I do not keep up with the Kardashians.
I know they exist. I know they’re rich and have a reality TV show. I know they get made fun of a lot on Twitter, particularly over extravagant birthday parties. I’m aware there is more than one, but I don’t know the exact number. I do know Kim is the most famous one and is married to Kanye West. I have a lot of Kanye songs on my running playlist. Beyond that, I really don’t know much about this family. So I was truly not expecting to cry on a Friday morning over Kim Kardashian’s hologram dad.
The first I heard of it was from my husband while we were getting ready for the day. “Did you hear?” he asked. He is much more invested in the Kardashian-West multiverse. He loves Kanye’s music; our cat is named Pablo after The Life of Pablo. “Kanye’s 40th birthday present to Kim was a hologram of her dad.”
On a surface level, I brushed it off. I don’t care about these people beyond my husband’s interest in them. Emotionally, something deep inside of me stilled.
“Is... her dad dead?” I asked, brushing my teeth.
“Yeah, he was OJ’s lawyer, but it’s so weird.”
The general consensus, if Gizmodo’s workplace Slack is any indication, is that holo-dad was horrifying. It was dunkable. Looking at my Twitter feed, the memes had already begun. The Uncanny Valley was strong with this one, and at 1:30 into the video, holo-dad congratulates Kim for marrying the “most most most most MOST genius man in the whole world, Kanye West.” I let out a bark of laughter because clearly, Kanye wrote that. I wanted to join in the same mystified revulsion everyone else felt at such an ostentatious display of wealth.
Instead, something inside me broke. Against my will, I cried ugly, fat tears that dripped down my face and onto my keyboard.
I was furious at myself. I can’t emphasize how much I didn’t want to feel anything other than derision at this stupid holographic man. First of all, skincare is expensive and I was washing it away with my stupid tears. Second, the layers of manipulation and the inherently performative nature of posting this publicly on social media for everyone to gawp at is Not Cool. Rubbing it in people’s faces that yes, we are rich in ways you cannot imagine because look—here’s the best hologram money can buy. You plebs could never.
And yet, I was still crying. It is extremely embarrassing to admit, but there is a part of me that wishes I could have the same experience with my dead dad. I’m devastated that I can’t.
I’ve written about my dad before. We had a weird, unresolved relationship—one a lot of time and money with my therapist has gone towards unpacking. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I love and resent him equally—especially since it’s taboo to speak ill of the dead and in Korean culture. Your parents are to be honored in life, and no less revered beyond the grave.
I kept hitting replay on that stupid video in that stupid tweet, involuntarily dredging up the last time I ever saw my dad “alive.” When I got the news he was dying in 2018, I dropped everything to hop on a plane from New York City to the small island in South Korea where he lived. I wasn’t fast enough. By the time I got there, he had slipped into a coma. He was bloated and looked nothing like my dad as I remembered him, and because of dementia he hadn’t been “my dad” for three years at that point. Even if I’d boarded an earlier flight I never would have gotten the chance to properly say goodbye. Looking at a deepfake of OJ’s lawyer is yet another reminder that I missed the chance to have that kind of closure.
Grief is a jagged, messy bastard who will leave you alone for months, years even, and then strike without warning.
So yes, perhaps stupidly, I found myself imagining what it would be like if I were rich enough to pay some company to give me five minutes with a facsimile of my dad. What I would give to hear my dad tell me he was proud of me, of the success I’ve had in my career, of the fact that since he’s died I’ve gotten married to a most, most, most, smartest brain genius, and that even though I personally believe there is no afterlife that he is watching over me.
The sheer force of that wish hit me like a freight train, and I am so incredibly resentful. Because every time I fall into that fantasy, I am once again slapped back awake with the realization it is not real. I know any hologram I’d fork over an obscene amount of money for wouldn’t really be my dad. Effusive expressions of love were not his thing, and in the back of my mind, I’d know that. Most likely, I’d have to provide the exact script for my theoretical holo-dad’s words. I’d be giving myself closure via a high-tech illusion. I don’t even have video footage of my dad, just a handful of photographs.
Anyone announcing the death of a loved one on social media makes me deeply uncomfortable. I’m aware some people find solace in the connectedness the internet offers, in the public sharing of grief—Chrissy Teigen’s emotional Medium essay about her miscarriage is proof of that. When my dad died, I, too, posted about it. I was alone in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, and as much as I tried to push it down, the pressure of grief grew until it spilled out of me and onto social media. In a dark room, sitting vigil over my father’s corpse, text messages, likes, comments, and DMs offering condolences were the only thing that kept me from losing it entirely.
It was a necessary outlet to keep my very real grief from overwhelming me, but I feared it would be construed as performance, that I would be ridiculed behind my back if I didn’t strike the exact right tone. I was aware of the vast discrepancy between what I posted for others to see, and the messier emotions I scribbled into my diary then. I imagine everyone feels that to a degree. And yet, every time a loss comes across one of my feeds, I feel I ought to scroll quickly past.
I wrote this essay because my sudden grief would not be contained. It spilled out of me because of what is an arguably tasteless birthday gift. But I can’t control when my grief decides it’s time to remember my dad is dead, and that I’ll never get the closure I want. Increasingly, I don’t feel I’m in control of how I express that to the world either. Maybe I made you uncomfortable. If I did, I’d understand if you scrolled past too.