge of his profession. It was his nature to learn and to improve himself. In this respect, my siblings have followed his example. We never forego a chance to enhance our knowledge through learning.
他不仅告诫我们教育的重要性，还自己找机会进修。他在香港时学法语，以提高业务能力，亦为个人爱好。他没有很多的时间和钱可用来学法语，但他还是学了。到美国后他先在旧金山 National 银行，后在Wells Fargo银行工作。他选读了很多金融方面的课来提高业务水平。通过学习提高自己乃是他的天性。我们子女在这方面都象他，从不放弃通过学习来提高自己的机会。
He taught me the value of working. He would bring work home at weekends. Again, he did not do that for material gains, but he was determined to do the best that he could. He respected his career, even if that was not glamorous. When he saw something that should be done, he went ahead and did it himself. I do not remember him ever ordering us children to do something and then watching from the sideline.
He was a person of strong beliefs and principles and he held to his principles even at the risk of personal loss. Yet, he did not impose his positions on us. While my siblings grew up during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War and anti-war activities, we went through a period searching to form our own thoughts and values. He was saddened when some of us did not conform to his beliefs, but he never invoked his authority to force us to subscribe to what he held true. He just wanted to be sure that deceptions and illusions would not confuse us.
He was particularly concerned about and generous with his relatives. During the sixties, he supported his family, with five children, solely on his meager salary. When he found out that his father and other relatives were in need, he did not hesitate to share his small portion in order to help them. I know this first hand, because I helped him to mail some of the packages. After we came to the USA, our family continued to live on his income alone. He also continued to give generously to his relatives, even though he was burdened with the expense of supporting his immediate family and paying the tremendous cost of educating five children in universities. He literally took money from his own limited resources to share with his relatives, just because they needed help. He gave not from excess, not for any glory, but from a generous heart.
There were certain ideas that he held very strongly. One idea that he preached frequently was to remember those who showed kindness to or had assisted oneself. He never stopped showing gratitude to those friends and relatives who were kind to the family or to him personally. He taught us to never forget how much our aunt, Renee, assisted us. Little did he expect that he would pass away many years before his elder sister.
Another idea he stressed often was to be particularly careful when one pass something to another or receive something from another. This is typical of his meticulous character. A number of times, I wished I had heeded this advice more closely, and had suffered for failing to follow his advice.
He rarely praised family members directly, but actually took great pride in the achievements of his children. He felt doing the right thing was its own reward. However, his friends and colleagues told me later how he shared with them letters of recognition for his children from the universities that they attended. He gained satisfaction when his children took advantage of the opportunities to enhance their education, not for material gain, but because it conformed with his idea of living life correctly.
My son, Calvin, is the only grandchild that my
father saw in person. My father showed tenderness and love to Calvin that my
siblings seldom felt. In fact, I was a little envious of my son in this regard.
Here is an incident that my son,
Calvin, encountered when he first started to work professionally. He handled the situation in a manner that I am proud of and reflect well the teaching of my father.
Calvin started to work part-time while he attended high school. After graduated from the State University of San Jose, Calvin found a job that paid him much more than his previous job, at a highly esteemed company in the bay area. He was responsible for distributing certain computer software to Asia. Soon after he took the job, he found an error in programs that were shipped to overseas recently. He convened his work team to immediately develop a solution and presented it to the management. The management implemented the proposed plan. The company suffered a monetary loss, but retained its technical integrity and well deserved reputation. Unlike some others, Calvin did not look for excuses, find scapegoats or cover up his responsibility in the matter. This action took some courage, as he could doom his career as a consequence before it even began. There are people who could not distinguish between a short fall and a fatal mistake. Some well-known multi-national corporations and people who occupied high position of the country can learn from his example and be benefited. I know that my father would also be proud of Calvin
Calvin上高中时就开始半工半读。他从圣荷西州立大学毕业以后，在湾区的一家名气很响的公司找到了工作，工资远较他前面的那份工作高。他负责向亚洲运送电脑软件。他接手工作后不久，就发现不久前寄往海外的软件程序中有一个错误。他召集了他的小组立即想出解决的办法，并呈交主管部门。主管部门采用了他提出的计划。公司虽然蒙受了经济损失，却赢回了公司技术的诚信及当之无愧的信誉。 Calvin 不象其他人那样寻找借口、找替罪羊或推卸他在这件事中的责任。他这样做需要勇气，因为这 可能导致他的事业在还没开始前就已结束，须知有的人不能分辨工作中的缺点和严重错误。我想著名的跨国公司和国家高级官员可以以此为借鉴，得到教益。我知道父亲会为Calvin感到骄傲。
Fate was not particularly kind to him. He lost his Mother before he was twenty. He gave up a chance for a university education just to lighten his father’s financial burden. Later on, he dedicated his life to supporting his own family. In contrast to the affluence of his childhood, the reduction in circumstance later on in his life was dramatic. However, this did not change his temperament or his self-esteem. Even when he found out that he had contracted deadly liver cancer, he was not bitter. He turned around to soothe my fear of the uncertain future, and encouraged me to face the inevitable. He was never bitter. He accepted the happenstance of his life and continued to live to the best of his ability and for the benefits of his family.
I am not here to lionize my father; in fact, I am not qualified. In any case, he would not value such accolade. I only acknowledge what I now conceive to be the truth. Do I regret that he did not leave me many material goods? No! As a father myself now, I worry most about the characters and the health of my children. He gave me a set of values to guide me to live a worthy life. That is what he wanted his children to do. I want my children to learn the same lessons and to live according to my father’s values.
I know now that he instilled his values in me by living them. What he gave me is more valuable than any material goods that anyone could ever give to ones children. His life is an example for me to follow forever. If I am not as honorable a person as he wished me to be, it was because I have not learned or applied his lessons well, not because he did not teach me. I only regret that I did not recognize the value of his gifts while he was alive and thank him in person.
I acknowledged here the assistance, suggestions and corrections that my brother, Sidney, and his wife, Carol, gave me in the preparation of this article. I am solely responsible for any mistakes herein. ctn