Published on Sunday, 02 June 2013 00:00
When the topic of Asian parenting is brought up, it brings to mind many personal horror stories. My parents, being typical traditional Chinese parents, aimed for perfection; there was no room for error. I’m rewarded with grunts of approval whenever I get an A or an A- grade, anything beneath an A- would result in me turning up to school the next day covered with red, angry cane welts and occasionally a hand-print mark on my cheek.
Out came the bunch of canes tied up together in a rubber band whenever I accidentally spilt some water on the floor and did not have enough time to hastily wipe it up before my mother caught sight of my clumsy little accident. Out came the bunch of canes whenever my mother reckoned that I was taking too long to finish eating a meal. Out came the bunch of canes whenever I did not get into the shower at the exact time. Out came the bunch of canes whenever I got caught taking a break from studying. Out came the bunch of canes AGAIN whenever I cried too loud from being caned.
The cane was the preferred disciplinary weapon in my family but other alternatives existed as well. Sometimes my father would hold both of my wrists with one hand and slap me about from side to side. Other times, when the bunch of canes was too far out of reach, I would be whipped with a belt. Every now and then, after being physically disciplined, either one of my parents would push a wailing, 8-year-old me into a dark storage room and lock the door for an hour or so.
The way I saw it, they expected me to be bionic. I had to be flawless in everything that I did; no matter how minute an aspect. My parents used to love saying, “I’ll cane some sense into you!”, or “Wait until we get home, I’ll give you a good beating.”
The canings worked, I was always one of the top students in class, not because I actually saw the point in achieving exemplary grades, but only because I lived in fear of the next beating.
My parents only realized how much of a dreadful mistake they had made with me when I reached my terrible teens. I was strong enough to defend myself from any physical beatings. Free from the discipline that restrained me when I was younger; I went on a self-destructive rampage. I was consistently getting into trouble with my school and the law. My parents tried altering their method of disciplining me, using a softer approach, but it was too late. The mental damage had been done. My parents were at their wits’ end of what they should do with me, my mother gave up soon after, but my father did not. My father still believed that there was good somewhere deep inside my bitter, resentful, shrivelled up heart. The massive change came one day when my father, a big and strong man, broke down crying in the principal’s office when the principal told him that the school would have to expel me. All of a sudden it just clicked. I took a step back and analyzed my life. I was a monster, an utter disappointment to my family and most importantly, a would-be failure in life if I were to continue with my juvenile delinquent ways.
I made massive adjustments to my life, got rid of all the bad influences and studied hard for my Cambridge “O” Level Exams. I scored satisfactory grades, went on to get a diploma and then a degree.
There was once when I sat down with my father and asked him about why he felt that corporal punishment would work out for a little Chinese girl. He signed sadly, his eyes looking far off in the distance and told me that he still feels guilty for it. He has never thought for once that I was a bad person, and I turning to “the dark side” was a product of his ignorance. He explained that when he was a kid himself, his father would beat him and his brothers to pulp for every single mistake they made,
“My father was a scary man. My brothers and I were very mischievous as kids back then. He would lift us up from our shirts and slap us silly, before throwing us out of the house for a night. That was the way we learned back then. I am thankful to my father for disciplining me like that; it was the only way I would have learned. All those beatings have helped me become the man I am today,” my father reminisced.
“However times have changed; I didn’t realize that children do not respond to the same kind of discipline anymore. And you were different. You were not as naughty as me. Your mother and I just wanted the best for you,” he remarked softly.
I have come to realize that my parents only did what they did to unlock my hidden potential. They strongly believed that I could achieve anything by being pushed, just that they were going about it the wrong way with me. Even though the animosity towards my parents is long gone, the psychological scars still refuse to fade away. The punishment of being incarcerated in a dark storage room as a child for hours on end resulted in me developing achluophobia (the fear of darkness). And then there’s the problem with my anger management issues, I fly into an irrational, uncontrollable rage sometimes over insignificant things.
Questions occasionally arise about what kind of person I would have turned out to be had I not have been dealt with so harshly as a kid, or what would have become of me had I not broken out of that self-destructive phase.