Talking to My Conservative Russian Father
In September, I decided to go back to my home town in Germany for a weekend. My whole family came to pick me up, and so I sat in the back of our car, as we drove through the dimly lit empty streets of Dresden late at night. I was happy to see my parents. It seemed that finally, my years of resenting them and wanting to get as far away from them as possible had been over. Maybe they felt the same way too, maybe they finally saw me as an adult with valid opinions. My parents both grew up in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era. Their core values reflected this upbringing: hard work, assigned roles. Adhering to the system. A pragmatic approach to life, instead of “philosophizing”, as they called my life, they had to work from a young age. Add strict Russian Orthodoxism to the Soviet mentality, and you get my parents. Yours truly - a liberal, educated, existentialist, LGBT woman - was out of their sphere of comprehension.
As we drove past my old high school, my dad looked back at me in the rear mirror and asked me a question.“So, are you in any clubs at university?” I sat back for a minute and thought about my answer. I guess now was the time to test whether or not they had come to terms with my interests, whether they had accepted who I am, whether they accepted that my perceptions are so much different from theirs.
“Well, I do theater.”
“Fun! Anything else?”
“I joined the feminist chapter.” Dead silence in the car. Imagine their reaction if they knew I was part of the LGBT chapter.
“Feminist chapter. Why?”“What do you mean why? I’m a feminist.”“Don’t be ridiculous. What, you’re a lesbian and hate men now?”I had to think about my answer carefully now. It was either openly disagreeing with him and causing a fight on my first day back, or just sucking it up like I have for years, and compromising what I stand for.
“I believe in the equal perception of woman and man, I want women to be able to do all the things men can do. What’s so wrong about that?”“I don’t agree. There are biological aspects to this as well, you know. If we lived in a feminist society, everyone would be hitting and fighting women like they do men. Is that what you want?”I
It made me sad. It made me so sad that my father couldn’t support what is so important to me.
“You don’t have to agree. But this is about all women in the world, which includes me, being able to make decisions that won’t be questioned.”
“Decisions like what? What’s a decision you can’t make?”
“I don’t want children, for example. In fact, I doubt I’ll ever get married.”
“You say that now, you’re so young. But it’s sort of your duty, you know? To give birth. That’s why you’re here.”
I wonder why my mother was silent throughout this entire conversation. Why wasn’t she saying anything? Did she agree with everything my father said? Was getting married at 21 and having a child a year later truly her decision, rather than an expectation, forced upon her by post-Soviet society?
I suppose growing up means questioning your parents. You never think of your parents as unhappy, until you look behind the curtain. But I could never dare and ask my mother these questions. Partially, because I know the answer. But hearing it from her would break me.I don’t want to be like that. It tears me apart, but deep inside I know that I don’t want to end up like my mother. And deep inside I know that she, too, doesn’t want me to end up like her.
“It’s not my duty. You can’t force me.”“Listen. We’ll have this talk again in five years, and then we’ll see. You can make your own decisions, even if I don’t fully agree. You know, I don’t think women should be in politics. But you, Ellie, you think like a man. I think you could do it.”
I stayed silent. We pulled into the driveway of my old home, the home in which I spent hours crying, wishing I was in a different place. I guess things hadn’t changed, after all. Even if I see myself as a grown woman with strong opinions and ambitions now, my father still sees me as a small child, as someone who has no idea what they’re talking about.
I entered my old bedroom, the smell of vanilla candles that I burned there a year ago still lingering in the air. Everything came back now. Everything was still the same. My room was the same. The room in which I sat on my laptop for hours, writing feminist ideas on my tumblr blog that nobody ever read. Putting my voice out in hopes of being heard.
But if even my own father won’t listen to me, then who will?