Learning to express love

It was not easy. I tried to speak of my deep love for this little bundle of joy my wife had just produced. Was she not the extension of the woman I love, and to whom I had learnt to say ‘I love you’ (contrary to Asian traditions)?

For more than 16 years, from age 14, I had experienced a most difficult, de-stabilising, and psychologically painful life. Now, in a stable life, impoverished, but on the way to peace of mind, I was blessed with this quiet, cheerful baby, my first-born. But I did not know how to tell her – not just show her – how I felt about her.

How could I? Born into, and brought up, in a no-touch cultural tradition, where men exchanged greetings with bare hands put together as if in prayer, and no words of affection ever passes any lips (except perhaps in the marital bed in the darkness of night), where could the appropriate words of love come from?

Fortunately, my Anglo-Australian wife, in my view the best mother I had ever observed, showed me the way. Better still, I also learnt to show by touch how much both of my children meant to me. After 16 years of turbulence, I had found peace with stability, and guaranteed love, within my own nuclear family.

More importantly, instead of children being seen and not heard – that was the cultural tradition of my youth – my own family talked freely, especially during mealtimes. (Refer Francis Fukuyama’s ‘structured rituals’ at family meals.) My wife and I even explained the bases of our pre-agreed values about perceptions and behaviour, so that understanding of things that matter followed.

Thus Australia taught me also to speak out – instead of being silent and turning away in the manner I had been brought up – when others behaved improperly. I became an outgoing, verbally-proficient person, to the point that my wife complained whenever I used the word ‘bloody’ in casual conversation. I was becoming common, she used to say!

Internally, ideologically Asian (and proud of my ancient heritage), but externally, functionally Australian – that’s me now; and a spade may be spoken of as an effing shovel.