Monday, 23 April 2007

Old country ways and raising American kids

I have a friend who is from Egypt. He's the father of several children, the oldest of whom is turning 16 in about a month.

I casually asked how he was going to deal with her dating in a few weeks, as I assumed that like most conservative parents (like me...ok...conservative about some things...way to the left of liberal on others!) sixteen would be the magic number for dating. Having your oldest date is scary, as I have discovered, so I expected the usual lighthearted litany of fears and commments about waiting up with a shotgun, or interogating the boy under a bright light.

"She is not going to date," he stated flatly. I thought he was joking.

"Yeah right. You wish."

"I'm serious. I want her to concentrate on school. And when she's ready, she'll date seriously and get engaged then married."

My shock clearly showed!

He proceeded to tell me it was "the way we do things." and that I did not understand the Muslim way.

I didn't know what to say. This man who had lived in America for over 30 years, had a beer in front of him as he spoke (his third since I arrived an hour before), never went to the mosque, did not pray the daily prayers nor fast on Ramadan is telling me his daughter must not date because it is the "Muslim way?" This man who has done nothing but complain about his arranged Muslim marriage which lasted for less than a decade but still makes him furious because he so despised the woman...he is about to make his lovely, talented New York-born daughter forgo high school dating because it was not the way when he was teenager over 30 years ago in Egypt?

But she will be on her own in college in two years, I protested. Yes, he agreed. I told about classmates and roomates in college who had been so restricted at home and went completly wild with the freedom of college. I told him about my own dating, stating at 16, with boys my parents met and talked to, with curfews and rules about where and when I could go. But I was allowed to go. So when I went away to college, I knew what to expect and how to handle myself and how to say no. Loudly and repeatedly if necessary.

He became angry.

"I will raise my daughter as I please!"

"But, but..." I sputtered...

Clearly there was no argument he would hear. And as I left to go home, I wondered...

is it possible to bring old country rules into the US and try and apply them to American borne children? Without the social suppport for the rules and the familial models, is it even a reasonable idea to try?

This child will watch her peers go on dates. She will hear about movies and dinners and beach dates and tennis dates and lunches. Will being kept from participating in innocent and wholesome activities breed a respect for the rules from another time and place, or will they create shackles she will break as soon as she is on her own and able?

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