In my family there is a particular semi-annual ritual to which we always look forward. I’ll bet that your family might even have an event like ours — if you are very lucky and blessed. For my family this event usually lasts about fourteen days, but sometimes it can stretch out for a joyous four straight weeks of fun, great food, drink, and celebration. It is the visit to Japan by my American father. I know that my children look forward to the visit by grandpa almost as much as I do.
For several reasons, I try to have Dad visit as often as possible. First, Dad is getting on in years and I’m no longer living close by so I can’t spend the time with him that he deserves. Second, when he passes away, I do not want to have to live with the regret that I should have done more to show him that I loved him while he was alive (even though I’m sure that I will feel that way no matter what I do). So, every year, I try to give him a fun vacation break.
Dad’s wife, my mom, died a decade or so ago in a freak car accident, in a car driven by my poor father. So I imagine he sometimes lives a life of terrible guilt. I know he lives a very lonely one. Hopefully his dreams at night allow him to relive wonderful days long gone past.
Of course I don’t blame my Dad for the accident — accidents happen. I am saddened to admit, though, that I suspect that my brothers might hold a grudge at him for they don’t get along at all. My brothers have been fighting about money for ten years. Interestingly, this row started just after my mom died. And today my two brothers no longer speak to each other. On top of that, they both expect Dad to take sides in their senseless dispute to the great consternation of my now nearly 80-year-old father.
One might hope that kids would give their folks a break from childish bickering by the time those same kids get to be past the fifty-year-old mark and are parents themselves.
My brothers are struck with an affliction that I have noticed in a great many American people. In fact, as the years go by, it seems that this disease is affecting Americans in epidemic proportions. Medical science has yet to reveal the causes for the disease, personally, I suspect prolonged exposure to television.
You see, unfortunately, and generally speaking, Americans are very short-tempered. Not only are they prone to shouting at home but also they will indulge in embarrassing displays of bad temper in public. Sometimes this short-temperedness escalates to fisticuffs. Now, like I said, not all Americans are short-tempered; but I do believe that television is the main culprit.
American people are exposed to television programs in which they see actors and actresses shouting all the time and getting away with it. In these t.v. sit-coms, the yelling will draw canned laughter from the television audience. As a result, Americans expect that loud, aggressive and unchecked manners are the norm; being rude and getting away with it is how everyone acts. Check it for yourself tonight. Watch American television and count how many times you hear people shouting or acting aggressively. I think you’ll be surprised.
For the past 23 years, I have had the honor to live in Japan. Japanese language and culture frown upon shouting so, while you will see impassioned language on the tube in Japan, what you hear doesn’t come near the anger and noise levels of American television.
But I digress.
One of the other main reasons I have my Dad come over is so that he can rest and escape the madness of American society today. Whether it is the politics, or the economics, or the wars, or the half-time show of the Super-Bowl, that noisy, angry culture can be very tiresome. I think Dad needs some peace and quiet. I know he needs to take it easy and to spend some quiet time with his son and grand-children. He certainly doesn’t need to hear abrasive caterwaul while he is in Japan.
My Dad is visiting with me now. Early on the morning of his second day here, he opened the kitchen drawer and was digging around for a coffee spoon. I said, "It’s in the second drawer, Dad." He had no reaction. So I said it a bit louder, remembering that the rest of the household were still asleep. Still, he didn’t hear me even though I was standing next to him. Then, gently, I said it again, this time a few decibels louder. He heard me. I was glad I spoke gently to him without a trace of impatience or anger.
I suddenly realized that I felt a mixture of sorrow and pride for my Dad. I became aware that this proud man was losing his hearing. I also realized that if either of my brothers were in the kitchen that morning, instead of me, that brother would have shouted at Dad.
That morning with my Dad, we sat down to enjoy our coffee. When the moment seemed right, I asked my Dad about his hearing. He told me that all the people around him back home, especially my older brother, were demanding that he get a hearing aid. He told me that he was depressed and saddened that people were angrily shouting at him all the time.
When I heard my father say that, I realized that it must be a great disappointment for a person to sense that they are getting old and to feel berated for doing so. It’s not as if my Dad is intentionally ignoring people, not wanting to hear what they are saying (although I couldn’t blame him if he didn’t want to). It’s just that his hearing isn’t what it used to be. Dad chuckled when I told him that I was beginning to wonder about my own hearing!
I told my Dad that I don’t believe that he needs a hearing aid. I told him that I think his hearing is fine for an eighty-year-old man and that his hearing was not the problem.
The fact of the matter is that people should calm down and show a little more respect and compassion. People should not expect that an eighty-year-old man can hear at the levels of a young person. It is ridiculously egocentric to expect a senior citizen to be able to hear as well as they could forty years ago.
And that request for respect and compassion doesn’t end with hearing, it goes for memory, walking, getting up in the morning, driving a car. America’s youth-oriented society is short-sighted if it expects that an eighty-year-old person will be as healthy as they were when they were forty.
No offense, of course, to seniors who are still at the top of their game. Good for you.
Which brings me to the point of all of this: What has happened to a society which has forgotten respect and compassion? Why do Americans expect that others must conform to their wishes? What sort of people demand that others must work to keep them at unrealistic levels of comfort? Who do these people think they are that they can shout at an old man because his health is failing him?
Stop to think about it. What is the problem here?
Is the problem caused because a senior citizen cannot hear well? Or could part of the problem be caused because Americans have become a nation of short-tempered, short-sighted, egocentric non-adults who are in dire need of anger-management?
Of course the day may come soon when my Dad may very well be deaf without one of those hearing aids. But he certainly doesn’t need one now when he can hear fine if I enunciate my words and speak a tad bit louder. In the meantime, the repetition of the information necessary, in a gentle tone, and kind voice, can only make things more pleasant for everyone concerned.
Now I ask you, dear reader: Do these old folks at whom you shout when they can’t hear you need hearing aids, or do you need some anger management? Do they need a hearing aid or do you need to learn respect and patience? Or could it be a combination of both that requires some mutual respect and common courtesy?
Wise readers who come to the correct conclusion will be rewarded with a more pleasant life and be blessed, one day, with fond memories of the past.
Think about it.
Lovingly edited by Elizabeth Gyllensvard.
Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He is the president of a mass-media production company and also runs a talent agency in Japan. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.