This bench has a statue of a woman sitting while feeding birds and a statue of a boy standing in front of her watching and holding his hands out. I felt at ease sitting with this woman and her boy. I heard the rushing water of a creek behind me, and the occasional pedestrian came along on the path in front of me. A few minutes later the tranquil park swarmed with school children playing tag and chasing each other. They had on the same school uniform with a white baseball cap strapped to their head with a band wrapped around their chin to hold it in place. This scene reminded me of when I went to my mom’s school for Field Day, and the kids got the day off to play games and run around in the park behind the school. These kids in Japan ran around laughing in a similar way, and like Field Day, it was a heartwarming scene.
I walked to this park after I checked out of my hostel in Kawaguchi in the Saitama prefecture of Japan, north of Tokyo. I met Aiko my first night in Tokyo, who explained that Kawaguchi means “river mouth.” The first night I landed in Japan, she took me out to get some fantastic Kobe beef with her husband, and the next day she introduced me to a few of her friends to interview in Tokyo. One of her friends was Emi, who told me about her dad:
In high school, I had to take an extra class to enter university, and I would go in the evening 3 days per week. Having time with my father was mostly in the car on the way to class. He took me to the evening class and we would talk. This time was important to me. TV time was also important for us. We would watch professional baseball games, so I know baseball. He was always calm and quiet but he had a sense of humor. He liked puns. For example, a dad tomato is walking with a son tomato, but he was too slow so his dad told him, “Ketchup!” This was a warm part in my experience. He owned his own business from the time I was10, so he was very busy, but we had three meals at home every day so that we could spend time with each other. He would leave after meals and work until midnight, even on the weekends.
For characteristics of a father, being honest and being serious is important because Japanese children are brought up looking at the father’s back. The back is the way he’s living, he’s thinking, he’s acting. However, sometimes he is “hanmen kyoshi”
This means someone you look to as an example of what not to do, literally “opposite mirror teacher.” If a father drinks too much and hits the children or the wife, then the kids decide they do not want to be like that. I told my eldest daughter about this interview, and she said, “Compromising with your children and wife is important.” Having good communication in your family is important. You must keep “wa”. This is how you write it.
Wa is harmony and peace in your family and you get it through communication. In Japanese, peace is “heiwa”.
Wa means you’re not irritated, and everyone is calm and not tense. The Japanese tend to be good at guessing what others want and what others think. For many years, there were no foreigners around, so everybody was Japanese, and we would know what they are thinking.
Emi showed me how cultural differences in language can help explain the impact of fatherhood. There are phrases for harmony and peace and anti-teacher that helped explain the impact of fatherhood in her culture. She grew up in Shizuoka near Mt. Fuji (left). I met up with Emi and Aiko at a café in the Palace hotel. The lattes and tea we ordered arrived just as Emi began telling me about her father:
My dad was an OBGYN, and he always stayed home. He didn’t like going out and he was kind of shy. Many men go to bars and talk to ladies there. But my dad said, “Paying for drinks and speaking to ladies, are you kidding me?” So, he didn’t go out and it was funny.
He had a small hospital, where he worked in the morning and came home in the afternoon so I was with him during the day. He went back to the hospital at 6 PM too so he worked twice per day and had our dinner at 5 PM. My mother talked a lot, but my father did and he was a very peaceful man. My mother would get angry at my father, and they would quarrel because of my mother.
My family is different because my mother started to working in the hospital. She managed the hospital. She was using a maid, so she didn’t have to do the house work. My mother decided almost everything, and my father did not decide anything. In this way, my father was like a mother and my mother was like a father because decisions were always made by my mother. My father could see what you wanted or what you are thinking and he was very sweet to me. He scolded me only once – not scolding, but he tried to be strict, he wanted to be a father. I wanted to buy books so I told him, “Please, give me some money. I want to go to the bookstore to buy books.” He said, “Go to the bookstore, look for what you want, come back, and then I will give you some money.” My mother always gave me money so I could go to the bookstore so I said, “Why?” I was angry because this was different, so we quarreled and I went up to my room and slept. Then I told this story to my mother, and she told him he was wrong. Since then, he never scolded me again, and it was great!
We finished up our drinks, but Aiko continued to tell me about her husband and how she has reflected on how their relationship has impacted how they raised their daughter:
My husband was very old-fashioned when we first got married. I would make him salad, coffee, and different things. I was making breakfast once, and I was very busy because I had to serve him. He was behind me at the table, and he said, “Spoon. Give me a spoon.” I said, “Please, take it yourself.” He got angry, and I was very surprised that he got angry. I said, “Why can’t you get it yourself? You are free.” He told me that is what wives do, and I told him, “I don’t think so.” His brother’s family lived in the same apartment building at the time, so my husband said we should ask his opinion. So, we went over that night and he asked his brother what he would have done. His brother said, “I would have gotten the spoon.” Then my husband changed 180º and he does everything for himself. By the time my daughter was born, this was already fixed in our relationship – we were almost equal. My daughter sees us and thinks male and female should be equal.
I think how the father treats the mother is very importantto how the children think and see how they should be when they become a fatheror mother. I also think compromise isvery important. At first, I was angrywith my husband because he could not go out with me because he was very busy inthe beginning. Then I thought I shouldcompromise. I don’t know if my motherknew how to compromise. My fathercompromised a lot, so it was not even. Just before I got married, I was staying with them. My father and mother had quarreled. My father’s face even got red because he wasangry. While my mother went to thebathroom, I told my father, “If you want to, you can divorce her.” My mother always said she would divorce himif he didn’t do what she wanted, so I said it was okay. Plus, I was going to get married soon. So, he told her that he would divorce her ifshe wanted to. Later, my mother came tome startled and said, “Your father told me he would divorce.” She said, “You are going to get married, and thiswould not be good for the wedding if we got divorced.” I told her it was okay, so she finally admitted,“My god, I don’t want a divorce.” Theydidn’t get a divorce, but my father started to say more to my mother and I thinkit was better for him.
These stories show me how children spend time with their fathers and how husbands spend time with their partners to work out issues and enjoy each other’s company. When I moved from Tokyo down to Kobe to visit Jenn, my friend from Vanderbilt, she asked me why I chose to study fatherhood. Part of my reasoning is thatI wanted to see how people spend time with their dad. I wanted a chance to connect with the interactions in Aiko and Emi’s stories. These interviews offer examples for the kind of father or leader I could be, and when I asked Aiko and Emi what advice do they have for me as a potential future father they said:
First: My elder daughter told me to tell you that being a good father is up to you and being yourself is important. Show your children that you are being yourself. Don’t be afraid of being a strong spirit. It is important, but humble yourself.
Second: Before becoming a dad, you should have a good partnership with your wife. If you have a good partnership, then the children feel very peaceful. In Japan, many children are closer to their mother because they are with their father for many hours and the father is really busy, so if the mother and father are not in a good relationship then the kids will hate their father. Even if the kid doesn’t like the father, but the parents have a good relationship then the kids won’t hate their father as much.
After they shared their advice Aiko asked me what kind of father I would like to be. I told them that I want to be one who shows up, and my family does not have wonder where I am. I also want my family to know I am equal with my partner. I made it back to my hostel late that night thinking more about the kind of father I want to be and how excited I am to be that person for both my children and my partner.
The week I spent in Japan, I struggled to navigate without understanding Japanese and eat with chopsticks, but the interviews felt familiar. Walking through the train station or down the street, there was a recognizable difference in the way people moved around each other in such a considerate way that I do not feel walking around at home in Atlanta. However, the interviews reminded me how much we have in common. Like the children in that park, the ideals behind having a good impact on your family come down to similar issues, such as communication, partnership, self-acceptance, and love. I feel like these are ways to be a good person to anyone, not just a future hypothetical family. I do not see any reason why I should not strive to be that kind of person right now.