D’s Dilemma II
D began to tell me the story as he drove. His father gathered the whole family in the room and started to talk about D and his sister.
He said that he was really disappointed in both of them because it seemed that neither seemed to care for the rest of the family. D's sister was married after a nine-month campaign to convince her parents. She had met her husband in England were she worked and he had proposed to her over there. They were a little disgruntled about the matter, although eventually both parents admitted finally that the man she had chosen was a good person and made a good match.
D's father claimed that the way they had settled their lives over in England proved that neither of them cared much for the family anymore. 'First it was you,' he said to D's sister, 'now it's D.' He continued on his critical line of thought until he finally surmised that W didn't seem like a good person, that her parent's didn't seem like good people (they met at the wedding), and a whole bunch of other stuff. He was vehement about his rejection of W and berated D harshly at having taken this step. He said that D was way too young (25) to get married now and that he was surprised that D had turned out to be so thoughtless.
D heard all of this in stunned silence. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. What really hurt him were the descriptions of W's physical characteristics. "She's too dark. She's too ugly. She's too short, etc…etc…" He asked his parents how they could say something like that about another person's daughter when they themselves had three daughters. 'What if someone tomorrow rejects them because of their looks?' he told them.
D tried to explain that he wasn't having some kind of an illict affair with W. They met in England, part of a big group of friends who were all from Islamabad. They got to know each other better in the group and they fell in love. Nothing salacious ever transpired.
D's father shouted at him to be quiet - that the conversation was over and that his answer was an unequivocal 'no!'
D’s listen to D recant the story in increasing disbelief at what I was hearing. I mean the kind of objections his parents were raising really were just callous. They didn’t make sense and seemed arbitrary. Having met D’s father many times and thinking he was a really cool guy, I couldn’t believe this might have been his response. Apparently D was just as surprised as I was. This was the last thing we were expecting.
This ‘meeting’ lasted for about half an hour over which many things were said, mostly by D’s parents. He tried to speak up and defend himself, and succeeded only in making noises that went unheard. His parents ignored or rejected all his arguments and just kept coming up with new things to shoot him down with.
When the meeting ended D was badly shaken. He expected this matter to be settled amicably. He thought that his father might insist that the marriage be post-poned until after he grew more stable financially, but that was something D was thinking himself. Never did he expect this unreasonable tirade of meaningless, irrational arguments. He never expected there to be shouting in front of his little sisters, who started crying as tempers flared and voices grew louder.
D was due to leave in three days. He hadn't planned to stay for long, having taken time off from work just to attend to his sister's wedding. There was little that could be done to turn this around. He didn't have enough time.
He went to sleep that night dazed, and spent most of the next day crying. The unforeseen turn of events had scared him. Forget about a smooth road to an engagement followed by marital bliss in a year or two's time. He was afraid that he might lose W altogether.
I couldn't figure out what the hell happened. I was confident that things would work out fine. I had grand plans of pilfering him for great dinners to be demanded as treats for his imminent engagement. We were never expecting something like this to happen.
Over the next three days, he and his parents engaged in that all-too-familiar mechanism of dealing with conflict: avoiding any talk about it. The conversations were painfully mundane. His parents acted as if there was nothing wrong. He busied himself in packing and in coming over to my place where we'd talk.
I thought about the problem a lot and eventually I thought I understood why D's parent's reacted the way they did. D's father is about 65 and his health is not very good. He also lost a lot of money in a bad business investment and financially, they were now hard up. D had worked his way through school while he was here in Islamabad. He always had some part-time job or another. He never took any money from his father because he understood the situation they were in. He made it to London and got a job there, working 20 hour days and not sleeping more than 3 hours a day. This went one for more than two years. He was literally living hand-to-mouth, but he never burdened his parents. At all times however, he was cheerful and optimistic about life.
I told him that now that's he's doing so much better, which a much higher paying job, his parents might think that after he gets married, he'll leave them and go live with his wife in London. I told him that they are probably insecure about their own future because his father's health is not good and he's still got two young kids (mid-teens) that have to be taken care of. D talks a lot to me about his responsibilities towards his family. He's the only son and he knows that whatever happens, one day, he'll have to move back to Islamabad to take charge of his family. He tells me this, but as you might have gathered, he's not such a great communicator when it comes to his parents. His parents don't know he's got such good intentions. They don't know for instance that W once told D that if he planned to live apart from his parents, then she'd never marry him. She told him that he has a responsibility to take care of his parents.
I told D that when he gets back to London, he should write a nice long, openhearted letter where he assures his parents that he'll never abandon them and that W is not the kind of girl who would let him do something like that. He should tell his parents that he'll always be there to take care of them and that they should never worry about his sense of responsibility towards his family. After I explained my thesis to him, D calmed down considerably and came to the conclusion that I was right.
I couldn't have been more wrong...