Monday, February 13, 2012

APDA: Asian Parental Displays of Affection

Am I the only one who thinks about the infamous battle between Kirk and Spock in “Amok time” (Star Trek Season Two Episode One) when it comes to Asians and public displays of affection?

It’s OK. You don’t have to admit to anything. I’m not trying to out anyone. Let me take the brunt of the ridicule and taunting. But at minimum admit that the rigid ritualistic act of dating in traditional Asian cultures is very… Vulcan.

Wandering Apricot has a funny post about it. (You might say, it’ll “bowl” you over – read her post, you’ll see what I mean.) And I’ve written about how the older generation of Asians aren’t a particularly touchy-feely crowd. I cited a 2009 BBC article called “No Kissing Please, We are Indians.”

There’s a lighthearted post on the Mom N-Stinks blog pondering why her children get “grossed out” every time “me and Adam hug and/or kiss.” The Nickelodeon Parents Connect blog says “the fact that your kids have begun to see your displays of affection as "gross" is probably all the more reason to keep it up.”

They go on to say appropriate relationship behavior is one of the life skills parents teach. Julie Hanahan at the Chicago Parent offers a glossary of romantic gestures parents might consciously model for their children. They include holding hands, hugging, kissing, and flirting.

I can safely say my parents never “gestured” (at least not in my presence – I mean they had me and my sister, so they had to have at some point.)

I can also safely say, I’m not going to win any awards for having healthy relationships.

But I’m hesitant to say that the two correlate. I just can’t with a clear conscience blame my bad relationships on the lack of “gesturing” between my parents.

Instead I’m going to copy and paste a chunk of text from a 2003 commentary by Jonathan Le:

Americans associate affection with compassion and openness. American affection happens instantaneously -- you hug your sister, she hugs you back, everybody is happy. Asians associate affection with keeping appearances and being loyal. Asian affection is more patient. It could take as long as a whole lifetime to manifest itself. It's more implied than shown outright…

These parents assume that because they have taken care of their children since birth, it should be obvious that they care about them, that they love them. And there isn't really any need for them to smother each other with hugs every day. Though, they tend to forget that, "not every day" does not mean "never again."

I think his closing lines say it all: "not every day" does not mean "never again."

He’s talking about displays of affection between his parents and him, but the conversation can be broadened to include “gestures” between husbands and wives, partners.

While he admits to being jealous of his American friends hanging on their parents like monkeys, I don’t think Jonathan is proclaiming the Kirk-style full on hug  superior to the Spock-style “Con, Good Job.”  I think he appreciates the uniqueness of the expressions and wonders every now and then what the fruit tastes like on the other side of the orchard.


MsXpat said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I have to say, coming from the Caribbean there I have very little memory of outwards display of affection. Do this day my mother has never said, 'I love you' and to be honest it never bothered me. You feel the love in the sacrifices they made every day. That said I'm now a mother and I can't help but tell my son as often as I can, that I love him. The love is intense I have to vocalise it. I'm so proud of him :0)

Vincent Young said...

Hi MsXpat, Thank you for commenting. I've been enjoying reading your Tiger Tales blog. I must admit, as a dad, I probably should tell my kids more.

filipina said...

I certainly agree with you about the Asian civilizations. As a filipina I tend to be so respectful with my parents and also to older people. My parents are so showy to us. They taught us good values and right conduct. I guess it is important that you have a good relationship with your famiy. Thanks for this wonderful post of yours. It is really inspiring!

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