I shudder at the sight of it. I’d rather see them steal that salad than throw it away,” my father bellows in consternation after witnessing the closing rituals at Wendy’s.
“Pa, they do it so they can serve fresh food tomorrow,” I defend the fast food employees’ actions.
Despite our past four and a half years in “the Land of Plenty,” my father clings to his frugality and tremendous respect for food, acquired by necessity throughout his life in the Soviet Union. The sharp contrast between my Americanized perspective and old views and habits retained by my father makes such debates a common occurrence. Besides performing all the prescribed functions of a “parental unit,” my father helps me attain objectivity in my judgments by demonstrating how cultural background affects our view of situations.
Coming to the United States at the age of thirteen felt like falling into a roaring stream without any swimming skills. Dog paddling, panting, and swallowing gallons of water on the way, I learned to keep myself afloat and gradually gained experience. Cultural adaptation was not a choice–it was a survival need. Along with comic strips and smiles at supermarkets, my mind absorbed such elements of American culture as equal opportunity and self-confidence. The existence of programs such as English as a Second Language at my junior high school persuaded me that these concepts were implemented in daily life. I was thrilled that someone had toiled to ensure that foreigners like myself had the same access to education as the other students. Thus convinced of the tangibility of American beliefs, I began to deem them universal.
On the other hand, my father, a 45-year old when we arrived, still perceives reality in Soviet terms, with American customs being an exception to the rule. His comments on the news radically differ from what my American friends have to say. When the hospitalization of the Russian President Boris Yeltsin had the world pondering Russia’s future, my father inferred latent meanings from newspaper articles. “I can only trust half of what they say,” he would grumble. “Here they say the President doesn’t have a liver condition, which, of course, means that he does.” Stemming from the paucity of integrity in the old Soviet Union, disbelief and sarcasm permeate Papa’s personal philosophy.
Dismissing all things immaterial as irrelevant, my father often ridicules the ideas I hold dear, such as political correctness. Some of my activities he does not question, but admits that their value is a mystery to him. “Why do you want to take literature classes?” he asks me with genuine amazement. “You can read on your own, why do more homework?” Yet my enrollment in numerous math and science classes does not baffle him, math and science being matters of “substance.”
When I challenge the legitimacy of Papa’s beliefs, he rolls his eyes and says, “I am too old to change my typical Soviet mind.” At first that seemingly feeble excuse infuriated me, but then the validity of it started to register. While verbally crossing swords with my father, I realized that only four years ago, I would have sincerely supported his every word. Further reflection upon this thought led me to be more attentive to others’ point of view. Now, when engaged in a discussion, I ask myself, what causes this person to think this way? Viewing the issue from several aspects, I gain a more profound and objective insight. My father provides a point of reference, reminding me of unique circumstances that shape everyone’s perspective.