Tevye and the Papas sing the wonderful paean to 'tradition' in Fiddler on the Roof : Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? And who has the right, as master of the house, to have the final word at home? The Papa, The Papa! Tradition. Golde, Tevye's wife, counters with the Mamas but our reflection today hangs on the Papas.
At my parent's house, Tevye would last 10 minutes. That is only because my mother would offer him snacks first before sending him on his way.
Tevye and the Papas in the movie are oblivious of the drag of patriarchy that makes both men and women suffer. Patriarchy, the rule of the fathers, has been a feature of Empire since the sun god presided over the pyramids. We have all suffered that long.
Women constitute half of the world's population but by the UN report of 1980, they receive only a tenth of the income and virtually own no property of their own. China's revival of an old saying that declares “women hold half of the sky” is cute but true only to the degree that women physically labor for survival just as much, if not more, than their male counterpart.
China's record on the preference on sons, particularly in the one-child policy incepted in 1980 targeting zero population growth by 2000, resulted in a population imbalance between men and women, with women numbering less men by a ratio of 48 to 52. Reports of female infanticide and selective abortions are common.
I was just 10 when Papa pursued graduate studies in the United States, leaving mother and five kids behind in Pea Eye for five years. By the time I noticed skirts after puberty, I wrote my Dad about the strange heart throbs towards a particular girl, and asked for his permission to be more intimately related to her. His response is an example of his fathering style, at least, with the boys.
“If you are to be an extension of your mother and my personality, then your choice will be our choice,” he wrote back. On my 16th birthday after he returned, my Dad's temperance heritage did not bar him from offering me a bottle of San Miguel stating that it was time for the drinking to be a choice rather than an item of prohibition.
He was, however, silent regarding my youngest sister's desire to study Medicine. Mother took the traditional view that girls were to be nurses rather than doctors, so my sister went for a BSN. Papa offered no protest and we were too young to know any better.
My eldest two daughters would have wanted a firmer input on my part their careers but I pretty much left them to their own ambitions, and their own devices. I neither desired, nor have the wherewithal, to chart their destiny.
They have since brought into being four young lads; one calls me ye ye (grandpa). “He watches Kai-lan on TV kindertoon Xie Xie where he picks up Chinese vocabulary,” his mother gleefully reports.
“We live in a world where women can be bought and men can rape and even kill their wives under the protection of the law,” write the authors of The Road from Empire to Ecodemocracy, a book we highly recommend. The worldwide criminalization of abortion until Roe v. Wade is at its root an insistence that male-dominated governments control women's bodies. Most revealing is the report that there are 3,000 animal shelters in the U.S. but only 700 shelters for battered women!
My Dad would have been 100 this year. He lived to be 95 before he claimed his spot on the slopes of Mililani in Oahu five years ago. On my last visit to my 91-year-old mother, in a lapse of memory, she inquired as if Dad just went out to get the daily paper. When I informed her that he was resting quietly in Mililani, she stared at her wall, and tears started streaming down her cheeks. She misses him; she was not a battered wife.
Fathering and mothering are related functions of nurture before they are forms of status and social roles. Male roles have for so long been debasing their female counterparts. It does not come as a surprise to see the same attitude in society's attitude toward the utilization of ecological resources.
A visible consequence of the scientific approach of China's educational system has been the neglect of the emotional side of the psyche, and the denial of the sexual ebb and flow pronounced in the female of the specie. My Chinese-Canadian colleague claims that she does not recall her educated parents, not even Mom, ever giving her a hug!
The subjugation of personal emotions is evident in the elaborate rituals of harmony attendant to the Chinese systems of etiquette. Passion is suspect after the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, is avoided, sublimated on women, and decried in men. The emotive child got thrown out with the bathwater.
But a current popular song affirms that, nan ren kuba bu shi cuo, “there is no shame on the man who cries.” There is hope.
My class of English learners hide behind thoughts and ideas, for abstract terms litter the path of Chinese discourse in the university, skewing basic sense descriptions as too elementary, and expression of feelings as too effeminate. Communication suffers.
Forget the necktie and the iPad. Hug Papa on Father's Day. He might discover that dismantling the vestiges of patriarchy in Empire is a manly task, recover his humanity, and quit posturing, like in the Legislature!
Jaime R. Vergara (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former PSS teacher and is currently writing from the campus of Shenyang Aerospace University in China.