Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Emancipation for young adults

April is a month of colorful flowers and green shoots. It symbolizes rebirth and boosts new signs of life. My spirit is usually warm and serene during this month. I feel especially this way when I see a kimono-clad mother and her 6-year-old child walk to an elementary entrance ceremony, as beautiful cherry blossom petals fall on their shoulders. I feel hopeless, though, when I hear many Japanese parents overprotect their college-aged children.

A few days ago an octogenarian acquaintance, Watanabe-san, told me a story about parents and their sons who were on their way to the matriculation ceremony of a university in Fukuoka. In essence, he described the scene as follows:

It suddenly began to rain. A father quickly took off his water-resistant windbreaker and put it on his son. With a trendy camcorder in hand, he trotted beside him, all the while getting soaked by the rain. The son — a very tall young man — walked on with perfect composure. Also, there was a mother and son. The mother, wearing an expensive dress and carrying a large parcel, was desperately hurrying in the rain to keep up with her son. The latter — a stout young man — was walking with big strides, holding over his head a lady's umbrella (surely his mother's).

Watanabe-san concluded the story by saying he did not feel there was the slightest bit of affection between these parents and their children. Then he continued, "The most conspicuous trends in Japan since World War II are: littering at scenic spots and the spoiling of children." I quite agreed with him and nodded in reply. Both the trash left by hanami revelers at beautiful cherry-blossom viewing spots and the scene in his story, describing parents and their sons en route to a matriculation ceremony share a common root. The first indicates the selfish ego of people who enjoy themselves without considering others, as if to say, "After us, the deluge." The second indicates the selfish ego of parents who stifle their children's independence, inspiring only vicarious hope.

Children must be precious to their parents. I myself have three beautiful children that I cherish. I understand how proud Japanese parents must feel when they are about to attend their offspring's matriculation ceremony. But the more pride these parents feel in their children, the more respect they should have for their emancipation. From the time children enter a university, they must be given the opportunity to acquire the discipline and culture necessary to emerge as full-fledged adults. What matters most in this process of development is the emotional transition from dependence on one's parents' affection to a condition of standing on one's own. Parental love should, even if indirectly, help children develop their spirit of independence.

In Kita-kitsune Monogatari (The Glacier Fox) — a great documentary film about the life of red foxes in Hokkaido — the most touching scene is the departure of a young fox from its parents. After raising them carefully, even foxes do their utmost to make their youngsters independent. I think we human beings need to reconsider our roles as parents.

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: April 23, 2010 (Published in Japan Times ST)

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