It’s a question I’ve asked myself plenty of times over the years. Usually, the answer is a curt “no,” followed with a “don’t be ridiculous anyone would be lucky to have you as a son.” I think it’s mainly a defense mechanism, asking myself personal questions and then blowing them off in order to not face my harsh reality.
But I was on the plane with my mother, ready to go to London to visit her dying uncle (my dying grand uncle), faced with that same question. Turns out it’s a lot harder to lie to yourself when your own mom is sitting just two seats besides you.
She had said that a child is supposed to give everything to their parents. Why? Because parents give everything to their children. Of course, she’s not wrong. My parents did their best making sure I was protected and comfortable, and that I didn’t have to suffer too much. Not that it actually prevented it, but it was the thought that counts. And I thought I was doing my best paying her back for all that. I paid for the trip to London. I help out whenever it’s asked and needed. I come back from work every morning and run to see her first, to make sure that she knows I’m home safe.
But apparently there was more to be desired. My mom explained, a little wistfully, that I was supposed to be wholly transparent with my parents. That my paycheck should have been handed to them. She promised that she would never take it, but that the act of giving was just respectful. I was supposed to tell them that I had a 401K, and they would decide if that made sense. I was supposed to help without being asked (which sounds ridiculous, I’m not a goddamn mind reader).
Part of me was annoyed. I explained to her that I was a private person. I told them my salary, why would they want the check? After all, I would never want someone else’s hard earned money. Even as an act of good faith. If they ever needed anything, all they had to do was ask and I wouldn’t even hesitate to give it to them.
But at the end of the day, I think it’s about more than being private. It’s about being independent. Rather, it’s my parents fear that I’ve become too independent. That I’d leave them and do whatever I want because “it’s my life.”
A small voice in the back of my head asked. “So what? It IS your life.”
Then the guilt hits. Am I being too selfish? Is she right? Maybe I should be giving everything I have to them. But then, what would be left for me? What would I have to show for my hard work? Or am I just being a bad son by not giving her what she expects?
Coming from a South Asian family leaves me at a disadvantage. I’m not a child who can grow into his own person; I’m a child who will learn to grow into a role that fits perfectly for the family.
It’s not a depressing realization for me. I won’t be crying about it or writing morbid emo poetry. There’s no reason to raise the red flags. It’s just eye opening to realize that independence is a quality that is looked down upon. Thinking differently is a quality that is looked down upon. And that our lives are not our own, but a constant repayment to a birth we never really asked for.
Not that I believe any of that crap, but that’s probably the safest conclusion to draw from all of this mess. I don’t think I’m a bad son, but I do think that parents often emotionally manipulate and abuse their children without realizing it. It’s important for anyone who also feels like they’re being guilted into being subservient (grown) children to remember that the world is so much bigger than whatever antiquated ideals someone might have. Fighting against it might suck now, but letting yourself get caught in the trap is so much worse.
So, yeah, I’d say I’m a pretty damn good son.