Legacies Finding Faith in the House of Capricorn
To this day, I can’t tell you the names of my extended family in Taiwan—but I can tell you their astrological signs.
I was born three weeks before my due date, on an evening so frosty that, per my mother’s recollection, my father had to circumvent several street closures to make it to the hospital. The date was January 7, 1994, which means I share a birthday with Zora Neale Hurston and Blue Ivy Carter.
My early birth made me a Capricorn. This factoid tickles my mother because she is also a Capricorn and likes to believe that we are destined to be similar. In fact, Capricorns are overrepresented in our nuclear and extended families. My mom’s current partner is a Capricorn; so is her youngest sister, whose birthday is the day before mine. My other aunt’s estranged husband and my father’s sister (my mother’s ex-sister-in-law) are Capricorns, as well.
Capricorn is technically the tenth zodiac sign in the cycle, but it’s the one that inaugurates each new year. It is associated with rationality, ambition, and humorlessness. That’s why the symbol for the sign is a goat: We Capricorns are climbers. I visualize my family lineage not as a tree, but a lush mountaintop teeming with goats.
Not all of us are exemplary Capricorns. My Capricorn uncle is estranged from his wife because he gambled away their money, arguably one of the least pragmatic things one could do. My Capricorn aunt (on my mom’s side) might’ve been more ambitious if she liked her career, but she doesn’t, so it’s hard to say.
But the greatest irony lies within my mother, who, despite being our family’s biggest astrology enthusiast, is ostensibly least like her sign. My mother is aloof, spontaneous, and generally content. She favors superstitious explanations over logical ones. She likes following plans, but she’s horrible at making them. My mother doesn’t long for bigger, better, or more. She’s often told me, I’m not a career woman .
When I was eight, a satellite dish appeared on the roof of our home in Warren, New Jersey, and with it came channels upon channels of Taiwanese programming. Every day that summer, while my father was working in far-off New York City, my mother spent much of her stay-at-home life in front of the TV. I awoke each morning to the sound of a language I barely understood. I’d make my way downstairs, and, rubbing my eyes, I’d sit next to my entranced and giddy mother.
Taiwanese television is an experience of sensory overload. If you don’t read Chinese—maybe even if you do—you might feel like you’re drowning in text. Most networks have tickers running along multiple sides of the screen, irrespective of the show you’re watching. My mother especially loved watching talk shows, which often had whimsical sound effects and random phrases or quotes popping up on screen to punctuate whatever was happening.
My mother’s favorite of these variety shows was focused on “fortune telling,” so to speak. It was co-hosted by an array of experts in various disciplines, and celebrity guests would come on to have their fortunes read via palmistry, numerology, tarot, and astrology. The subject matter was esoteric, the cohosts were all young, attractive women, and the vibe of the show was playful and laid-back. Imagine Queer Eye, but with women and occult.
Wes, what would you do if you found a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk? My mother would translate questions like this from the show for me. I would think really hard on it, reflecting on my eight long years of life, but my answer usually defaulted to “I don’t know.” Not that my response mattered—the show would go on to tell you how your sign was supposed to react.
I visualize my family lineage not as a tree, but a lush mountaintop teeming with goats.
This was how I first learned astrology: as a daily practice, but also as a guessing game. I knew the names of the signs in Chinese before I knew them in English. In my family, especially on my mother’s side, it seemed natural to know someone’s sun sign as if it were a fundamental human trait, like eye color or height. To this day, I can’t tell you the names or professions of my extended family members in Taiwan—but I can tell you their signs.
They say Capricorns aren’t supposed to believe in this stuff. The logic goes that, well, logical people typically search for more grounded explanations to life’s mysteries and uncertainties.
Fittingly, at thirteen, I declared myself an atheist. I intended to be a hardcore student of the biological sciences in upcoming high school—pre-pre-med, if you will—and to believe in anything other than what was unquestionably real struck me as irreconcilable with my empirical pursuits. That meant rejecting not just my parents’ latent Christianity, but also my mother’s passively persistent belief that we were guided by the stars.
When I told her, she wasn’t upset. She told me I was allowed to believe in whatever I wanted, as long as it made sense to me.
My mother has always mixed her mythologies. She’s nominally Catholic; every night when I was younger, she clasped my hands together in prayer before tucking me in for bed. But certain Buddhist principles also caught my mother’s attention—she had more to say about karma and next lives than she did about heaven or hell.
Then there was her fascination with the Chinese and western zodiacs, which superseded any traditional religion in her complicated belief system. To be clear, my mother appeared to understand that none of this was scientifically sound. In fact, she often voiced disapproval when her friends sought psychics and mystics in real life and paid them for their services. Perhaps this was her Capricorn pragmatism coming through: fortune-telling is great, but you’re a fool if you legitimize it with payment!
But nothing was stopping her from using astrology to explain away changes in her social life, especially when it came to tumult. When a close friendship dissolved, it was because the friend, a Pisces, was too slippery and had moved on to new friends. When she fought with my father over his impulsive spending, she chalked it up to Scorpio weakness: a susceptibility to temptation. When she stopped speaking to her own mother, it was because my grandmother was controlling, self-centered, and classically Aries.
More frustrating was when my mother offered unsolicited analyses of my own pre-adolescent friendships. Kevin, a Taurus, was a good choice, very compatible with me. (Our friendship ended when Kevin joined the popular crowd.) Julia, a Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, was her stealth favorite, as Julia’s birthday was only two days after my mother’s. (We are still friends to this day.) Connie, a Libra, was the one I had to watch out for. (We had a massive falling out, though it was mostly my fault.)
I tried my best to shrug off these celestial puppet strings. I craved what my mother refused: a sense of agency. Perhaps it amounted to differences in age, generation, and privilege. My mother was an immigrant who’d built a new life in the United States; it seems natural for her to have sought heavenly help. I was a mean tween and a natural-born American for whom atheism and individualism were “cool” and astrology was “gay.”
At this age, I started to wonder if astrology was my mother’s way of avoiding blame. In my parents’ social circle of upper-middle-class Taiwanese American immigrants, my father was known for his cool head and hard work (a model minority if there ever was one). My mother was known for her capriciousness and suspiciousness, which resulted in a cycle of short-lived friendships.
She told me I was allowed to believe in whatever I wanted, as long as it made sense to me.
More than once, following yet another of my mother’s friendship breakups, I cheekily asked her if she ever considered that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the other person’s predetermined personality that was to blame, but rather her own actions. After all, she was the common link in her various estrangements.
My mother would purse and pucker her lips, bristling at my retort. No , she’d eventually answer. Because they’re the ones who changed. Or maybe they’re finally showing me who they actually are. I never change .
Everything changed when I was sixteen.
That summer, unbeknownst to me at the time, my father asked my mother for a divorce. After an explosive fight followed by frigid silence, my father eventually reneged, deciding that they should stay together for the time being, if for no other reason than to maintain stability for me. My mother found this resolution unsettling. So, one day in late September, she read through his email inbox.
This was the detail I latched onto when, a few days later, my mother told me that my father was having an affair with a woman in Taipei. You read through Dad’s emails? You invaded his privacy? I pelted my mother with accusations as she wept.
As months passed, I went through stages of disbelief. I convinced myself that I owed it to my father to take the more methodical approach, to rule out all other explanations before I deemed him unfaithful. I started with total denial. I told my mother she must’ve misread or misinterpreted what she read. Then, I conceded that my father may have cheated, but it was clearly a one-time thing. How was he supposed to maintain a relationship with someone in Asia, “business trips” and continued correspondence notwithstanding?
Just think about it, Mom! Even as I finally accepted that the affair might not have ended, my mother’s irrationality was still to blame. Dad’s a good guy who would never want to hurt us.
Maybe he hated having to lose friends because of my mother and making new ones every year. Maybe he could no longer take her impulsive behavior and reckless words. Maybe he was tired of being married to a woman who never took responsibility for her woes, instead always blaming them on other people or on constellations.
Of course you’re taking his side , she’d sometimes say. You’re just like him .
What she meant: My father’s sun sign, Scorpio, is the same as my moon sign—representing the “inner mood” underneath my dominant Capricorn traits. Armed with stingers and exoskeletons, Scorpios are guarded but dogged, passionate while perilous. At first glance, my unassuming, careful, hardworking father wouldn’t appear to have such danger in him. But perhaps that’s the thing with Scorpios: you don’t know they’re deadly until it’s too late.
If I had believed this, I might’ve countered that my mother was also transforming into her moon sign: Gemini—the twins, shrewd and deceitful, cleaved into two personas. During the day, she was suspicious and volatile, a near-constant spout of vitriol against my father. But as soon as he got home, she became a doting housewife, with a smile plastered on her face, a Stepford Wife.
This was my mother’s plan to save her marriage—pretend like nothing was wrong, like things were better than ever, actually—and I loathed it. My mother had always been terrible at hiding her true feelings, so the seams around this performance were noticeable. I kept telling her that my father would figure it out soon enough, and that it was best to just confront him and have an honest, reasoned conversation about their marriage.
Instead of talking to my father, my mother turned to yet another Capricorn, an old friend she’d long neglected: Jesus. A third persona emerged: that of the devout, born-again Catholic. Throughout her marital decay, my mother’s closest friends and confidants were two Catholic Taiwanese immigrants who’d had similar issues with their husbands before successfully “saving” their marriages. They prayed with her and for her as she tried to salvage the situation.
My mother was recalibrating her belief system, though not by diminishing her astrological superstitions. (I recall scouring Macy’s one Chinese New Year for earrings that were red—the luckiest color—after my mother heard an ominous forecast for her Chinese sign, the ox.) Rather, she simply grew her spiritual database so as to increase her chances of arriving at an intervention.
As with astrology in my youth, my mother now attributed everything to God—and I found it preposterous. When I got into my dream college, for instance, my mother coyly revealed that she’d gone to church every day for the past week and prayed for this result. Right , I shot back, needlessly reactive. It was definitely God and not all my hard work that got me into Yale.
We were traversing entirely different spiritual planes. My feet were planted firmly on the ground, where I was searching for answers through evidence and reason. I tried to communicate my findings to my mother, who floated among stars and planets. But she couldn’t hear me, or maybe she just wasn’t listening. Instead, she was querying the heavens, waiting for a response.
She was querying the heavens, waiting for a response.
Over time, most of my mother’s suspicions about my father’s infidelity proved to be correct. In spite of her prayers (and of the supposedly intrinsic compatibility between Capricorns and Scorpios), my father never came back to my mother. Roughly five years after my father first proposed it, my parents divorced. It seemed to me that my mother’s gods forsook her as well.
My mother sees it differently. In her explanations, God came through for her in unexpected ways. God led her to my father’s emails in the first place. God wanted to warn her about my father’s deceit. God then sent her two guardian angels who coached her through her despair. And finally, God imbued her with the strength to accept that divorce was inevitable and to start anew in a different house, with a different partner.
No , I want to tell her. It was all you—your clever deduction that Dad was lying when he said there was no one else; your persistent investigation, through great personal pain, of the cracks in the foundation on which our comfortable life rested; your ability to imagine and plan a better, healthier life for you and me. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the right thing to do. The rational course of action. Exemplary Capricorn behavior.
I hold my tongue. My mother tells her version of the story in order to live. I tell my own to do the same.
I’ve heard people say that the realization that your parents are imperfect is a necessary step toward adulthood. But when I learned that my father—the hardest worker I know, the man who provided so much for me—had a secret second life, it felt like the earth dropped out from under me. I spun out into orbit, searching for a new foundation. I still don’t know exactly where I’ll end up.
As it is, I’m here, somewhere out in space, closer to my mother.