The love, respect and pride that I have for my family isn’t a secret I harbor. They are the strength that I wrap myself in every day, as I go out in the world doing whatever I want, saying whatever I want, believing I am capable of whatever it is I choose. Furthermore, the special relationships I have with my father is evident through the stories I tell about things he has said, advice he has given, stories he once told me, what he believes in, what he hates…And on…And on… Again, the love for the patriarch in my family is no secret.
So this week, when my partners and I taught our lecture on Family Life to our 5th and 6th grade classes, I was genuinely enthusiastic. I wanted to learn more about who my students were and where they came from. This particular lesson was less lecture based and more analysis based. The goal was for students to be more introspective and examine the relationships they had within their family.
In one of our activities, the students had to answer the following questions in detail:
- Who do you consider members of your family?
- Who do you spend the most time with in your family? Why?
- Who do you feel closest too in your family? Why?
- What are some conflicts you have in your family?
- With who would you like to have a better relationship with in your family?
The students were given 15 minutes to respond to all 5 questions. Many times students rush to be finished first without providing adequate responses, but with this activity we stressed the importance of giving complete answers with thorough explanations.
Let me start by saying that prior to this activity I was aware of the “common” issues within Moldavian families: alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, parents are abroad, etc… However, I did not know which of my students were subjected to these problems…But quickly, I learned.
Here were a few surprises:
- Gheorge is a one of my hyperactive 6th graders that is always joking and smiling, but is willing to work after the task is explained to him three times. I suspected Gheorge behaved this way for attention, but when he presented his responses and told the class that he had a bad relationship with his father because he drinks all of the time and sometimes hits him, I was caught off guard. I am not a counselor or anything, but Gheorge has not exemplified withdrawn or even violent behavior. To me, he’s just a hyperactive 6th grader, a class clown with lots of potential. But no…He is a child in an abusive home.
- Then there was the 5th grade Gheorge who has a father in a wheel chair that is an infamous drunk within the community. Gheorge’s mother lives abroad and has not been home to see him in nearly 3 years. Gheorge has no rules, no guidance, no structure at home and it is evident given his behavior problems in the classroom. And yet… Gheorge named his mother as the person he had the best relationship with. The mother that is never there?
- Outside of fathers who were drunks or physically violent, the majority of the students didn’t mention their fathers at all. They claimed to be closest to their mothers and their sisters and on a rare occasion their brother. However, the father figure was missing from nearly every family profile unless he was emphasized in a negative capacity.
Moldavian’s place such a heavy emphasis on family, but it’s becoming more and more ambiguous to me as to who that includes. The father figure within my students’ family profiles completely vanished and/or were unnecessary to address, which didn’t make sense to me.
How is it that the father is not a person they are close to, but is also not the person they have the most conflicts with, nor is he the person they want to have a better relationship with? It’s as if he doesn’t exist. Doesn’t matter. Completely insignificant. However, the patriarch can’t be insignificant considering how formal gender roles are intricately interwoven within the Moldavian culture. Needless to say, a lecture that I thought would provide me with such great insight left me bewildered and unsettled. I know what a critical role my father plays in my life, but for my students, the role of the patriarch is simply forgettable.
I know that many fathers have to go overseas to work. The economic situation in Moldova is devastating and people have to take opportunities wherever they can, especially when it comes to supporting their family.
Even so, I am still left wondering…Where are the fathers? And what the hell are they doing?
That is all.