Animal Husbandry

It began with a Tweet.

I had read Panda Dad’s “epilogue” and Tweeted that he had me “up until he decided to plug his friends’ book.”

He Tweeted back that he was concerned about the cheesiness of it too but really did believe in the worth of his friends’ book.

I Tweeted back “No worries. We’re on the same page (though I might be interpreting the text slightly different).”

And then he Tweeted back: “How?”

And then I stopped to think.

I wanted to Tweet back but I didn’t know how? I mean I knew how (sort of) but I didn’t know how to express it in the most accurate and least provocative way. I’ve filled pages with thoughts and feelings towards the Tigers and Pandas.

Jeff Yang in his Asian Pop column catalogues quite a few new species of animal-identified parent:

with the Tiger Mom meme having spawned a bestiary of wannabes — panda dads, butterfly moms, elephant ‘rents, bull parents and more — why not lob another animal metaphor out there for consideration? Rice Daddies and other online social parenting havens are the ideal warrens for Meerkat Moms and Dads — social animals linked by a vast series of tubes. And when prompted by one of our own, scanning the horizon, to something of interest to all, we pop up in quick succession to add our respective bits of chitter.

The National Wildlife Federation and Science Ray both have their own lists of “Top Dads” in the animal kingdom. Many of these dads go against the oversimplified and stereotypical belief of that the animal father is a deadbeat dad and philanderer. Most of the dads on these lists actively engage in the rearing of their offspring.

And I think — as a starting point — this is where the differences in interpretation are found — within the cultural gender expectations of fatherhood. It is not so much in how we see ourselves (or desire to see ourselves) as fathers or the animals with whom we identify ourselves, but how those around us want to see us as fathers.

Having lived three years in China immersed in the domestic  culture of its families, Alan (Panda Dad) might be more Rice Daddy than me. I mean if it actually came down to a competition of who’s “ricier” his firsthand experiences of Chinese home life and habit are sure to have influenced him as a father (imbuing him with a certain “riceyness”). Just as my experiences Second Generation Chinese raising my Third Generation kids in American culture have influenced my beliefs as a father (possibly reducing my “riceyness” to a degree).

When my grandmother died I lost more than just homemade dim sum and smelly bitter homebrewed cold remedies. I lost my connection to traditional (for lack of a better word) Chinese holidays and social courtesies – Kwaigeui as she would say in Cantonese.

It’s not culture (mahnfa). It’s not as high brow as that. It’s something more ordinary and day-to-day (gaandaan).  It is the manner in which children greet their parents and their parents’ friends – Of how and what they play together — And most importantly (at least in this conversation) what is expected of them as children, as adults, and as parents.

The world at large has created molds in which Alan and I must fit into as fathers regardless of the costs. They have expectations of our children – children of a Chinese father do A, B, C, and D, while children of a Caucasian father do E, F, and G. And while we can fight them, their sheer number guarantees them victory. But while they are winning the war now, it doesn’t mean a battle isn’t won here and there and with each little break we make in the line tomorrow might see an end to the stereotypes and antiquated assumptions about fatherhood.

From what I’ve read about the Tiger Mom’s and Panda Dad’s books their value is not how they described their childrearing formula BUT how we have reacted to it. I haven’t read  either books yet. I want to wait just a little bit longer for the hype to die down so I can approach both works with an objective head. Right now, I can’t help wondering what the reaction would have been if the Panda were the Tiger and the Tiger were the Panda?

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