I’m 35 and still living at home in these tough economic times. A female friend of mine claims she was insulted by my mom at one of our lunches about four months ago. My mom vehemently denies such claims and feels insulted herself that she is being wrongly accused.
Now, I was raised by a very strict Taiwanese mother and respect her very much. But I like my friend, too, and she has a problem with me not being able to stand up for her. My parents are forbidding me from seeing this friend, so I go through alternative measures to see her.
What do you think I should do? My friend wants to avoid the subject altogether when we hang out. Is her avoiding the situation helping or hurting my problem with my family?
Certainly, there are women who would be critical of a 35-year-old man still living with his parents. But not me. At least not necessarily. These are tough economic times.
It happens. My questions and concerns lie elsewhere.
The words "strict Taiwanese mother" really jump out of your letter, A.E., and it sparked a vigorous exchange between me and my girlfriend, she being of the opinion that certain nationalities bring an "old world" view of what honor, respect and loyalty mean in extended family relationships. Italians, Greeks and much of Asia comes to mind.
Now, my girlfriend is a serious thinker. So, I take her seriously. And I agree with her, at least insofar as there are indeed significant differences between the way modern Americans practice the bonds of family vis the "old world" ways.
The modern American values of mobility, independence, autonomy, individualism, etc., bring a different set of priorities to the table when considering the questions of what respect and loyalty mean to extended family members.
But the call to celebrate cultural diversity does not relieve us of the responsibility to critically examine culture. All cultures. I’m saying that I presuppose every culture to have its collective virtues and its collective pathologies. We do well to tell the truth about both.
The virtues of "old world" family bonds include depth, continuity, passionate loyalty and history — the solid grounding of our identity with our ancestors.
The pathology of "old world" family bonds is their tendency to create unhealthy "fusion" in relationships. As opposed to healthy differentiation. In a word, I presuppose that the job of any parent in any culture is to raise a child who ultimately possesses a healthy, separate self. Yes, I embrace The Fifth Commandment: Honor thy father and mother. But I take it as self-evident that the highest honor I can convey to my parents is to get a life! And live it!
Conversely and equally self-evident do I presuppose the greatest love a parent can offer a child is the encouragement and admonition: "Go! Get a life! And live it!" Kahlil Gibran said it poetically in his book "The Prophet:"
"Your children are not your children … They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you … You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts …"
An exaggerated caricature of a fused relationship is seen in the 1987 film "Moonstruck." The film begins with Johnny’s proposal of marriage to Loretta. She says yes. Johnny says he must now go to Italy to stand by his dying mother. When she is buried and he settles her estate, he will return to marry Loretta.
But the mother gets better. She lives. So, Johnny returns home to break off his engagement to Loretta. He tells her he cannot marry while his mother is still alive. And he says it with a straight face.
My concern is not that you are 35 years old living at home because of hard times. My concern is that you are 35 years old and lying to your mother so you can date a woman. And, in any culture, I don’t know how that constitutes honor, love or loyalty. Not to your mother, and not to your friend. If your friend came to me, I’d push her to stop avoiding the subject. Indeed, I’d tell her to put that beehive right in your bonnet.
Pressure, you say? You’d better believe it! And rightly so. That is, if it’s a man she seeks. Because no man can be a man until and unless he can say "no" to his mother. His father, too, for that matter.
Originally published in View News, Jan. 12, 2010.