Why should Asian fathers be any different?
Synopsis: It is a common stereotype that fathers from Asian families abide by cultural practices and do not interact with their children due to misconceptions of raising a child being the mother’s role. However, now more than ever, new economical, social and cultural realities mean fathers are beginning to take an active part in helping their children achieve their goals at school and beyond. But how has this change taken place and more to the point, when did the incoherent gap between fathers and their children become closer?
It is a fact, fathers are from a different generation to their children. Asian fathers often find this is the cause of the communication gap between them and their children. It is difficult to understand what their children are experiencing at school everyday, if they never experienced it themselves. What’s more, verbal communication can become a problem, as father of five, Fahim Mazhary, explains.
“There will always be an inherent communication gap between parent and child. I used to think my sons thought I was stupid, old-fashioned, out of touch, and it used to tear me apart,”
Although Fahim went onto learn the English language to become more involved in his children’s lives, his sons were still ‘exposed’ to ideas that were incredibly challenging for him. For other dads such as Rajid Khandola the relationship between him and his children remained strained. He had only learnt what he ‘needed to know’ since immigrating to England in the 1960s. His children’s ‘version’ of English however, was something which still remained incomprehensible to him.
It becomes difficult for dads, who usually spend most of their time at work, to know what is ‘normal’ behaviour for their children. Work commitments can mean dads do not get asked to participate in their children’s education. Weekends may be restricted to playing ball games and teaching their children how to ride a bike but it doesn’t occur to people until much later, that some of this time should be spent studying. Children want to play new games or learn new subjects but dads feel they have limited guidance in knowing what is a hindrance to their children’s education and what is a help. Obviously a suggestion such as ‘Can I have a play station?’ can be greeted with a warm but sincere ‘no’ by dads, but what about when they have to choose subjects to specialise in? What would be the best subject for them to study? How can a father know what is right? Does any father, Asian or not, know what is ‘right’?
“Questions like this led to my fears of not knowing what my sons were learning at school,” says Rajid. “What were the teachers teaching, and were my children paying any attention? My English was just about good enough to be able to communicate with their teachers, but there were cultural fears which held me back: would I be asking questions which were ‘stupid’ and should already know because of the letters sent home?”
Seemingly straightforward ideas like these concerning education can become a confusing for any dad whose first language is not English. What text is your child reading at school? Will you be able to read the text? How can dads help their children if they haven’t even read the text?
Marek Woyton, a Polish father of two sons aged 13 and seven agreed that not having English as a first language means there are limitations.
“Sometimes you can’t help them with their school work because you don’t know certain things and subjects, as my English is limited.” he said. But even though Marek, his wife and sons were taught in completely different countries, he still maintains that the central idea in all schools is simple. “What is being taught [in my children’s schools] is completely different from my own school, but in each country all schools do the same thing, teach.”
“My wife and I are lucky, so far we haven’t had any problems with either of my sons who are at school. But even if we did, I would feel quite comfortable going to discuss the problems with their teachers, because you have try and do what’s best for your children.”
Marek’s experiences demonstrate that this is not a problem experienced solely by Asian fathers. What’s more, despite his limited English he, like Fahim and Rajid, makes sure he is an active father figure in his children’s life.
“I try to help them every night, by reading with them and making sure their homework is done, even if I don’t understand all of it,” says Marek. “But the school has been very good to us. They provide extra tuition for my youngest son, to help him read through things and help with any difficult moments. We really appreciate that.”
Interaction with their children (or a lack of) is a problem all fathers face regardless of religion or cultural differences. Many dads fear becoming a part of their children’s education the most. Feeling ‘useless’ or uninvolved is perhaps one of the most difficult things any parent experiences.
Despite the fact there are Asian dads in Britain who feel this way, all dads are trying to play the best part in their child’s life, and living in the same westernised culture. So why should any of them feel neglected when it comes to playing a father role? Perhaps the small difference is that Asian dads are a little scared or apprehensive about the idealized Western world which they’re children are growing up in, but even so, the underlying issue is one of making sure their children are learning.
A key point to remember is that kids feel great when they have a dad who supports them and they can boast about at school. If dads are able to even look over their children’s shoulder while they recite a passage, they are labeled as an active participant in their education, and ultimately they are playing a part in their success, which no one can hamper.
*Some quotes have been reproduced from Fathersdirect.com, with kind permission from Simon Cross Stanley.
By Hardeep Sandher
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