That Man

The other day I was in the recreation center in my neighborhood here on the North Shore.  Just about the time I was leaving, I heard one woman talking to her seven or eight year old daughter.
She was talking to her daughter (in Persian) in a silent mood once she was passing me by in that long and narrow corridor.  Just crossing one another in few seconds, I heard her saying: “Do not be noisy, that man will be mad at you.”
Hearing this statement although by accident made me freeze for a short while.  I knew instantly what she meant.  I was close to the exit and I came to wonder why we (some of us Iranian) use this old and fear-based method for disciplining our children.
I can only imagine that daughter was asking questions or just trying to be the child that she was. I left that place feeling bad for that young child that had to be scared of a man who is typically expressed in the third person, unknown, and creepy.  Symbolically this man is a control figure, someone who is scary enough that referring to them will make our children behave.  Why I did react to this statement, well it reminded me of a deeper remark in our Iranian parenting style.
In our Iranian culture we have many of those symbolic figures to be scared of.  Basically we have to fear many things, from early morning to late night, from birth to death, from young to old, and from poor to rich. In our Iranian culture there are many scary figures that are out there to punish us for everything we do, every little joy, every move, and every single opinion.
Remember how many times in our childhood we were told that if we are noisy, meaning being just like a child, then someone will be mad on us?
Remember how in our own childhood, we were discouraged to be who we wanted to be just because adults did not know how to deal with us.  If the figure of the man did not scare of enough, there was always threat of a punishing teacher, principal, police, or even thieves on the street that would follow the noisy child.

The threat that either fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents, or someone else could be mad on us, would force us to shut up and stop being a child for at least a short while.  A  simple example of this behaviour is how we control our small babies; we scare them of ghosts, devils, bad men, policemen or a man who is out there ready to snatch them.  I have seen some parents using some or all of these figures to redirect children’s attention once they are misbehaving.  Although redirecting children is positive, however scaring kids of someone out there does not work.  Once our children are not obeying our controlling attitudes or instructions, then we use our horrible methods of scaring our children.

The use of that man or one man, or someone else is to ask for submission, passivity, conformity and obedience.  This is a method deep rooted in a culture that does not accept being noisy.  We scare our children from others who always are mad on them for one or another. This phrase may not make sense for a non-Iranian person, yet we Iranian are familiar to this statement, aren’t we?
This was how we were raised.   How many time our mothers told us” if you do this again, I will tell your dad kill you.”  This was a threat that no one took seriously, however it meant to scare us enough to the level of fearing our life.
How many times did our mothers not scare us of our fathers coming home and literally killing us?   We remember having been told frequently:  “wait until your father comes home and kill you.”   This was a way for our mothers to control us and leave the punishment to our fathers.  Not that always we were punished, yet worrying what would happen when our fathers came home, was worse than anything in the world.
And this story still goes on today.  We make our children to fear someone or be ashamed of something or simply feel guilty for their behaviour.  Now the question is not how our children act or behave; the point is how we as adult let our children live with fear of a punishing figure somewhere.  I guess using worry based threat is culturally embedded that we have to always be scared of punishment, because encouragement in our culture considers wrong and spoiling.
It is very unfortunate that, this is how we try to raise our children, even though we love our children to death.
I guess the purpose of this article is to raise awareness and make us think twice.  Many of us may be the best parents in the world, however, cultural way of attending to our children needs are many times wrong, mean, and damaging. It is time to know better.

Poran Poregbal
February 16, 2009

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