December 15, 2008

Self-sufficiency: nature or nurture?

Saturday I called my Dad. For Thanksgiving, he'd stayed with my sister, then took a train south. For the past week, he'd been at a Trappist monastery in northern California. He'd planned a weekend trip to Susanville (small town where he lived for a year as a boy), and then over the pass to Pyramid Lake and Reno, NV. However, with snow in the pass he didn't want to end up like the Donner Party, so he was just going to hang out in Chico for a couple days. He'd arrive at our place Tuesday afternoon, as planned.

We chatted about other things and then signed off.

I mentioned all this to Jiu in passing. His first comment was, "You told him he could come early, right?"

I blinked. Huh? It never occurred to me. Dad certainly wasn't hinting at an earlier arrival either. That night we had dinner with Lovey and Dovey, who are both Asian. When I told the story, they were also shocked I hadn't invited him to come earlier.

I laughed, "Well, I guess I come by my self-sufficiency honestly, right?"

In our family, my Mom always complained that the four of us were thoughtless. She was the only one who tried to make life better for the whole family. The rest of us only thought about ourselves.

I could go on, the litany usually took 10-15 minutes. I clearly tuned it out within the first couple lines. Over the years, I'd like to think I've become more thoughtful of others, but I think there is a core of me that feel like it's everyone for themselves. I thought it was due to an absent-minded father. You know, if you can figure out a bus route home, then you don't have to wait the extra hour for Dad to remember to pick you up. I think it's deeper than that.

When I remember visiting colleges, I always went alone or with a high school friend. I'm not talking about local colleges either! University of Chicago (in a bad part of town), went with a friend. Oberlin College: drove up with my best friend. Hampshire College? I flew to New England alone. Took a bus from Springfield up to Amherst. Took a local bus from Amherst out to the college. Met with someone in the Admission office. Asked for a recommendation for where to stay. Was invited to crash on the floor of a student's room. Did that.

At the time it all seemed normal. My family couldn't afford to all go, I needed to see the schools. We did what we had to do.

It's only in retrospect, as I watch friends escorting their children to various colleges, that I realize what I did was crazy! Obviously, I'd earned my parents trust, but still.

I called Dad yesterday and invited him to head our way. Of course, being The International Man of Mystery (as designated by my two best friends), he already had plans to hang out in Berkeley. He'll save on one night of hotels and come to us tonight instead of tomorrow. He wasn't twiddling his thumbs or pining away alone in some hotel room. In my family, we were bred to be independent. If it needs to be done, let's do it! No waiting for the whole group. No consensus. Barely look around to make sure anyone is with you. Let's go!

No wonder I drive Jrex crazy at times! It's not just un-Asian, it's almost anti-Asian. Totally thoughtless. Poor Jrex. I wish my Mom had lived longer so he'd have had an ally.


Inkling said...

This is a very interesting post that made me think this morning. While my parents didn't instill the same kind of independence in me that you have, they just didn't know some of the basics. Now I find myself overcompensating for that, and have to reel myself in when tempted to smother someone with nurture and making sure they don't go it alone for even a second. Hearing your thoughts and the perspective of JRex helps bring a balance to my thinking. Maybe I'll get better at this whole nurturing someone while also fostering self-sufficiency/independence....both in myself (sorely lacking at times) and in others. Anyway, thanks for writing our your thoughts.

OTR sister said...

I drove out to visit my prospective colleges with some girlfriends, made a road-trip out of it. Never occurred to me to go with the folks.

I do feel guilty for my underlying selfishness, but it does occasionally pass for independence (which is a more positive spin!)

It is hilarious to watch the four OTR family members walk down the is impossible for us to walk together. Dad will be looking in a store window half a block behind us, OTRbrother will be half a block ahead. Often we lose each other but eventually we end up at the same place. My husband has taken up Zen Buddhism to try and cope.

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha Ha Ha. I laughed out loud here in Tullys on Berkley Square (with no nightengales in sight), one block from Cal.

I'd never studied it before -- our mutual independence. My parents accompanied me to Dartmouth, Yale and Princeton for pre-admission interviews. You all did your things in selecting and visiting colleges. (Except, we were with you at least one time at the University of Chicago.) I assumed that your selecting and visiting your colleges was natural.

Maybe it's a generational thing. After all, the mothers of Douglas McArthur, Franklin Delano Rosevelt and Adlai Stevenson went with them, respectively, to West Point, Harvard and Princeton. All four years.

I'm glad you're independent. I'm glad we're independent -- and yet can rely on each other and so much enjoy each other's company. It's a wonderful gift.

Aimee said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflection.

I can't think of anything of relevance to say, maybe because this hits home in my "original" family? I think a lot of it is personality, not so much thoughtlessness, but can be perceived as either independence or thoughtlessness depending on who is making the judgment call.

I admire your willingness to jump right in and visit new places without knowing what's there.

Anonymous said...

A second observation.

I am not absent minded. In the words of William James, "I am present minded elsewhere."

Mama Nabi said...

Having done pretty much everything on my own as long as I can remember, no wonder I feel suffocated when my mom hovers now that I am an adult. Which begs the question if my mother is anti-Asian in that respect...? Although she did emphasize on being able to presuppose someone else's needs and preempt by offering to help with that need. Now, is that Asian? (I do see the irony of MY asking YOU. :-D)