The unwritten rules were clear. With my father, the topics of our conversations over dinner, or any interaction for that matter, was strictly focused on grades when I was in school, career or money related topics after. He would lower his newspaper so our eyes could meet for just enough time to ask me these questions. Once satisfied with the answer, the newspaper went back up.
One topic that never came up was anything related to emotions — not his, not mine, not anyone in the family. With the struggles of basic survival living in a foreign land, our relationship felt singularly focused on surviving and achieving. We also do not display any overt feelings for one another (e.g., no hugs, kisses, “I love you’s” on the way out the door, etc). Success meant excellent grades to achieve the American dream of a well known university and then a great job. With my mother, the topics widened to cover food and basic living logistics. Although her eyes always seemed to want to say more, to ask more about how I felt, we kept to the unwritten rules.
Discussing emotions felt weak and unnecessary, as it would undermine the hard work and strength we needed to reach that American dream. So we never did. Thus is the life of our first generation immigrant family.
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(To be continued…I’m attempting a four part writing on mental health)