“I love you, mom, dad.”
That’s something we hear children and adults alike say to their parents in movies and TV shows. And in everyday life, of course.
But funnily enough, be it in reality or the fictional worlds, the phrase of affection “I love you” is rarely uttered by Asians to their parents, whether in English or in their mother tongue.
I’m admittedly one of these Asians. Never once have I said “I love you” to the folks face-to-face or even over the phone. To me, it’s a strange thing to do.
Recently, I chanced upon an interesting article about this phenomenon. It suggests Confucian teachings and Asians who tend to educate their children with negative language (or aren’t good at expressing positive emotion) may be why many Asians hesitate to say these three words to the family.
This arguably makes sense. A lot of the time, Asian kids grow up on the receiving end of countless dictator-esque verbal instructions. Typical Asian parents are known to constantly chide their offspring for not getting straight A’s in their exams, for not practicing their musical instrument or for playing under the hot sun.
These scenes are some of the most vivid ones of my childhood and to this day my mum’s nagging still rings in my ears. I never forgot and still remember how unhappy I was on these occasions. Consequently, hostility towards our Asian parents may consciously or unconsciously build up within us when we are naïve kids and stick to our heart as we grow older – encouragement and affection are hardly allowed to thrive.
Secondly, Asian culture prides achievement and saying “I love you” can make an Asian person look like they’re wavering from reaching their next milestone. Metaphorically, many Asians frequently keep a focused eye on the prize. Just look at the late night overtime work culture in Hong Kong and Singapore. Accordingly, family time is limited and come such occasions, we’re at a loss to vocally express affection to our parents face-to-face – we simply don’t think about doing so in the first place, being so absorbed in chasing chimeras.
Or perhaps many Asians are just (stereotypically) too shy to “talk back” to their elders at home and tell them that they love them in their face.
All this doesn’t mean Asians don’t love their parents. One can say we often express gratitude to our family through unspoken means (this is not to say other races don’t do this. I’m sure they do too). And actions speak louder than words.
Many of us (grudgingly) take up music lessons because we realise our parents are lucky enough to give us the opportunity to do so, or at least realise this when we’re older. A lot of us are typical Asian nerds, studying hard and graduating with decent grades to make our nagging parents proud. Symbolic forms of love.
Some of us materialistically treat our parents to lavish banquets to express our love. Then there’s not forgetting filial piety, a virtue valued by many Asians.
I remember once as a kid I decided to show my appreciation to my parents. When I was living in Malaysia, nine year old me made a shabby paper bird sculpture to give to dad on his birthday. When I presented it to him, he said with a furrowed face, “What’s this?”, callously flicked it aside and went back to reading the paper. I never saw that sculpture again.
Well, I tried. At the end of the day, as the saying goes, it’s the thought that counts. Sure, many of us Asians might not say “I love you” to our parents, but deep down I bet we do treasure the love our parents have for us. After all, just like any random person next to us, we’re all people with feelings, social creatures of some sort that need to love and be loved in return.
Do you say “I love you” to your parents, or do your kids say this to you?