Father and son - a Confucian collision

By Patrick Whiteley
2007-03-21 10:48
Large Medium Small

I'd make a hopeless Confucian. The good old Chinese philosopher insisted that his followers honor their fathers with the highest regard.

My father is about to visit me in Beijing and I'm dreading the three-week encounter.

It will be wonderful to see him but after about three days he will drive me up the walls of my small apartment.

Dad doesn't see me as a 40-year-old man of the world with independent means, a guy who left home at 19, who travelled the globe, and developed a satisfying career.

When he looks into my eyes he always sees his little boy who sat on his lap and asked dumb questions. Dad often called me "China", which is Australian rhyming slang for mate. China plate means mate, but we just say "China". Rewind about 35 years.

"Dad, if a Panda bear climbed down our chimney and tried to eat us do you reckon you could beat him in a fight?"

"Yes my old China. I'd beat him up and then we'd eat him for dinner."

"What do Pandas taste like?"

"Like chocolate and honey."

"I want a Panda bear to come down the chimney and try to eat us."

"So do I son, so do I."

As I grew older, the cute conversations turned into shouting matches.

"I've told you a thousand times, pick up your clothes off the floor and hang them up," he'd scream. "Will you ever learn son".

"Leave me alone," I would wail, stomping the floor.

Time passes but some things never change.

During Spring Festival I visited my Sydney home and stayed with Dad. He asked me what I liked most about China.

"The Panda bears," I quipped.

We both cracked up.

It was good to see Dad, but after three days of catching up I was caught out.

I was staying in his spare room and after coming home late one night, and before climbing into bed, I peeled off my clothes and tossed them on the floor, near my travel bag. I woke late, and was enjoying a coffee when Dad crash-tackled my morning solitude.

"Just a little thing my old China. Can you make sure you hang your clothes up," he said.

I felt like I was 15 guilty, awkward, and confused. I apologized for my untidiness, but deep down inside me a voice screamed out: "Leave me alone."

Parents can do that. They know how to push our buttons and turn back the clock. There is a good reason why we all leave home.

Dad arrives in Beijing next month, and it will be good to see him but after three days I'm booking myself into a nearby hotel room. He can stay at my place with his girlfriend and I'll tell a little white lie about spending some quality time with my new girlfriend (who doesn't exist).

I will be a good son and lead the tour to the Summer Palace, the hutongs and the Great Wall. And after our excursions I will retreat to my own hotel room. No doubt I will celebrate my freedom, independence and maturity by throwing my clothes on the floor.

Then I'll ring Dad and he'll ask me our plans for the next day.

"My old China, we're off to see the Panda bears."

(China Daily 03/21/2007 page20)