- Family Influences.
Cultural mores have a lot to do with the ways in family life influences you as you grow up, and with later decisions in life. You can have all the differences of thought, opinion and behaviour from other members of your family, but you can seldom, if ever completely divorce your identity from them. Your family is a vital component of your identity, and it shapes your character, as much as your individual influence affects other members of your family. Though family values are more or less more or less universal across all cultures, various cultural elements can define the degree or extent of family influences. And of course, gender is another determinant, but the overall influence is inescapable.
I am a Saudi Arabian who grew up in a respectable educated family. One of several children, my upbringing was not very different from those of my brothers and sisters, nor much dissimilar from other children in my community. However, I guess I was much more open to outside influences, which sometimes put me in trouble with my parents and teachers. In a family of educated people, my difficulty with my studies always made me an object of regret as far as my father and mother were concerned, even they never had the time
I realize that family influence does not mean strict adherence to parents’ wishes, or a subjugation of one’s own individuality. The family experience consists of co-habiting with family members in an atmosphere of divergent, often conflicting, opinions while giving space to everybody, within wider cultural parameters. Though my way of thinking was very different from that of my parents, and siblings, my opinions and behaviours could not overstep the cultural boundaries. But these shared boundaries are a crucial part of the sense of belonging within the family. Arabian people are more subject to social and religious norms, and in my case, this obligation to conform was almost always due to respect and concern for the family.
I still remember how bitterly disappointed I was by something that happened when I was 13 years old. The American family of a friend I had made invited me to a New Year’s party they were going to attend. They knew from my friend how I wished I could see what these parties were like. My father refused to allow me to go. Though he personally would have relented after seeing how keen I was on going, his concern for what more conservative members of our community would say overruled his permission. Even at this age, when I have more liberty, I still have to consider family opinions before going to parties, and consider whether other Arabs would be there.
It is also a bit difficult to recall specific instances of family pressure on life’s experiences or decisions, especially when growing up. The family’s sphere of influence works in very subtle ways. It conditions you into doing things automatically, without being conscious of acting under that influence. While growing up, I recall, the primary concern in doing anything, or not doing anything was parental approval. And while being naughty and doing something anyway, which we knew to be ‘wrong’, the main thing was to prevent it from coming to the notice of my parents, particularly my father. So family influence can force you to be good, but it can’t prevent you from being bad, if you can get away with it.
But family influences can also make you stray into counter-productive territories. Or have a damaging affect. Both my parents were so busy that they did not have the time to pay much attention to their children, at least in day to day affairs. That, coupled with my disinclination for studies, or reading made company of friends more attractive. With them I indulged in activities that I now recognize as having been a waste of time. Though I don’t blame my family for it, I cannot help but see that the home atmosphere was its cause. Of course, we friends could have chosen to utilize our times in better ways. Those were our decisions, and not inspired by our families. And perhaps it was the fear of my father’s displeasure that prevented me from developing the learning skills, which could have me perform better academically. I know it may sound contradictory, but an acute fear of failure dominated my learning efforts, and I developed the attitude of “Oh, what’s the use” and a subconscious mindset that I am not a good student, which fed itself.
However negative effects apart, family influences mostly work for the good. The most important parental influence consists of the values and morals that they impart to you. This shapes your character, and becomes your identity. Of course, you are still open to external influences, but which of those affect you, or which you allow to reflect in your life
2. “Eveline” by James Joyce.
While the kind of family experiences, which I am talking about bear little
resemblance to those of Eveline, in “Eveline” by James Joyce, there is one particular sacrifice I had to make, which can be likened to the hold that Evelyn’s family had on her, in her inability to join Frank on the ship. I had a passionate interest in photography. I dreamt of being a fashion photographer. This was enough to raise alarm bells in my mother’s mind. Though I assured her it was only a distant ambition, and that I wanted to pursue photography only as a hobby for the present, my father never encouraged me. He discouraged me from taking a photography course or joining a photography club.
The reason he gave was as it is I was neglecting my studies. Photographic activities would worsen the situation and my academic results. Perhaps he was right. But I was in a terribly frustrating state. I did not like studies, though I did not wish to drop out of school. On the other hand I did want to pursue photography. I was not interested in one, but I had to endure it. I was strongly attracted by the other but was denied it. However, at school, though a burden, I was on familiar territory. I was not adventurous enough to embrace the unknown field of photography, though keen to explore it. I knew it would be difficult to balance studies and my potential hobby. Eveline’s Frank was my photography, at least at that time. Both were opposed to by the fathers in question. Both could not withstand the influence of family in terms of familiarity, security, and sense of duty.
But family influences also change with time. Perhaps Eveline may have sailed with Frank in today’s age, with her father not interfering in the matter. But even that would have been the result of her upbringing and the consequences for her family. Influences may change, but they never fail to guide a person’s conduct.