Q: I am a man in my early 30s, originally from India, and moved to the United States with my parents when I was 8. I have always been closer to my mother than my father. She has taken more interest in my education, friends, and personal life. My father tends to be more absorbed in business and television. I know he cares about my welfare, but when I call home, he says “hello,” and then hands the phone to my mother. It bothers me and I do miss sharing my life with him and getting to know him more fully. Yet, I don’t know quite how to approach him.
A: This is a common issue between fathers and sons these days. Fathers are often estranged from their own personal lives and interests. They have sacrificed quite a bit of themselves for financial stability and taking care of the physical needs of the family. They haven’t made their own feelings and inner lives very important. This is especially true for immigrant fathers, and prevents them from relating more deeply and openly to their sons.
Next time when you visit with your father, try and do an activity with him. This could be a simple hike in the park, working in the garden or home, or playing a sport or game together. An activity can be a safe medium through which you can connect with him. Even if much isn’t shared verbally about each other, it may still create a kind of closeness that is fulfilling. Over time this may lead to more conversation and sharing.
Q: I spent my Christmas holidays in India with many of my relatives. I have lived in the United States for over 10 years and chose to come here for the educational and financial opportunities. It has been great. I have a good degree and am quite successful. After returning from India, I felt so lonely. I kept thinking of all the people with whom I got so close. There is a kind of joy in India that I don’t find here. Although there are plenty of problems in my family in India, everyone still gets together and helps each other. I don’t know how to create more closeness here in America.
A: You are pointing out a core difference between a traditional, interwoven, and interdependent culture and a modern, independent, individualistic one. Some of the personal freedom that you experience in this culture is due to the greater separation and individuality highlighted in the West. Each person has his or her interests, friends, activities, and lifestyle. This decreases the familial-group connectedness that is so prevalent in India.
People in America are becoming hungry for greater community. They realize the loneliness born out of too much “I” and not enough “we.” But you will have to more consciously create it by gathering people of like mind. I don’t think it can be the same as it is in India, where feeling and attachment are srtongly and deeply valued and individuality is devalued. But the sense of community here can be more open and honest, and allow for people to be themselves more readily. This is a valuable endeavor.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com