And the winner for best decade goes to. . .
By JEAN SELVAM
The times have changed, haven’t they? We have moved from mailing letters to sending e-mails; reading newspapers to browsing social media sites; using cash to cards everywhere; even socialising face-to-face to online chatting!
There are more changes in our lifestyle today as compared to just 10 years ago–thanks to the constant evolution of technology. With all these developments, it comes as no surprise that even the structure of family has changed.
The author speaks to several individuals about their families throughout the years.
Not very long ago, a typical family consisted of a working father, a stay-at-home mother and two children.
However, over the years, a typical family is now a very diversified concept. It can comprise of two working parents, stay-at-home dads or a single parent; adopted children or stepchildren; or even same-sex couples, for example. These types of families are becoming a norm in societies around the world.
Television shows have also portrayed the evolution of a “typical family” over the years. In the 1970s, shows like The Brady Bunch and Happy Days showed a typical family, with a working dad and a stay-at-home mum. The Brady Bunch showed the beginning of a blended family as both parents had children from previous marriages. Then in the 1990s, shows such as Full House began to show families with single parents and other adults as leaders of the family.
Today, we have popular shows such as Modern Family that depicts the diversification of families in modern times.
As I ponder the different family structures, I wonder about the changes in leadership role dynamics. The evolution and diversification of families will certainly contribute to the changes in leadership roles and the different ways that families will spend time together. The word “family” now has a different meaning for everyone!
I wanted to explore this diversity of experiences among families in Malaysia throughout the decades. So, I collected true stories from different Malaysian individuals, reflecting on their years growing up.
These are their stories.
Mawarni Hassan (Growing up in the 1970s)
As a child, my father was the sunshine of my life. When I heard the sound of the car engine, the familiar “Ayah balik! Ayah balik!” chant would resound and the race was on to be the first to open the gate, take his bag and take off his stockings while he sat down, tired after a long day. My mother was the one who was always with us. She would cook us creative and delicious meals that she had learnt, teach us how to pray and how to behave. But it was my father who taught his seven children to think and reason, and challenge him to verbal battles where we defend our opinions.
I see my father as the leader of the family because he made decisions and took actions to make sure each and every one of his seven children had room to grow and develop whether it was through a government scholarship or his own hard-earned money. He would take up different jobs—not just for the sake of a better future nor for the money—for the stability of a supportive extended family. The major decisions made were, more often than not, after much discussion with my mother as well.
A busy man during the week, somehow, he would always find the time to make weekends special. Sundays would mean treats in all shapes and sizes—from the bright lights of BB Park to the swings and slides in Lake Gardens and Taman Jaya. Particularly, the cool waters of Petaling Jaya’s public swimming pool was a special treat.
Sunday lunch was usually at a restaurant or stall to give my mother, who cooked every week day, a break. I remember shark’s fin soup in Port Klang and nasi kandar in a grimy restaurant in Kuala Lumpur; two very different surroundings to teach us not to be snobbish when it comes to good food!
Car rides both near and far were one of the main features in our lives—from nightly jaunts to see the fountain with multi-coloured lights or trips to all over Malaysia when my father had to visit bookshops.
It has been almost twenty years since he left us. Yet when either one of us are in a dilemma, the question we always ask ourselves is “What would ayah say or do?”
Umarani Munusamy (Growing up in the 1980s)
Since the passing of my father, I realised that nothing in this world is more important than my widowed mother and my ten siblings. Being the youngest in a family of seven older sisters and three older brothers, I had plenty of choices when it comes to role models but the one whom I saw as a true leader was my mother, the late Kamalam Munusamy. Her ability to confer with my elder siblings when it comes to making quick decisions made me even more determined to grow up and be like her. The self-confidence she portrayed when she cared for my family and her ability to listen to problems, earned her the highest respect among my family members and relatives, who took courage and advice from her in times of need. She always tried to confront problems head on and managed to organise all my family’s daily needs as best as she could. Hailing from a middle-class background, she always insisted that every one of my siblings receive a good education regardless of monetary issues. She always kept a positive attitude towards my siblings and I, even in the most difficult times as she wanted her children and her grandchildren never to give up. I am what I am today because of her.
I lived in a village in Butterworth, Penang and it had the true essence of a kampung. I spent most of my time tied to my mother’s apron strings, so to speak. Being the youngest, I got a lot of my mother’s attention and also from my older siblings too. Most times, my family and I would be involved in an activity that involved organising and cleaning up the house together.
We would also enjoy playing games like Thayam, which is a traditional Indian game, similar to snakes and ladders. We also played carom, which was a favourite pastime of my mother’s and brothers. But when we have some uncles or aunts who came to visit, we would just sit together and enjoy laughing and talking about our daily activities and the plans for their next visit.
Finally, there were the television programmes at night, which we eagerly waited for. It was normal for all of us to go to bed by 10.30pm. As we had some money constraints, going out together could only be done once in a while and was considered a luxury, like going to a movie. All in all, the times spent together were precious for my family and myself.
Aames Ng Hock Weng (Growing up in the 1990s)
As a child, I always see both of my parents as equals. Both my mum and dad constantly reminded me that they each have a role to play in the family. My dad is working most of the time, to earn a living for all of us, and my mum was in charge of taking care of the entire household. So, I have always seen both of them as equal leaders.
My dad was pretty busy with his job when I was growing up, but he always made time for us. We would normally make trips around Malaysia or up north to Thailand for short holidays. Besides these trips, we would try our best to always have meals together. My mum would cook and we would all gather at the dining table to eat together.
Zachary Lau Toh Feng (Growing up in the 2000s)
Coming from a home of mostly men, you’d think the answer as to who is in charge would be straightforward. Smart people would say that the father is in charge; even smarter people would say that the mother is in charge, and there’s nothing you can say about it.
We’d spend every weekend at a mall to shop for groceries although my brothers and I preferred to stay at home with our gadgets. Things, of course, wouldn’t go our way (remember who is the boss at home), and before you know it, we would cramp ourselves at the back of the car on our way to Mid Valley Megamall in KL.
My parents aren’t tyrants of course and they would notice our not-so-happy faces for being dragged out of the comforts of our home. “Rewards” in the form of a delicious lunch or ice cream would follow, along with our daily ritual of constantly annoying each other for fun.
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” —Anne Frank
If you’re a parent, what leadership quality have you shown to your family? In 250 words, share your story and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jean enjoys working with children and youth because they inspire her to be a joyous and courageous person. She has a background in family therapy and was previously a part of the Leaderonomics Youth team.