Dad vs. Dating (or Arranged Marriage if He Has His Way)

I am a first generation American. My parents emigrated here in the 1980’s from India to attend graduate school. My father used to wear bell-bottoms, and often wound up at parties with his professors (yes… he went to UCSD). Although he may have experienced this particular “American” tradition, in many other aspects of life our views differ.  It is very interesting growing up in a house where your parents have a completely different cultural perspective from yourself. It’s especially interesting when you’re a girl (who is supposed to be the embodiment of innocence and chastity), you’re the first child, and your dad decides to give you a lecture on your future college conduct at the dinner table thanks to a letter he received from Claremont McKenna College (where freedom apparently awaits).

It’s even MORE interesting when this lecture happens to be about your supposed conduct around the opposite sex and your parents, who had an ARRANGED marriage and whose only romantic experience pre-marriage consisted of watching Bollywood movies, are giving you advice. The only advice I have received from my mother to attract men (besides “talk less”) is to wear higher shirts and study harder, because apparently I look most beautiful with no makeup and when my nose is in a book. I know the basic rules: No boys. No drugs (including alcohol). No sex. And I plan to follow them (as of now). But just for fun I decided to play rebellious teenager and question my dad. Here’s the dialogue: Me: Dad. I’m 18. I’m single. Therefore I am available. Dad: No. You are not at all available. Me: When will I be available? Dad: When you get your degree. Sanjana, for god’s sake you are 18 stop acting like you are 38.

So the moral I take away is: I’m only allowed to have fun when I’m 38 and already married. Later in the conversation: Me: So dad…you say you want me to tell you everything. Let’s say I go to a party and hook up with some guy… Dad: Stop right there. First of all what is this hookup you speak of? Me: It’s when you like kiss a guy but don’t plan to date him or see him again. Dad: NO HOOKUPS. And as for parties… Mom: Let her go to some parties once in a while. I’m sure there will be nice music concerts at Pitzer. Dad: You know, if you want this ridiculous hookup thing we can just get you married off quickly.

It was a very productive, open-minded, honest discussion.

My dad is one of those fathers who, when I start talking about boys, starts talking about the benefits of arranged marriage. He strongly believes that if he had not met my mother through his parents, they would still have found each other (because obviously a guy living and working in Portland, Oregon is going to run into a beauty queen from Mumbai on his way to work) and get married (fat chance…if they tried a live-in relationship, it probably wouldn’t have lasted a week. Neat-freak Dad vs. Carefree Mom = fireworks in the kitchen of the non-romantic, blame the kids variety). My dad even tried to arrange my prom date. I distinctly remember telling my dad I asked a guy friend to prom: he proceeded to get very upset and offended, and told me that he had a lot of friends at work who had sons who he could ask for me. Oh, Daddy darling… how much you have to learn.

Despite the jokes and cultural exaggerations, my dad was right.  My dad gave me this advice because he knows me better than anyone else. In coming to college, I have been thrust into a place where I am treated like an adult and I have complete freedom. Still, college has many temptations. I have to make choices that are right for me – and not just do certain things that many of my peers are doing for the sake of fitting in or being “cool.” I have to be strong and keep my values through this journey. I have to maintain my integrity and make good choices so that after four years  I can look back and be proud of the person I was in college. Who knows? Maybe parents do have all the answers. Maybe they do know what they are talking about. Maybe we should all listen to them a little more often.

My dad is one of the few people in this world who knows who I am and what I stand for. I respect him and thank him for being firm and embarrassingly blunt.

And you thought your pre-college conduct lecture was bad. But I must say, although I resisted at the time, so far it's worked out well: No boys. No drugs. No sex. And I’m still having fun. Dad would be proud.