Would You Forgive Your Parents?

Slate’s article on abusive parents and their grown children often ‘needing’ to forgive them is, to say the least, disturbing. How is a woman supposed to forgive a father who sexually  abused her? Or a mother who turned a blind eye? In my South Asian culture to be anything other than thankful to your parents is considered a great sin and to blame them for anything is often a black mark against one’s own character no matter what the situation. Religion also hammers into the goodness of parents. Prophet Muhammed has said that heaven lies beneath a mother’s feet while respect for a father is pretty close behind.

And so a dichotomy of sorts, if you will between my two cultures Pakistani and American, one which makes a child break into hives if they think anything but good thoughts about their parents and another which encourages a child to judge their parents. And then there is the gray area: a parent who will not allow their child do such and such a thing for the child’s own good. I will not let my child smoke, some other parent will not want their daughter to choose her own spouse. Does abuse rest on how far I am willing to go to make sure my child does not disobey for their own good? And what do you with a parent who believes you will be miserable if you do not follow the rules and thus it is their duty to make sure you follow?

For some of us, the struggle between social mores versus individual desires started at home at a very early age. I know girls who were not allowed to be air stewardesses and guys who were not allowed to learn musical instruments and they are bitter and resentful and really do not like their parents but this thought causes illness inducing guilt– in my culture there is no such thing as hanging up the phone or a clean break. (Not just my culture– In the film Waiting to Exhale based on Terri McMillan’s novel of the same title, a mother has just told her daughter why she’d be a fool to break up with her married lover no matter how he was treating her, and when the frustrated daughter (played by Whitney Houston) hangs up, what does she do: she calls her up mother to apologize for being rude).

Those who refuse to make peace with a failing parent may also find themselves judged harshly. In his memoir Closing Time, Joe Queenan writes of the loathing he and his sisters felt for their alcoholic, physically and psychologically abusive father. When they were grown, Queenan writes: “We talked about him as if he were already dead; such wishful thinking was rooted in the hope that he would kick the bucket before reaching the age when he might expect one of us to take him in,” although they agreed none would. When the father finally died, he wrote, “Clemency was not included in my limited roster of emotions.”

In a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal, Alexander Theroux writes, “It is a shameful confession to make in any book.

 read rest of Slate article here