Parental Guidance

The very first movie I almost saw in a movie theater was “Grease.” It was 1978, I was 8, and my older sister was 13. I remember my father driving us to the theater, but when he saw the line of people, he turned around and took us home. The people in line were not young, like us. My father did not think the movie was appropriate. We fumed with embarrassment and outrage.

When I was 16, I wanted to see a 9:40 pm showing of a movie with some friends. My father objected, stating, “When the movie ends, it will be very late, and that’s when all the junkies will be out.” At 16, I wondered, “He’s worried about drug addicts at movie theater exits?” (I was being a brat: English is not my parents’ first language. He was referring to unsavory elements, which in his mind was anybody male and my age or older. He was right, and I knew that.)

Now, at 42, I deeply appreciate my father’s efforts.

I grew up in an optimistic household: my father had immigrated to the States to advance his education, he brought his wife and young daughter (my older sister) here to live, he believed (and still believes) that the United States provided the best opportunity for anybody who wants to work hard and study.

But I grew up in a pessimistic household, too. As much as my father was convinced of this country’s greatness, he and my mother expressed a consistent fear of what I can only refer to as “American-ness.” I recall my mother saying with some regularity, “Americans are crazy!” All one had to do was watch the nightly news on any given night to see she often had a point. At the same time, their children were “Americans,” so back then, we rightfully (and righteously) balked at their generalizations.

Now I see that what they really meant was that “the outside world” can be crazy. What they wanted to do was minimize our exposure to craziness until we were adults. Or at least, that’s what I internalized.

I want to thank them, and I will, when I see them next week. Because I’m an adult now, and I can just barely handle the craziness out there.

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