I’ll start with two factual statements;
- My parents are the two people I love most in the world.
- My parents are the two people who have caused me the most pain.
Its my personal oxymoronic tragedy but I know that I am not alone in this. I have friends suffering from the same ailment, some who have it little better, some a lot worse. This is my attempt at trying to explain the problem.
My childhood was happy – as well as I can remember it, my parents did hit me but very rarely and never more than a disciplinary smack. I was taken care of, loved, adored, they got me pretty much anything I asked for. I remember great birthday parties, lovely family road trips and a level of care and attention which would put most parents to shame. I have nothing bad to say about my childhood, there wasn’t any abuse for anyone to spot, so then what am I moaning about?
Unlike Peter Pan, we grow up and growing up is where things start to go very wrong for you if you have my type of parent. You stop being a child, you start having independent thought, you develop a personality. Regular parents get involved in this process, guiding their children into becoming teens and adults, providing support and explanations for life’s weird and wonderful quirks. My parents did not. They watched in terror as I absorbed the culture of the country they had brought me to, looked on horrified as I travelled through the roller-coaster ride towards adulthood forming my own views on the world, most of them different from my mum and dad’s.
I never had ‘the talk’, sex was a sin, sexuality a taboo topic, the raging hormones of puberty were an internalised hellscape. My parents dealt with it by putting me in an all boys school and making sure that between the ages of eleven and eighteen I had not a single conversation with a girl my own age that lasted longer than two minutes. Being horny however was the least of my problems as the eventual culture clash between them and myself grew. Opinions are not something we discussed in the household, as far as they were concerned anything they told me was ironclad truth and not up for debate so my opinions became silent demons in my head. The only way I should possibly live is the way they had taught me to, be a pious Muslim, study hard, take my pick of Law, Medicine or Engineering careers and get married to a woman my mother would very kindly find for me.
The fond memories of a happy childhood started to get buried under immense pressure and the inadequacy not being the son they wanted. The more time that passed the more sour my lemons became. The parents I saw in books, movies and TV were alien to me. A source of unconditional love, a person you turned to in your darkest hours, a person to talk to when you needed support. All that seemed like fantasy, my parents were the people I had to hide everything from. With that we reach the crux of the issue, why my type of Asian parents suck at being parents. Their refusal to accept you for who you are. That simple thing is the cancer that eats away at my psyche day after day, knowing that my parents do not love me unconditionally.
Simple things that most of you take for granted are monsters in my closet. Meeting someone you like and falling in love with them is supposed to be a dream but for myself and my Asian friends it becomes a living nightmare. As we fall deeper in love with someone we fall equally deeper into anxiety and fear. When we start to see a future with someone any excitement is replaced with panic because in every version of that future we have to tell our parents about the person we want to be with. The people we end up falling for are usually not in the categories that our parents demand that they must fall into. When our love addled brains make the mistake of seeing past race or religion our conservative parents seldom find it in their hearts to forgive. Reactions range from angry begrudging acceptance, to telling us to break up, to complete disownment. The fear of that reaction is a dark cloud over our relationships, the ever-present worry that the only people whose approval we care about won’t give it.
Major decisions we make for ourselves in life are made ugly with the knowledge that we are disappointing our parents as we follow our instincts. Now you might be thinking why put up with all that bullshit, we should do what makes us happy and if that’s an issue for them… Fuck em! Right? Unfortunately despite all the bovine faeces we still love them, I remember the happy childhood, I know all the sacrifices my parents have made for me, all the hardships they have suffered so that my life may be better and easier. I wouldn’t be who am today without them. My mum and dad aren’t bad people, I often find myself wishing they were so that going against them would be easier but they are lovely people with the key flaw of being unwilling to bend their beliefs. I love them, I always will.
That is how the Asian parent traps you in a lifelong emotional storm, by making themselves worthy of being loved while making you feel like you aren’t. They raise you to become superman while making sure that they are your kryptonite.
You love them, so you do what they want to make them happy, but you give up your own happiness to do so.
You do what makes you happy, but you love them, so their disappointment ruins your happiness.
Its a loop we haven’t found a way out of yet, and at the bottom of the loop are the occasional nights when we have to cry ourselves to sleep.
I hate to end on such a depressing note so I’ll finish by saying that I’m not constantly sad, most of my days are happy days and I’ve found friends that make the rare bad days far easier to bear. For all the emotional negativity I can muster there’s always an equally positive gif of a puppy somewhere on the internet waiting to make everything better, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go search for another one of those.