Kevin Bae

Non-Social in a Socially Networked World

I need some new traditions

Episode 23

On today’s episode of personal therapy I discuss my need for new traditions.



So I need some new traditions. All the traditions that I had for the last 30 plus years, maybe 35, are now gone. You see, I got married when I was when I was 19 and I started a family when I was 20. And I really couldn’t remember, even in my 20s what my childhood family traditions were.

I’m not a religious person. So, you know, we had no traditions based on religion. Now, that’s not to say we didn’t celebrate Christmas and stuff like that, but it was just it was a secular celebration. We celebrated Easter but that was also very secular. I remember coloring eggs but not much beyond that. And for Halloween, you know, I don’t remember dressing up in costume either. Or going out trick or treating. I know I did have a costume only because of pictures. But the only pictures I have of me in a costume was from kindergarten when I dressed up as Underdog which was a favorite character of mine back then. I have the entire underdog cartoon collection by the way. Just in case you were wondering.

But I couldn’t remember my family traditions. Not even Thanksgiving or Christmas morning. I have pictures of when I was a kid on Christmas morning. But I don’t actually remember it. I don’t remember getting up early in the morning and opening up gifts. I don’t know what we did for Christmas Eve. I know we had Thanksgiving dinner. But I don’t remember anything other than the cranberry sauce in the can. And we got the gel kind not the not the one that you can actually see cranberries in. We got the one that when you squish it out of the can it keeps the shape of the can and you slice it up into circles. I loved it. I don’t remember the turkey. I know we had turkey. But I don’t remember it.

Maybe all my childhood stuff is blocked out of my memory. My parents separated when I was around four years old. And I think their formal divorce happened when I was about 11. I don’t remember exactly. But, I think that’s the timeline. My father was not in the house regularly, and we would spend the weekends with my father in various places and do various things. I think we also switched off holidays sometimes. I think we did Thanksgiving with one parent and then Christmas with the other.

When I started my own family, I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna start some traditions. Get some traditions going and make them solid. So we had a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner. My traditions were traditional, funny enough. Nothing crazy, nothing outside the box. All I wanted is to cement the memories in my children’s brains. So they could have some good solid memories of what they used to do, because I couldn’t remember. I cooked the Thanksgiving meal. It was a very traditional meal, with turkey, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes, blah, blah, blah. It’s one of my favorite meals. I love the combo of coma carbs with a roasted turkey. We made homemade cranberry sauce too. After maybe two or three years of getting cranberry sauce out of the can I switched to making it myself because I figured out it was so stupid easy there’s no reason to get it out if a can. Unless you’re there is some dire emergency and you forgot it. It took me all day to cook the meal. And later on, because my son liked to cook, he would help out.

And so it became a tradition where we would cook the meal and we would goof around and talk. I would chastise him from time to time for losing focus on what he was doing all the while my daughter would complain that the food isn’t ready yet. It was nice. And it was just the four of us. We rarely went to anybody’s house and we rarely had people over. It was just the four of us.

We had a tradition on Christmas Eve where we would go to my father’s house. He would have a hybrid Korean/American Christmas. It was hybrid because all the older Korean women would be in one room talking to each other and preparing some food while all the men would be in a separate room, chatting it up. After dinner the older men would play cards. The younger generation would also be separate. My older brother and I were the oldest out of all the 2nd gens because we’re from my father first marriage. Everyone else was much younger starting with my younger brother. He is 12 years younger than me and my sister is 14 years younger. Included were all their cousins and some side family members. You know, cousins of cousins and the like. There were also some of their family friends. Everybody was Korean except for me, my older brother, my wife, and my kids. My wife is Filipino and my kids, of course, are mixed breed like me. I’m only half Korean. It was kind of fun, especially when my kids were really small. They were the center of attention because there were no kids their age. I was the first one to have children and they were a novelty for everyone because they were the babies of the family.

Christmas morning, back at home, we would open up presents. On Christmas Eve we only put a few presents under the tree. Everything else was already wrapped but we only put a few presents under the tree. Those presents were from me and my wife and we would tell them that. After my kids went to sleep on Christmas Eve we would bring out the other gifts that were hidden and put those under the tree. We would stuff their stockings with small things. That way we kept up the whole Santa Claus façade. When they got up in the morning they saw the tree filled with presents and saw their stockings stuffed. And it was fun. It was like Santa Claus really did come overnight while they were sleeping.

My son was mister super excited all the time. He would get up at like 5am. You’d hear him rustling about waking up my daughter. She was more patient telling him to just relax and wait. We spent the morning opening up gifts and I spent the afternoon putting things together like most dads do on Christmas Day. It was a solid tradition. And I’m pretty sure my kids remembered all Easter, on the other hand was not that was still not much of a tradition.

I almost forgot about our tradition of decorating the tree. After Thanksgiving, the day after, my son and I would go out and get a tree. I grew up with an artificial tree and I used that for a couple of years after I got married. But then, after a while, I was like you know what? I’d like to get a real tree. Every year since then, if I’m home for for Christmas, we would get a real tree. We didn’t cut one down, we would just go to a tree lot but still it was cool. We would spend the next day, after getting the tree, decorating it. We have special ornaments we got every year to represent some new thing that happened in the kids lives. I have a whole box of these.

On Halloween my wife would make different costumes for the kids by hand. Not all the time but most of the time. We would go around our neighborhood trick or treating. For some reason kids stopped trick or treating. I don’t know if it was after 9/11. I just remember the number of kids coming to the house dropped off like a rock. As your kids get older they still dress up or school but it wasn’t so much the little kid thing that it should be and what made it fun.

Some of my other traditions were around food. I was born in Chicago, in the Logan Square neighborhood. I came of age in the mid 70s through the mid 80s. Back then Chicago was still very much Chicago of old. It wasn’t what it is today. For instance, there was literally a hot dog joint on almost every corner on every block. Our block had a hot dog joint called called Nikko’s. It is now defunct. It was at the corner of Elston, Western and Diversey on Chicago’s north side. It’s now some other restaurant. I grew up eating Chicago style hot dogs and Maxwell Street style polish. Nikko’s also had gyros and corn tamales. This was a standard menu at almost any hotdog stand in the city. Some just specialize in burgers and hotdogs but most of the places I went to, at least I’m on my my side of town, had a similar menu.

Traditional pizza in Chicago is a tavern style thin crust pizza that is cut in squares. And you could also get that anywhere. Any tavern corner tavern would have it. It’s cut in squares with a crispy crust to make it easier to eat at a bar with your beer. You only need one had for both and no need to fold. Our neighborhood favorite was Father and Son Pizza. I don’t think they exist anymore. They had a location near our house. And we would order that for delivery a lot of times. And of course, there’s deep dish, which people like to make fun of around the rest of the country. We didn’t go to any chain. pizza places, at the time. There were all kinds of independent little pizza places back then. We frequented a little restaurant up on Elston Avenue called Casa Luna. It was just a little Italian restaurant and they had some fantastic deep dish pizza.

After I got married and moved to the suburbs we kept up the the pizza traditions and the hot dog traditions. Our favorite hot dog joint in the suburbs was Fluky’s, now also defunct. They had a location in Niles we went to every weekend until it closed. Then we transitioned to their last location up in Northbrook and that lasted a while until they closed. Now the only traditional truly Chicago hot dog joint in that area is Superdawg. I don’t count Portillo’s. It wasn’t a thing on my side of town.

I raised two kids in these Chicago type traditions along with our own family traditions that we created ourselves. My kids grew up, went to college, and because I got married so early I became an empty nester around the age 41. So I’ve been an empty nester for over a decade. I didn’t have any problem transitioning to that. That wasn’t a big deal. The kids still came home from college for holidays. When they moved on to different cities after graduation their trips home were less frequent. When they did come we would recreate the traditional Christmas morning or the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Obviously it wasn’t the same as when they were little but it was okay. It was kind of like comfort food.

Fast forward from there to two years ago. I decided to quit working for my family. I didn’t really plan on retiring per se. But that’s what ended up happening. I saved up some money over the years and I felt it was time for me to quit. My wife and I both worked for my family non-stop for over 30 years. I was doing way more than I should have been doing and taking on more responsibility than I should have as well. The two of us just said, it’s time

In retirement I started doing what I felt like. My wife and I were doing some traveling. Starting in 2016 we started going together to Europe. She likes to go to Italy and France. I really never cared much to travel or to travel Europe. But, I’m like, if she wants to go and she wants me to go what do I care I can enjoy it just fine. So we started traveling once a year.

The cost of living in the northern suburbs of Chicago started becoming really expensive. Again, I stopped working so I didn’t have normal income coming in. I thought, there’s nothing tying us here anymore. There’s no reason to stay in Chicago. The property taxes are very high. The cost of living is high. What am I getting for the money anymore? My kids are gone. I have grandchildren but they’re not anywhere near us. I don’t work for the family anymore. So there’s not really anything tying me down to Chicago other than my Chicago roots. I started looking for alternatives. In June of 2020 the pandemic pushed me over the edge. Looking at our finances, and what’s happening with Illinois in general politically, it was not good. The lockdowns that were happening did not make me happy with the people in Illinois and around Chicago. They are becoming insufferable with this COVID lockdown and mask shaming. I’m very much a just live and let live kind of person. You can do whatever the hell you want. Just leave me alone. But people weren’t leaving me alone. And the government was not going to leave me alone. I couldn’t go into a store because I’m not masking up. When they first started masking in Illinois I couldn’t get in the grocery store because I wasn’t allowed in without a mask. We didn’t live far from the Wisconsin border. It was only about a 40 minute drive. I drove up to Wisconsin and went to the grocery stores there. So I’m like, This is This is fucked.

We started talking about moving. That way we would save money and we could do some traveling. I was thinking if we’re gonna do this move now is the time. Before things get too crazy with the lockdowns and all this kind of baloney. I just had a feeling it was time to get out. So we started researching places. And we ended up actually researching places in the Atlanta, Georgia area, because they have a major airport. I was originally looking in North Carolina, but air airlines started pulling back a lot of their flights from smaller airports. I decided not to go there because, if for some reason we need to catch a flight to go anywhere Atlanta would be better because it’s Delta’s headquarters. We’d be able to fly just about any anywhere in the world fairly easily. We found a house in late June and we closed in late July. So I’ve been here in Georgia for about a year and a month now.

It’s not bad, it’s nice. Our house is nice. We have a bigger house for less money and lower taxes. The cost of living here is much better than it is in the Chicago area. But what I find, however, is because I’m so entrenched in the Chicago area I need some new traditions. I don’t have any here. I feel like I’m just living here, which I guess is fine too. But do I need new traditions? I don’t know. It just feels like I need something to cement myself to the place I live in. But I’m not exactly sure what to do yet. I thought our tradition would be travelling once maybe twice a year. But that’s kind of out the window, at least for now. We’re trying to plan something for 2022 but I don’t know if that’s going to happen with all these vaccine mandates and travel restrictions. It’s become a bit of a hassle to even try to plan it. I don’t want to go outside the US and then have some surge of cases someplace and suddenly I’m locked down somewhere and can’t get back. We have our reservations made and won’t cancel just yet. I’m hoping some miracle happens and people come to their senses.

I don’t have any food traditions here, don’t have any holiday traditions here, and don’t have any family traditions here. Now I can get a Chicago style thin crust pizza here. There is a Chicago chain here that makes an identical tavern style pizza which is great. There is no deep dish here to speak of and hotdogs are not a thing here. I mean, they have hotdog stands here but they’re not the same. I think everything is just going to be like comfort food, where you’re just going back to a tradition every once in a while. Perhaps this is a fact of getting older. It’s just me, me and my wife.

We don’t have any family down here. My wife has a friend from her school in the Philippines and she’s made a bunch of friends here, but I’m not. I’m not an outgoing person. I’m introverted. I have one former business colleague here and I’ve seen him a couple of times over the last year. We even went fishing once. Mostly I’m kind of a hermit. I go hiking with my dog, I putter around the house, I garden, and I cook. I blog about shit that pisses me off, and I podcast. I changed up the podcast from covering news of the day to talking about bugs in my brain I feel I need to get out. But everything seems just a little hollow without traditions. And maybe it’s just something I have to get used to. When you live your entire life in one area you get to know it so well and you get so comfortable. So when you move someplace new, it’s like starting all over again. I’m getting used to it.

I wonder if this is just a thing about getting older. Feeling a little empty for the things I used to do. So I have to make something new but I don’t want it to be forced either. It has to be something that kind of happens organically. I doubt it will revolve around holidays because those have specific meanings and feelings associated with them. We’ll see what happens.

That’s all I got.


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