***Spoilers: If you read Shamo (manga) by Izo Hashimoto, there are slight spoilers on the story-line. Also incorporates my interpretation on character motivations.
I recently finished reading a manga (Japanese comic) called Shamo where the mild-mannered main character, on track to a life of success at a top university, suddenly kills his parents in cold blood. Multiple questions are raised surrounding the motive behind his uncharacteristic break, and the recurring motif in response is how parenthood can go wrong. How sometimes, the parental urge to protect and love crosses over into dictatorship. How parents view their children as the potential for opportunities that they missed, and how parents guide their offspring into pre-destined paths with all the persistence of a compactor cramming them into the mold of “ideal”.
This resonated with me.
Step 1: “Free will”
My parents had always been a little stifling.I was constantly supervised, watched, and critiqued. Because my parents were religious, there was the strive for perfection in the eyes of “the almighty”. Because my father was a minister, my behavior was always under scrutiny, as they would remind me that I was to “set an example” (Set an example? What, like the blind leading the blind?).
For me, honestly, I was reminded of when I was hitting the rougher part of life between eighth and ninth grade.That summer, I lost all my friends due to a religious disagreement which split our “church” down the middle. Since my friends’ parents and mine were on separate sides of the divide, we were forbidden to see each other -their parents forbade it.
Punished by proxy -but I’ll get to that at another time.
Imagine, you’ve known these people for years, grown up side by side and invested emotion and time into building a close-knit friendship. You’ve been friends for over 3 years, you can practically finish their thoughts, you’ve been with them through their rough experiences, and you understand them. You’re practically family at that point.
Then one day, the adults in your life expect you to act as though your friends never existed -because you will never speak to them, you will never see them, you will never play with them. In fact, you will never even visit the town where they live ever again.
And then the twist. What if I told you that your only human interaction with anyone remotely close to your age were these friends, whom you no longer have. That they were the only friends you knew because you’ve been home-schooled since kindergarten in a class of one. You.
Losing my friends was like going from a vision of color to black and white. From full spectrum to isolation. In endless, I would awake in my bed and get up, dress, eat, do my school work, finish school work, and just function. The future promised more of the same.
Step 2: Damned if you do/n’t
The world became so empty after that summer. Since I was home schooled, I was already home every minute of the day. Due to the split in our church, my parents were no longer employed, which meant that they were also home every minute of the day. Puberty was in full swing by that point, and the buffer of space was no longer available to provide that cushion to smooth the spikes I was growing through my skin. And with nothing to distract their focus, I was constantly under my parents surveillance.
Their “angel” was in full rebellion mode. Life felt too tight, like a caterpillar trying to shed a skin 10 sizes too small. I felt suffocated under the “eye of Sauron” (my mother was especially vigorous in ensuring I had no privacy or space). She swore I had a demon in me, that I was possessed, because no child of hers would ever behave in such a fashion. Everything I did was done by “the devil”, “he” had whispered evil in my ears, and puppeteered my actions according to “his” nefarious amusement. The power of my actions, words, and intent were taken away, because -according to my parents- I was obviously influenced by evil. But it wasn’t that dramatic or complicated. I just wanted them to leave me alone.
For five minutes.
My voice was stolen, because what I said was contradictory and therefore to be ignored. When they take your voice, how do you communicate effectively?
Just ask Little Mermaid. The answer is sea foam.
Step 3: Liberty and Death… appear synonymous.
Days bled into each other, without purpose or change. The world was tainted, gray, and soulless. Waking up was a dread, my dreams were more of a sanctuary than my conscious moments. I remember how silent the world was, and how tuning out the voices of disapproval made their words fade into warbling vibrations similar to the echos heard underwater.
The crucial moment was on a particularly dark day. I was sitting on the hillside above my house, slumped, dull-eyed, and lost in my ever darkening thoughts with an overcast sky punctuating the mood. I had escaped the house, and I was breathing air, like a prisoner let out into the yard, left with the illusion of freedom so long as the walls and gates were ignored.
A vise. A coffin-pressed mold to reshape and reform “me” into the better, improved “real me”. As if “I” were clay to be molded with hands of parental pressure misrepresented as “care”.
This act implied that there was a mistake. “You” aren’t “their child” because you do not fit their ideal standard. If “you” were “their child”, and loved them, “you” would do as they say. “You” would quietly acquiesce to their demands, meekly adapt to their critiques, and submit to their condemnation. Their arms wrapped around “you” like the icy grasp of a strangler, restricting your will and freedom, stringing your limbs, and moving “you” as their perfect puppet.
The final realization: they don’t want “you”. They want carbon copies of perfection -carbon copies of themselves. Of someone else -anyone else but you.
Unwanted. Complete rejection of the final product; therefore, “correction” was necessary to achieve optimal results.
An unspoken smothering of identity.
When someone become a threat to a person’s identity, that person may react in two ways.
Fight or flight.
The moral of this lengthy story?
There is no perfect recipe in parenthood, much of it is flying blind and hoping that you do the right thing for your children. As the children grow, they begin to build themselves and who they will be for the rest of their lives. It is important to remember that children are like eggs: hold too tight and you crush them, hold too loosely and they roll right out of your hands and crack on the ground. It’s about balance and respect and recognizing that each person has choices to make in their own lives.
In Shamo, the main character reacted violently to the smothering of his parents who meticulously planned his every moment from the cradle to the grave. The future of his own design was taken away and replaced with his parents’ goals and expectations for his life. It got to the point where he saw no way out. In his state of mind, his parents weren’t just killing his identity, they were killing “him”.
In a way, and at one time I was in a similar position to react. When someone puts a plastic bag over your head, you don’t succumb quietly to the great beyond. When someone tries to smother you, you react. Fortunately, in my case, my reaction was not to be silent, but to speak and use my voice in warning, one that was finally heeded.
Over time, my helicopter parents chilled out and now I have a good relationship with them. We still disagree on many different things, like religion, rights and equality for homosexuals, and how global economy really works. But they respect my decisions, even when we disagree, and acknowledge my point of view and the right to make my own choices.
Sure, it only took 4+ years. But it takes time for individuals to break out of a mindset cultivated over a lifetime.
I learned that while I can and do control my actions, the burden of conformity is not mine to bear. Let someone else be crushed: I must be true to myself, even if no one approves, validates, appreciates, loves, respects, acknowledges, or befriends me. Because I am me and I am responsible for my own pursuit of happiness.