August 8, 2012

Opening Up the Communication Lines

I remember growing up watching “Full House” and envying the scenes where Bob Saget’s character, Danny Tanner aka “Dad”, would sit next to one of his daughters (whichever one was in trouble at the time) and talk about whatever issue was at hand – be it boys, cheating or lying, or being the subject of idle gossip.  Father and daughter would both say their piece, and with the exchange of a warm embrace and “I love you”, all was forgiven and forgotten in the end.

Those scenes would break my heart, because more than anything, I longed for that kind of relationship with my own parents.

I didn’t need the hugs and kisses, per se.  All I wanted was to be able to open up the communication lines.  I just wanted to talk with them.

But as the child of an immigrant family, that was harder said than done.  My siblings and I thought, spoke, wrote, fought and argued in English, whereas my parents did so in their native tongue of Korean.   When there was conflict (which there never seemed to be a shortage of), we really only understood the outbursts of anger in our respective languages.  Or worse yet, the deafening silence.  And none of that got us anywhere except further from one another and deeper in resentment.

My sister, brother, and I began to give up trying to communicate with our parents and just figured they’d never understand us.

But as we all got older and my parents’ English improved over the years (while our Korean worsened), I think we began to realize how much we all desired to understand each other better but just didn’t know how.  The moment we began to communicate - I mean really talk the way Danny Tanner and his daughters did - things started to change.  Walls came down, stories were told, apologies exchanged, and wounds began to heal.

So when I call or sit down with my parents now, I don’t take for granted that I’m able to express myself and have them understand and the vice versa be true.  Not all is understood completely, but we try and make an effort to convey what’s on our minds and our hearts.  And sometimes that’s all it takes – it’s just making the effort, knowing that we care enough to do that.

And this is why my husband and I proudly support an organization which teaches English to a community of individuals and families longing to make those kinds of connections.  The organization is called The Open Door NJNY.  It’s located in West New York and Open Door is not only teaching its students the English language but is equipping them with vital life skills as well.   The program includes an assembly time after class to discuss pertinent topics, a children’s program, and a computer literacy class.  Open Door equips its students to better communicate with their families and within their community.  The organization is made up of dedicated volunteers who give their time and talent to help those with fewer resources.

{ Photos courtesy of The Open Door NJNY }
I sometimes wonder what life might have been like if such a program had been made available to my parents when they first came to the States.   Maybe they would have had an easier time finding jobs and wouldn't have had to struggle as much to make ends meet each month.  And maybe we would have had more of those “Danny Tanner/Daughter” moments where we could say what we had to and all was forgiven and forgotten in the end.

Speaking the same language isn't a guarantee for better communication, but it sure doesn't hurt.


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