A Mask Called Parents
A few years back here in Japan, I heard the news: an exhausted father beat his son to death with a baseball bat while he slept. Yoshimichi Nakajima, the author of "The Philosophy of Discriminating Minds" talks about this case. He says, "I was a bit involved with it."
The father lived with his son, while his wife and daughter lived separately. I thought the arrangement was because of the violent-natured son. The author is Japanese and wrote the book for the Japanese audience, some important details do not appear clearly in the book. They are understood like subject and object in Japanese language. But that's where I want to focus. The following is my interpretation, not a word-to-word translation.
The father works for a publishing company. He is elite like the author. They are both graduates of Tokyo University which is like Harvard. The father received his degree in the study of ethics. Because of this horrendous incident, the wife hanged herself. Nakajima says the father and his daughter probably want to shout to the heaven, "Why do we deserve this kind of life?" How cruel their life turned out to be! This shook an academic community, and some Kant scholars who were the father's former classmates, started a movement to help lower his sentence. That was how Nakajima got involved with the case.
I smell an unwritten but important thing here which is a prejudice. The prejudice against parents. That attitude shows up in our daily conversations. When we encounter a rude person, we often say, "I want to see his/her parents' face."
In Japan, it's been a common occurrence to criticize parents for children's failure unconditionally. Until recently, the media went after the parents of criminals when a crime occurred. That's why the parents of the violent son didn't and couldn't seek help. If I may compare this with a systems-programming problem, I call it deadly embraced.
An English phrase, "Domestic Violence" started to appear often on Japanese media in the last three years. As I left a comment to Jessica in my previous blog, this doesn't mean we used to be free from such violence. And I agree with Ellen when she said, "it is very, very difficult to compare statistics across cultures." Anyway, it seems obvious to me that in last few years, more laws and regulations have been enforced regarding domestic violence.
Because Nakajima is a scholar and philosopher, not a social worker, he doesn't give out a practical measure to deal with the problem. Besides, it's tough for Japanese to set a boundary for children, and that includes not only the blue collar workers but also the intellectuals like the Kant scholars, I think. Growing up, my mother said more than a few times referring to some weird parents, "They deal with their children as cats' loving their kittens." Not all Japanese are alike, but we have the certain tendency. I've been learning about myself by looking at my children's reactions especially when we fight.
All these years, I've been spending much energy and thinking about how to deal with my children. It's my constant challenge. I wonder if I were an American, if it could have been easier. The boundary is set. I don't need to ponder about a boundary at each challenge. Besides, the suicide rate is lower in the U.S.
You probably understand this kind of scenario if you have adult children. My son would say sweet things as "I was doing this for you." I would say, "I appreciate your thought, but..." "Don't you trust me?" he would say. One time I went through this scenario more than a few times in a short period, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Basically we love and respect each other, but the maintenance hasn't been easy. Anyway, later on, I got into troubles for being vague in the beginning. I ended up not showing up at our Xmas party because of it. I then had a very tough conversation with myself. I thought I would never see them again.
Meantime, my son got married, and luckily, he had a baby, and because of the baby, he changed his job. And now he has to commute almost two hours one way similar to what I used to do for over 20 years. I told him I worried about his health and long commute. We didn't talk much about it, but we connected. We probably fight again for something, but that's okay.
But most Japanese women do not fight with their children as I do. This was maybe 13 years ago. I was waiting for a bus to go to see my cousin. A woman of about fifty or sixty came to the bus stop. Maybe she was fifty but looked sixty that day. She seemed grim. The sky was blue. I said hello and this and that. She said something about her daughter. I couldn't hear, so I asked her. She said her adult daughter called to say she would be coming over to see her. "That's good," I said. She said, "She probably will ask me for money again." She looked helpless. The woman said she didn't have much savings, but she always gave in to her daughter. She was on the way to her work.
This is a problem with Japanese parents. They give too much money to their children. The children think if their parents give them money, they think their parents must have more. Many parents don't know how to say no. They feel guilty if they don't give what their children want. They might say, "Stingy." Anyway, I encouraged her not to give any more money. But I knew this was very difficult for her, so I said, "If you absolutely have to, then create her account and deposit half of the money you want to give and never tell her about the account until you die." That way, I told her, "After you die, she'll know of your love."
My goodness, what I was thinking! I thought it a good idea then. Who cares about that kind of delinquent child? The woman was suffering and looked frightened. Today, I would say no, no, no. Love is free, but money is not. I would say, "Save your money for your old age period."
Anyway, the woman held her handkerchief and began crying, and when she was getting off from the bus, she said she wanted to see me again. I encouraged her to be strong and say no to her daughter. She headed to someone's home to clean.
Readers, do you feel her pain? It's probably difficult to understand our behavior. But this is a part of our culture. And this is the base for our never ending prejudice. It comes seemingly from a good heart. Sometimes, we call this, love, mistakenly.
Going back to what Nakajima says, his point is this. No matter how great an accomplishment anyone achieves, it cannot compare with the greatness of those people as the father of the domestic violence I mentioned above. The greatness, I think, he means that the kind of struggles they go through and continue to bear for the rest of their life. I agree with him. But Nakajima does not connect this greatness with the prejudice that we ourselves are creating although he's been discussing about discriminating minds.
I think it isn't easy to remove bad things and leave only good part when they are woven together like a culture. And we can't shutdown and initialize a culture like an operating system to solve the deadly embraced problem.