Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the inexorability of time

I rarely talk about my parents except to mention how strictly they raised me and how that upbringing shaped my views on gender, race, culture, and personal identity. In turn, this has affected my scholarship and scholarly agenda, insofar as I aspire to not think like my parents. I am a progressive feminist in spite of my parents, and my values are incredibly different from theirs, and my life choices will inevitably drive deep rifts between us. I don't like talking about it more than that, because it's not really fair to them, and they mean well, even though they told me I couldn't survive an Ivy League or Top 5 law school and so used all sorts of emotional/family blackmail to keep me closer to home and within commuting distance.

However, in talking about my parents as a unit, I fail to give nuance to my relationship with these lovable, loving, and yet completely exasperating people . My dad, as the patriarch, is of course the more strict, in some modern Western cultures one would say "oppressive" and "abusive" of the two. Cultural relativism actually means something to me, so I hesitate to put those labels on my dad, but it is universally acknowledged, even among people of my ethnicity, that my dad is what anyone would call "strict," "patriarchal," and "crazy." In his later years, he has become less openly aggressive, but even more paranoid, xenophobic, and trapped in the past (circa 1950s-60s Vietnam). And the further I move away in space and age from him, the more tightly he tries to bind me to his antiquated values, threatening disownment for this and that, feeling a mixture of pride that I want to become a professor and exasperation that his youngest girl should choose such a difficult path that involves so much work, travel, and uncertainty--after all, I'm not a man, and can't hack it as well. A couple of years ago, he fell off a ladder and had to use a walker, but he's mostly recovered now.

My mom, however, is the typical Asian matriarch--the ruler of her home, but cowed by my father, her belief in her own helplessness (bred into her from generations), and generally defers to my father. In her later years, she has become more dependent on my father and my siblings for every need, from shuttling her to and from doctors appointments to being unable to bathe the grandchildren she helps to watch, due to her arthritis. I generally have a close, affectionate relationship with my mom, borne from mutual sympathy at what we have to put up with from my father, and I have fond memories of that gap year between law schools, taking her on her daily walk and baking banana bread for her to show that "mom, I have become a woman."

All this set up to say, my mom fell today, and is badly banged up. She's okay, according to the CAT scan, but she's badly bruised on the jaw, left knee, and left wrist. She'll use a walker and go through physical therapy, but at her age, I estimate it'll be a good year or so before she's fully recovered. It's really sad and scary to see your formerly formidable parents become almost childlike from a slip of the foot. It's strange to still feel cowed by their authority and afraid of their wrath and retribution when you know that you are an adult with your own life to live. But it's stranger still to realize that the authority they wield over you is not physical and never was, really, and so their frailty, their tenuous grasp on life is the realization that they have so little physical power--over you, their own life, the sidewalk--but they have so much emotional power, such that you fear their wrath, still as a child would, but you also fear becoming the adult, as your parents become as helpless as children.

I'm very relieved that my mom is okay, but this is all vaguely unsettling.

If in the morning I decide that this post is too personal with no cathartic value for me or the reader, I shall delete it.


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