My dad has his master's in electrical engineering. I watched him earn it over four years of online night schools.
I was in late middle school to early high school, around that time- so I was roughly 13-16 years old. Every Tuesday/Thursday night, my dad's home office doors were closed because he was studiously taking notes and partaking in academic conversations. Sometimes I'd pop my head in there, just to make sure his professor hadn't bored him to death. Or just to say "Hi!"
His classes were rough, 2-4 hours long, depending on the subject matter. And without fail, he'd emerged from his office hours later, his face draining of any enjoyment or energy. It was like watching a scientist come out of the lab with smoke and fog after a long day of inventing. But what sold the disheveled mad scientist look was the polo shirt he wore to work that day, matched with his comfy gray sweatpants and matching house slippers.
For the record, my dad would be done with classes at 10pm, 9pm if he was lucky.
Also, for the record, my dad never missed a class. He's a very dedicated person.
On top of pursuing higher education for himself, he worked a very needy government job to provide for his equally needy family (sorry mom...) and care for his stupidly needy daughter, Su Young Kim (me). PLUS! He taught two different martial arts while training and earning rank in them! Like I said, my father is a very dedicated and devoted person. If you put him on the spot, he will perform and rarely ever disappoints. He never makes a fuse of it, never pouts or boasts. He simply just does and does not ask what will be in return.
He is someone of few needs. But there was one thing he would absolutely need after a long day of work, family, and school.
"Hey Su, want to go to Walmart?"
He wouldn't even be logged entirely out of his class before asking me. He hadn't even changed out of his sweatpants. He was already ready to go, just as is.
See, my dad, much like me, is a night owl. On top of that, my dad doesn't like to be cooped up for long periods. He wants to move about the house freely- which you can't do when you're logged into a class for four hours. So with all the energy pent up late at night, what better place to burn it off than at your local 24 hours Walmart?
So every Tuesday/Thursday night, after a long engineering class, we'd venture out to Walmart at 10pm.
I liked shopping at Walmart, especially at night. It's mostly empty. There aren't many lines or people blocking the items I want to glance at. Walmart has everything! It's hasn't fallen short of amusing me, even now. Sometimes I would step away from the cart to go look at things I liked (makeup, clothes, arts and crafts), but my dad would always find a way to follow me, to tag along. Honestly, I was doing that so that way he had an opportunity to look at the things he liked (boats, camping gear, whatever TV was popular at the time). But it wasn't really the items on the shelf he was interested in. Sure, it was cool to wish upon things that aren't yours yet. What he really wanted was to spend time with me.
I was reaching that age where I could start living life more independently. I didn't need to ask or check-in as much if I wanted to do something. And dad had his hands full juggling everything else that sometimes he didn't have time to check in with me. So Walmart was our place to do that. No one really bothers you when you're shopping, and no one presents you with the exit door because it is open 24/7. Between filling our cart with household items we needed (mixed with things we didn't need...), we would talk uninterrupted.
Every little moment of our Walmart Trips was the highlight of my adolescence. I think my favorite part of our Walmart trips was simply just walking up and down every single aisle with my dad. There was no rush to be home, really. Even with school and work in the morning, we didn't care. Because these midnight Walmart runs were for us. From the drive there, the adventure inside, and returning home to put away our new goodies while we mutually tuned out mom who was giving us grief about buying things "we didn't need" (for the record, you can never have too many extension cords and stuffed animals).
I'm 23 now. I still live at home (for now), but I work a full-time job, drive my own car, and live my own life outside their home. And sometimes, I go to Walmart by myself. But I know I don't have to...
Because I know that if I said, "Hey Dad, let's go to Walmart." after a long day at work, he would say, "Let me change out of my sweatpants." but I would insist that he looked fine, just as is. Because Walmart runs weren't for or about anyone else. They were for us, just to spend some time together.
Look, as crusty of a reputation Walmart seems to get these days, it's a very special place to me. Every Walmart looks and feels the same, so no matter where the wind blows me, there will be a Walmart just nearby. I can recount those moments with my dad to provide me comfort in places far from home.
Written 2/23/22, remembering that I need to swing by Walmart on my way home. I'll be sure to call my dad to see if he needs anything.