I’m a lot closer to my friends than my family. There’s so much more that my friends see and know about me. It isn’t because I grew up being looked after by my grandparents, relatives, or helper. I was never sent to child care centres either. My parents brought my brother and me up all by themselves.
It wasn’t that I grew up in a broken family either. My parents were always loving to each other and to us. Our middle-income family lifestyle also meant a high regard for simplicity, humility, and maintaining family ties. We appreciate what we have and we appreciate each other, yet I feel a disconnect with the very people I’m supposed to be closest to – and it’s not because we don’t spend time together.
Occasionally, my father will drive us across the causeway for cheap eats, shopping, or a massage. My mother’s regular home cooking is also a reason for us to huddle together for dinner every day after work. We spend a lot of time together but there’s hardly any conversation aside from my mum’s gripe about the market prices of meat and vegetables. I don’t share about my day and I don’t ask them about theirs. It just feels weird, unnatural.
When I see social media posts of my friends enjoying movie nights, ice skating, or trips to USS together with their family, I wished my family was like that too. It isn’t where they went that I am envious of, it is the laughter and light banter in the background. It is the quality time together that I long for.
Was there something we could have done in the past that would have made us closer now? Why don’t we do fun family activities together? Is it because all of us grew up too quickly?
I know, it’s already a privilege to have a family. An unexciting family of four, stable and boring, but safe. Some people don’t even have anyone to call ‘family’. I appreciate what I have but if only I could draw close to my supposed nearest and dearest without feeling so awkward.
My parents’ love for my sibling and I is undeniable, but so is the ever-growing gap between us.
When I had trouble catching up on my studies, I hid it from my parents. When it came to matters of the heart and having my heart broken by the guys I dated, I turned to friends instead. When I was lost and confused about life after graduation, I turned to Google for advice. My parents didn’t deserve to be disappointed, and I never felt comfortable to share.
Call it pride, call it fear but it was never a natural way of my life to talk about my feelings and emotions with my parents so openly. And now that I’m a working adult with my own social circles and partner, there are more distractions and lesser reasons for me to talk with my parents.
Perhaps we were just that stereotypical Asian family who avoided complicated topics and shunned from anything related to sex. When I asked why I was growing hair at my nether regions, my mother would tell me that it is because I didn’t wash my vagina clean enough. When I had my first period and asked why we (girls) had periods, my dad said it’s just something that makes you an ‘official woman’. They never elaborated more than that and I never probed. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I’m so gullible today.
However, the ‘Asian culture’ was stronger during my parents’ days and yet they still remain close to their siblings. Even though we all live separate lives, every family gathering filled our home with warmth and energy, there was always laughter and chatter. Perhaps this is the legendary kampong spirit that everyone talks about. What happened with my generation then?
Perhaps it’s because life was much simpler then. In place of movies or video games, entertainment was playing marbles or fives stones with siblings or the neighbours’ kids. Social gatherings meant you had to interact with people instead of being on your phone.
As much as it feels distant, the thought of losing my parents still scares me. Besides the pain of never seeing them again, I worry that losing them would also mean losing the only thing that holds my brother and I together. We were raised by the same parents and only two years apart, but we couldn’t be more different. We have led two very separate lives and we barely look alike – we were never close, not when we were young and not now.
I knew a girl in my secondary school who had a brother I wished I had. He was a senior in our school and he’d always walk her home. Even when my friend stayed back for CCAs or simply to hang out with her friends, her brother would wait in school until she was done.
I wanted that protective and cool brother who would not only be my guardian angel if someone shoots rubber bands at me but would also teach me how to fire these rubber bands back with twice the power. Instead, most of the interactions I had with my brother involved us fighting between ourselves.
Now that we’re older, my brother makes an effort to communicate and connect with me despite working and living in another country most of the year, but it never feels right. We speak in different languages and our conversations lack depth but I still hope that eventually my brother and I will find a connection we never had. I just hope my brother believes it, too.
After all, blood is always thicker than water.