About two months ago, I finally learned my paternal grandmother’s first name (Phua Mai). And to my pleasing, I also memorized my paternal grandfather’s first name (Wan Swee). Such that I didn’t have to stutter to dig deep into my memory to recite his name.
Strange, most would think. It certainly was for me. Because for 30 years of my life (I’m only 30 years old), I only had flashes of exposure to my father’s side of the family. Particularly through a few of my cousins. But even then, we never spoke or interacted much. It could have been because of the age gap. I was 12 when they were completing their university degree. And today, they spend most their time raising their children, while my sense of family extends to as much as having a long-term girlfriend.
For most of my this existence, I had no compulsion to connect with my father’s side of the family. I just didn’t know it was available to me. While I had more joy, flow and connection coming from my mother’s side—still, something inside me compelled me to stay distant from anything that felt too good including all the lovely things that were coming my way.
The way I distanced myself, mirrored a lot of what my father (Low Oh Cheng) was doing in distancing himself from his family. So I replicated some of that in my interactions with all my family. But let’s not just give dad all the reward for having shaped my precious experience of being human. Mum had a key contributing part in it too.
My mother (Mai Tam), worked a full-time job while my father ran a business in Sydney Australia. So growing up for the first 12 years of my life, I had a surrogate mother (my godmother, Look Chao Ngaw) to care for me. It wasn’t till 12 years of age, when my godmother left Sydney to return to Malaysia, that I finally had available, my blood mother. And it was weird for me to relate to her as my full-time blood mother. Because it just felt too late.
Especially for the little Jon (Tien Onn) inside of me, who had been wanting to have a mother all his life—but had lived already 12 years without. So by then, being alone was well conditioned into my blood and bones. And changing that wasn’t going to be easy.
With this sort of previously un-adjustable stance in life, it is no surprise that I grew up subscribing to beliefs such as, “Blood is not thicker than water.” I found surrogate brothers, sisters, cousins, and parents—to be pseudo functions of my real family. Even growing up as a young teenager, I would often spend as much time away from home, hanging out with friends after school, spending weekends at the mall … and only ever looking forward to coming home perhaps to eat, and to go to sleep. Sounds like a typical life of a teenager right?
Almost. Only, there was little dialogue between myself, and my parents. At the dinner table, it was tense and quiet. Dad (Oh Cheng) was tired, and mostly a bit grumpy after a long day of work. He ran a newsagency 365 days a year, and worked about 16 to 17 hours a day. Dad did this for 16 years (at 54 years of age onwards) without fail. That’s the sort of weight he had as a father supporting his family. Though he mostly wasn’t available emotionally, dad served us in the way he best knew how. Which was to provide food and funds, so we could get the best education possible. That was his way of expressing the deep love that fuelled him inside.
Returning from work, mum did much the same too. For the first few years when we moved to Sydney (migrated from Malaysia to Australia when I was 4 years old), mum worked as a teller at a bank. Eventually she joined dad in the business, working long hours too. So by the time she came home, all she wanted to do was quickly eat, relax by reading a book, or by watching a Chinese (Cantonese) drama series.
So at the dinner table, my older sister (Jo-En) and younger brother (Andrew), and I, often sat in silence, diligently digesting whatever we were given. We didn’t speak or say much. It was as if we were at some military camp. We would eat in as much silence as possible, and quietly retire to our rooms. Either to study, or to eventually go to sleep.
Personally, I just pretended to study so I wouldn’t get in trouble with dad. Study wasn’t my priority. I wanted to play cricket, rugby, and watch TV. Sometimes, I would often wait till dad fell asleep, so I could join mum in watching the TV. Dad’s definition of success was for me to become a man of intellect. My definition of success was to play.
If I was caught by dad “playing around” too much, it could end up with me getting some bamboo slashes on my butt. I remember being so absorbed into a computer game once, that I didn’t hear the call for dinner. And out of nowhere, I had a few bamboo slashes on my neck. It hurt like hell. I was then sent to bed without dinner, and I sobbed myself to sleep. I learnt, there is a distinction between being stern, and being violent. For me, I was often at the brunt of the latter. Additionally, no one told me that being afraid of your parents wasn’t normal. It wasn’t till later that I also learnt another distinction—there is a difference between respecting your parents, and fearing them.
To contrast, I had friends at school who always spent time with their parents. They would talk about the holidays they would have together. And whenever I visited their homes, their dynamic around the dinner table was so alien, yet entertaining to me. They would talk openly about their day. Their parents would speak joyfully, and about the exciting things they were going to do together. And the children would share what they were up to at school and in the playground. But more importantly, that discussion was initiated by the parents, who had a curiosity about what their children were up to. I think I was definitely attracted to them, because they had something I desired.
For me, life at home with dad and mum was often just in tense silence. Dad would only ever just check if we were on track with our studies. Mum was a bit more emotionally connected in comparison. She pretty much let us do whatever we wanted, to her best of her ability, without contradicting or crossing dad’s desires and intentions. But then, she didn’t have much to say either. And she couldn’t really cross my dad. If dad made up his mind, his decision held ultimate authority. So if it meant that I had to study, even though mum wanted to support my desire to chill out—she wouldn’t say anything, in fear that it might make my dad blow up at her. So again, there was a sort of distance in my relationship to mum …
I didn’t know that having deeper connection with family was a natural thing. So I never actively sought it out in my own family. Sort of like how I have never questioned how it is that water can create the feeling of wet on your clothing. I just experienced it vicariously through my friends, who had the connection that I was deprived of. After all, if you read my previous post (Abandoned), you will understand how strongly I was identified with being all alone, and how strongly my system rejected any sense of sustaining joy with like-kind (community, family, comrades etc.).
So where to from here?
Being now aware of the void that the lack of family connection has left in my life—I’m inspired to fulfil it. Dr John. Demartini said that our voids determine our values. For me, the void of family means I’m driven to fulfil a sense of family. And in my own way. And upon greater reflection, my most recent sense is, the deeper truth of my father, and my mother, is they were reaching for a better sense of family in their own way too. Despite the tense-ness in the household, when I dig deep into my consciousness, I can feel what they were truly reaching for.
We migrated from Malaysia to Sydney when I was 4 years old, in search of a; healthier lifestyle. Mum and dad wanted to give us an opportunity by learning from and about the west, and establishing our foundations thereon. Additionally, dad saw it as an opportunity to appease the heart-ache and conflict he had with his siblings and immediate family.
And, setting aside the high degree of discipline enforced in the household–I do recall beyond lovely times with my father, no matter how scarce. Dad used to take us out for elaborate dinners and yumcha gatherings–feasts that no child could ever finish. And if other relatives joined us for dinner, dad would always foot the bill happily. Often, these dining experiences were had on a large circular table. An architecture that brings people together as equals.
During my early teens, dad would often finish work early on a Sunday (he worked 7 days a week), and take us (Jo-En, Andrew, and I) for ice-skating. We would drive out to the ice rink at Macquarie, a 40 minute drive. He even bought us Bauer hockey skates, while everyone had to deal with smelly rental skates. Despite being tired, and holding the weight of the family on his shoulders–dad did this without fail for 18 months. And after our ice-skating session, we would again, have a large feast at some restaurant.
Dad shone so true in these moments. Though my original memory and sense of the experience was subtle, like snowflakes landing on the cheeks of my face and melting–I now can turn up the intensity of those moments. And receive them with greater ferocity than I was capable of as a child. And when I do, I realize it felt like this was the light dad wanted to express. That he wanted to really shine for us all, and to a greater degree of frequency.
This was the more congruent expression of his love. The truer reflection of his life. The burning devotion of his soul.
So today and onwards, I seek this in my interactions with my existing family, friends, and my partner.
One of the stances that I introduce to all interactions with those I feel familial with—is to sense and consent to their heart-felt aspirations. Not to force them into having to fulfil it. But to keep open the hope that they will inevitably fulfil their dreams one day. And of course, if they choose to reach for the next step towards that—I will have the choice to pledge emotional, mental, and financial energies to helping them realize it. This form or Order is what I believe binds a family. This stance is what I believe builds a family. And one that lasts.
Now, it sounds a bit abstract. A bit non-specific. And that’s why it works. Because if it was any more specific (e.g. everyone has to build a successful mining business), it takes away from the diversity of expressions that are available. Everyone has a specific, unique path to follow in life. And I believe a solid family works together to help each other figure out what it is, and invite it into reality. Invite being the keyword. Rather than materialize it, which is their choice—it is simply a state of possibility. A door that is slightly opened, unlocked, and has a question written on it …
“What would you like?”
The person has to reach to realize their want. Realize, that this does not mean family have to agree with what each other are doing. Not at all. In fact, you can absolutely hate or feel in contradiction with another’s aspirations. The distinction is that this order of operation indirectly encourages individuality, binding us at a higher octave of operation. This order embraces contradictions. It can include what the head often wants to exclude. It can find way to accommodate the myriad of differences in values, morals, and beliefs.
In contrast to Suffering Obligations of Love (SOLs, as coined by my main instructor Carl Buchheit), this is what I refer to as Higher Orders of One (HOOs).
To briefly recap, SOL’s are a demonstration of inappropriate love. Where our desire to fix our family, and resolve their problems by taking on their pain—is our way of demonstrating love. By making ourselves the problem, we give ourselves hope to be the solution. While having a set of SOLs catalyses an interesting set of experiences (mostly struggles, learnings, and short-lived forms of experienced success)—my sense is there is a whole new horizon of this to be explored. Especially as humanity develops greater rapport with how we have all been, and starts to explore higher octaves of rapport with how things can be. This is my impression.
And based on that impression, I have called into existence, what I refer to as HOOs (Higher Orders of One). Without being too dogmatic, or a rule-setter here, HOOs are simply structured so you can be in rapport with what the other person wants, but not be caught in the stances of agreement, promotion, and support of their way of life. This also involves embracing how things are, what can be changed or influenced sufficiently, and what can’t be.
In the context of family Suffering, the HOO is a stance that includes the way family is, without making yourself the problem or solution. For example, I am not empowered or permitted to live my mum’s, brother’s, or sister’s life for them. I can’t force them to “contact me more often” or “schedule more dinners.” And even if I did schedule more family time, I am neither empowered to make their decision of attendance/absence for them. But I can invite them out to dinner. I can drop a call, if that is what I would like. It is their choice to answer. I am simply inviting the possibility, and leaving the door open.
I am learning this day by day. Especially in my relationship with my partner Claudia, my friends, my siblings, and my extended family who each have dreams. They all have hopes to reach the heights of what can be, with full respect to what currently is. It is not for me to choose. But it is certainly available for me to invite.
And somewhere within the human construct, I believe this order (HOO) was inserted at inception. And my sense is, in the coming decades, it will come more and more into operation.