Filial Piety: To What End?

According to Confucius, filial piety is the virtue of respect for one’s parents and elders. This virtue is also embedded in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. All cultures have some form of this expectation in varying degrees, but, it is more pronounced in cultures that are more collectivist in nature.

I remember fearing my mother’s rage for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were when I was 2 or 3, my mother would sit me on the potty and leave me there for as long as she needed to complete her tasks in the kitchen. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I would play with a locket that my grandmother gave me. It was a black stone shaped into an eggplant, attached to a gold ring, where the chain would lace through it. I remember that I would suck on it as I sat on the potty and wait for my mother to be free to wash me. I would not make a sound as I quickly learnt that if I did, my mother would yell at me to be quiet. So, I would sit, suck on the black stone locket and wait patiently while watching my mother in the kitchen, waiting for her to glance over, but she never did. By the time she picks me up from the potty, my bum was already quite numb from sitting on the potty for so long. She would wash and dress me and leave me beside a small transistor radio. I loved that thing. It was my priced possession. The first one that I got was a red one and when that broke, my father bought an exact same one but in black. It had a retractable antenna and a dial at the top beside the on-off switch that you turn to set the frequency. I remember just sitting quietly beside the radio and listen to music as my mother went along with her house chores everyday. Music was my friend, my solace.

I do remember happier times when I was a toddler, even after the sexual abuse started. The fondest ones are the ones where I would sing and dance along whenever my favourite songs get played on the radio. Being able to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was my favourite move and I relished the attention I got from the laughters of my father and sisters. In those happy snippets, I remember that there were no hearty laughters from my mother, only a smile carved on her face each time, while my brother was always absent.

I think I would need to continue this post for another time. I think I need to pause and contain my distressing emotions while I write this part of my life. I’ve decided to still publish this unfinished work because I feel that I need to get this out there. There will be a part 2 of this post at some point when I am ready to reopen my containment ‘vault’ and process through this part of my life in writing.

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Sins of the Father

I guess you could consider this post as a sequel to my earlier post titled Sins of the Mother . I told my mother about the abuse at the hands of my brother when I was 16, but I waited to tell my father about it until more than a decade later. I was 32 when I told him. I’m still not sure why I waited so many years before till I decided to tell my father about the abuse. Maybe, I was afraid that I would receive the same respond as my mother had given me. Maybe, I was too ashamed to tell him. Maybe, I was still in denial that the abuse ever happened. I still have not figured this out yet.

My father came for a visit in 2011. I was still living in Malaysia at that time, running a small English language centre at the state of Johor, situated in the south of Peninsular Malaysia, by the border to Singapore. We had dinner at one of my father’s favourite Chinese restaurant nearby, when he decided that he wanted to spend some time at the language centre, before heading back to my apartment.

I can’t exactly recall what we talked about before I decided at the spur of the moment to tell him about what my brother did to me as we were growing up. I tried to gauge his facial reaction as the words started stumbling out of my mouth, but I saw nothing. To be fair, I don’t even know what I was expecting to see. Deep down, I knew what was going to happen. I just knew that he would utter the same words my mother did when I was 16. And I was right. With a straight face, not looking at me, but staring straight ahead as he said, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Flashes of better memories of time I spent with my father came flooding back. Where was the father that used to bring me to the cinema for movies? Where was the father that would carry me and place me on his lap as he moved his knees up and down to mimic a horse ride? Where was the father that used to carry me to the bedroom whenever I pretended to have fallen sleep on the sofa? At that moment, I was hoping for him to say: “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I wish I knew”. Or maybe a sign of anger or disappointment towards his only son. There was none of this. Writing this blog entry makes my heart ache and his words “don’t tell anyone”, echoes over and over again in my head.

Thoughts about Being Back at Work

For those who follow my blog, would know that I went back to work on Dec 1st, 2020 after being away for most of the year, recuperating from a concussion and then a major depressive episode. The whole idea of being in a depressive episode gives the impression that depression starts at one point and ends at another. But, really, does it really ends or does it just retreat into the background as one tries to go back to some normality?

Normality for me is when I default back to my usual coping mechanism: I numb myself and throw myself into the task at hand. I become achievement oriented. I have had decades of perfecting this mechanism. There is no conscious effort on my part to numb myself in order to put all my attention to doing the best work, be it tasks at work or doing studies for psychology papers that I am doing at the moment.

The first three weeks of being back at work, felt like I was moving along an alternate universe. I feel like I am in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had a flat affect and I was withdrawn. Feelings of anxiousness, sluggishness and disorientation bombarded me constantly and the inner chatter in my brain that “everyone is talking about me, saying that I am no longer good enough to work here” dictated my need to hide away behind my desk located at the corner of the office. My desk is also beside the door and when it is left open, I become hidden from view. The door provided me a safe space where I can avoid needing to engage socially with my colleagues. I was really just going through the motions. Completing one task after another, avoiding eye contact as much as I could with anyone, and counting the minutes until I could leave work.

At the time of writing this, I have been working for 6 weeks. I am still on a three day work week and I have gotten into my default coping style in order to function. I have blocked out all my feelings of anxiety, confusion and inner chatter. I feel and look almost ‘normal’. But, really, I am just barely managing. I am merely surviving.

I stop myself from thinking about how it would be like to start a four day work week by the start of February. I start my work week by thinking about when it is going to end. On Sundays, there is a constant dread deep within me as the hours passes by, inching closer to bed time, where when I wake the next morning, I will have to be at work. This is definitely not how I should think and feel about work, but it is exactly what work is to me at this current moment. So, I continue to numb myself, drowning myself in task after task, heading out for runs daily and spending hours writing for this blog, which, if I stop procrastinating when I write, it should not take the whole day to write a blog post.