Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beyond 4 Walls

Before I was a parent I used to joke: "That's how Chinese people show love." I made that joke every time my friend complained about how critical her mother was of her. We were in our 20s then. It is curious just how much impact "mother" has on a person. I am just over 40 and my mother still knows which buttons to press to upset me.

I also used to joke the difference between a Chinese parent and other parents is when a Chinese parent sees their toddler run and then fall, her first words are: "Aiiyah! Are you kidding me? Two-years old and you still don't know how to run?" or "See I told you not to run! I told you you would fall!" A non-Chinese parent would run over to her fallen toddler and coo, "Are you OK baby? It's OK at least you tried."

It was OK for me to want to be an astronaut when I grew up. It was OK for me to be a baseball player, a rock-n-roll star, a cowboy, a Kung Fu hero like Hung Hei-Gun. It was OK for me to dream about traveling to far off places, invent amazing machines, rescue damsels and whole worlds. My potential seemed limitless. And then I grew up.

And when I grew up what seemed limitless had become very narrow and very specific and frankly very boring. I was made aware of my maturity in the last years of middle school. My maturity was my sentence in high school. Where I once could be anybody or do anything I imagined, my choices now had been limited to a very specific criteria and bound together by a dingy band of what I was told was pragmaticism.

It wasn't until I was in college and away from home for the first time that I would unbind myself. With my regained freedom I forsook my math and business classes for poetry and film making courses. I exploded cognitively and socially. At times, it seemed I would never get myself together again. But I did eventually.

Now a parent having gone through what I went through I understand my own parents' binds as being well intentioned but ill advised. As a parent I understand it is my responsibility to give my children the strategies they need to deal with disappointment and the chores of living in the "real world." However, as a parent I also understand I have a responsibility to inspire my children to do great things.

Talking the neighbors, friends, and family, I know that the times ahead will be tough. On the morning news, it seems the great motivator is not "things will get better" but "be thankful you've got what you got." A historical precedent has been overshadowed by old societal ills.

While I need to provide my children with the skills to tend to the practical realities of life, in lieu of current events as a parent now more than ever my children need to dream. They need to know that they may live in a time of great improbability but not the dead ends of impossibility. In looking towards the New Year, my one resolution as a father is to give my kids the skills and strategies they need to fulfill the dreams that expand beyond the four walls of their bedroom.


Byron said...

Great post!

I think creativity and dreaming were a way to make things happen in the past, but I think they are going to be requirements for for survival in the future. Look at how technology has changed up the economy and systems of economic cooperation in recent years. This sea change is inevitable, and it's going to continue to change, even when (if?) the economy gets better.

We're definitely going to have to teach our kids to be creative. The upcoming years will be both exciting and tough.

Melissa said...


This was a lovely post, thanks!

thisislarry said...

read: A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink. It will make you feel vindicated. Happy New Year!

Stew said...

Aiya! You write this on the internet about your parents?! J/K - child of chinese parents here, and a parent of a chinese daughter, too.
Toughest job ever, being a parent (especially in today's world).

Jay said...

LOL. Stew's a funny guy.

I like this post and it resonates deeply.

Interestingly, though, in my case I bucked the pre-med straitjacket to end up an activist and then in Anthropology. After years of poverty, I decided to mobilize the stereotypes in my favor and ended up in IT...

Anyway, long story, but what you say of Chinese parents is equally true of Indians at least. Can't speak for all the other Asians.

I'm a single Indian Dad of a teenage daughter with sole custody... so it's good to reach out to any semblance of community.

Vincent said...

Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments.

To expand on Stew's comment, is the challenge being a parent in today's world or trying not to be "our" parents in today's world. I have often cringed once it hits me that I've just said something my parent's used to say to me all the time.

Not that our parents were bad people but they did grow up in a different generation with different social rules and expectations.

Just a thought.