If facebook is a reliable barometer of social change, then Chinese of my generation are slowly but surely moving away from the centuries-old Confucian-belief that parents are gifts to their children. Indeed, one day, while perusing my facebook updates, I noticed this item, which had attracted hundreds and hundreds of likes. It said:
Children are gifts to parents and not the other way around.
In the past, this would be totally unheard of in Chinese, nay Asian, culture. Clicking on the number of likes, I saw that those who LIKED the statement were mostly Chinese, roughly my age. Looking at it, I thought, could it be true that the winds of change are finally here?
A decade ago, when I plainly stated that my father-in-law, who I dub Anaconda, after the strangulating Amazonian reptile, was the reason His Royal Highness and I did not have a house, his friends, mostly Chinese-educated Chinese, were aghast. That I could even put my frustration towards a man who sold off all his worldly possession to put his second son through university, an elder at that, into words was mind-boggling. Even though none said so, their body language communicated that my comments were the height of rudeness, a reflection of poor rearing.
Never mind that this same man had to sell off all his possessions because he a) is a hard-core gambler b) made no prior provisions for his children’s education c) will require upkeep for the rest of his life. He also lost AUD50k two weeks prior to our wedding, money His Royal Highness had sent home for his sister’s university tuition, his own maintenance, his sister’s maintenance, and was heavily in debt. This was my wedding present from him.
Yet, I’m the bad one for voicing what everyone thinks: that the young are old-age insurance policies for their parents. I was especially sore because my own father had sworn that my brother and I would never be like him – made to carry an entire family in place of its head; we’d never be responsible for him, my mother or each other.
His father, another profligate gambler (now you can understand why I HATE gamblers), left him with the wonderful task of providing for his mother and his younger 4 siblings at 19. My father dared not refuse because as we Chinese all know, filial piety, not cleanliness, is next to Godliness.
My father’s mother, a Chinese school teacher told him, “To give your parents money, even if it is used to buy OPIUM is your responsibility. It is our right as parents to be supported.”
Eating his food and living in his house, his siblings all said, “Everything here is provided by Ah Gong. So why should we be thankful to you?” Ah Gong was their long-deceased father.
It is thanks to them that I have a strong and lasting impression of what it means to be Chinese. Even though I discovered my Peranakan roots at 29, and have only become reasonably proficient in Mandarin of late, what I feel, in every cell and atom of my body is Chinese. It is this Chinese-ness in me that rejoices in the turning tide of our social mores.
His Royal Highness used to say I was an “embarrassment to the Chinese race” because my views are so radical, they cannot be reconciled with that prevailing within our culture, but even he has grown to see the logic inherent in them. When his sister graduated from university some eight years ago, he arranged a family meeting with his siblings to see what could be done for their father. He proposed a multi-step plan to eradicate their old man’s debt, so as to provide the latter with an improved standard of living.
Watching them, I said, “Mark my words, this plan of yours will never work. You may think I’m the bad one now, I’m the culture-less one now, but years from now you’ll still be having this conversation because the old man thinks it is his due to gamble as much as he likes and for you to be providing for him.”
His old man once told me, “You’ll never understand my lifestyle.”
To his son he said, “All my friends are millionaires. Can I take them to eat wanton noodles after they’ve treated me to shark’s fin and abalone?”
His Royal Highness’ Chinese friends said, “But he did bring up your husband for you.”
I beg to disagree. The Anaconda shipped his second son off to a babysitter from birth until about 3, took him home for 2 years, then sent him to his brother’s house for the next 13 years. He gave his brother RM200 to care for the boy, another RM200 to care for the boy’s older brother, extra for things like hiring a lady to wash their dirty clothes.
Anyone who has raised a child from infancy, nursed it day and night, changed countless nappies, played FULL-TIME counsellor, advocate, chauffeur, cleaner, cook, gopher, in subsequent years, will know how little, how easy it is to simply pay for the care of one’s child. When you see your child on the holidays, like he did, you are at your most relaxed.
So how is this justifying of lifelong bondage and servitude? Even I, who does all these things for my Amanda, have no expectations of her caring or providing for me in old age. All I ask is that she find someone equally unyoked, with whom to share her life.
To her I say, “Your father and I have given you FREEDOM, so grasp it with both hands. Don’t throw it away on a man with family obligations.”
As I so often tell her, she’s my blood, my flesh, my youth, my milk. I’m not looking to her to propagate my DNA, perpetuate her father’s surname, become a tennis star or build us a palace out of gold as her father so desires, despite her lack of athletic ability he says she inherited from me. I just want to marvel in her growing to adulthood, to be there to share in her joys, her fears, her triumphs and her myriad of adventures. If you think there’s something wrong with that, in wanting for her this life of unparalleled freedom, then you are welcome to call me selfish.