Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cutting Down The Family Tree

By Brian Chan

Is a family that does everything apart really a family at all?

If a tree falls in the middle of a forest and no one is around, did it make a noise?

Here’s a story about my friend, who I’ll just call “Bob.” Bob’s parents were recently divorced. Now, they weren’t the average couple to begin with. Ever since I knew Bob, 12 years and counting, I have rarely seen his mom and dad together under the same roof.

His mom was always doing “business,” as he tells me, out in Hong Kong, California, and Calgary. Before you build any images, let me just say that she’s not exactly the businesswoman that you would find in an office or something. She’s just the average housewife that has investments in different places. She owns property and she invests some time and money into some family businesses that are spread out across those regions I just mentioned. She’s not a high roller, she’s not great at closing a business deal, nor is she particularly sociable. She’s just a traveling landlord who helps out with odds and ends.

Bob’s dad was another story. The closest to flying he would ever get is driving by the airport. He was a car instructor. Being a car instructor, especially an Asian one, you really don’t have a stable working schedule´┐Ż you work days and nights. So he wasn’t always in the house, but in the city nonetheless. You can see how both parents are working hard to earn money. They weren’t particularly well off, but living comfortably. Each person in the family had their own car, so that says something. In case you’re wondering, Bob isn’t the kind of person to save up enough to get his own car, nor was Bob’s sister.

I wouldn’t call the family dysfunctional, but the family didn’t really do things together. I can’t remember when, if ever, Bob had a family vacation. Everyone just seems to go somewhere on their own. There’s really no bond between family members, with the exception of the bond between Bob and his sister. Everyone lives their own life and even dinner is rarely eaten together as a family. For most Asians, dinner is like the defining moment of family structure. You all eat together as a family. It’s one of the few moments during the day that where everyone gets to see and talk to one another. Dinner for Bob usually comes in the form of flavored rice in a Styrofoam box. It sits in the kitchen waiting for him.

Bob was pretty much deprived of a “regular” family setting, if a regular family could ever be defined. Parents were rarely home, never spent much time as a family together, and seasonal holidays were not well celebrated. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen his house with a Christmas tree and I don’t think he had turkey in a long time. I couldn’t say that his parents weren’t doing a good job because I’m not in a fair position to judge, but it’s quite clear that Bob wanted more, more from his dad and mom.

But you have to wonder what goes on in the minds of the parents. Is it all about money? Work hard now so in the future you’ll be financially stable? Or was there something wrong with the relationship from the start? I don’t know too much background about their parents except that the mom came from a rich family and the dad wasn’t, so I doubt they were forced to get married. But what makes you want to spend so much time apart where you neglect your family is beyond my comprehension. Different people have different values I guess.

Over time it is normal to get lonely. You can be separated from your significant other for only so long before you start to feel “bored.” So here’s where I mention how daddy dearest met another woman. He met another woman that lives a steadier lifestyle, and well, I guess provided him with what he wants, companionship. Basically daddy cheated on mommy. So here’s where the divorce gets nasty right? Oddly, that wasn’t the case. Breaking the news to his wife wasn’t that bad apparently. Bob’s mom actually knew long ago that he was seeing another woman, she just kept quiet all this time. She kept calm upon hearing the news, packed her belongings and left.

How did he break the news to his kids? Well, he didn’t. Bob knew when his mom told him and Bob’s sister found out when Bob called and told her. The children and the dad live under the same roof right now. It’s been over six months and the dad still hasn’t officially told them the story, let alone explain himself. Yes, utter silence. Silence seems to be the typical trait of Asian people. We’re not really taught to be expressive, unless you’re totally North Americanized. If something goes wrong, we just suck up and digest it. Just keep a low profile. It’s the Asian way.

So, is the father to be blamed for the divorce? Was he entirely at fault? Was the mother free of blame? It’s really unfair to blame one person for anything here. Maybe it wasn’t the fault of either of them. Maybe it was the situation that was to blame. Maybe it was how they handled it. You can say silence was the root of the divorce. The family never really talked, they didn’t know what each other wanted or needed. The family started to distance itself from others, taking its lead from mommy and daddy. The debate can take its course. But what we all should realize is that problems left untouched can lead to a greater problems and an unhappy ending.

As Bob’s friend, all I can do is offer support and best wishes. I can’t do much to resolve anyone’s problems in his family. It’s a family issue and it’s not my family. Curiosity does exist in me to find out more about it. Like when did the father start seeing another woman? Why didn’t the mother say anything when she found out? Is there a larger secret behind all of this? I doubt those questions will ever get answered. I’ll probably never even see a revealing and clear-cut conclusion to all of this. But to put all of this in perspective:

If a man and a woman get married but live their lives separately, are they a couple?

If you can answer the falling tree question, then this shouldn’t be much of a task now is it?

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