Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model not related to this story.
It's hardly original to talk about needing some form of therapy as an adult, but for the majority of us, there is a lot of closet-cleaning to do – and it almost always begins with our childhoods. That's when we were first introduced to fear, anger, sadness and guilt. And while our hang-ups may vary, the central theme tends to be the same. We blame our childhoods for everything – and by extension, our parents because they did such-and-such when we were so-and-so and now we're unable to function as human beings and have normal relationships and enjoy a solid sense of self.
For the offspring of immigrant parents, there's an extra layer of anger – often repressed – when we reflect on why we're slightly broken. Life in a strict household can do that to you, and not just because you were never really allowed to do the 'normal' things other kids could do. When your family life is still wedded to the mores of the homeland, you're beholden to a heavy sense of community and duty. Meanwhile, you're trying to be as “Australian” as Vegemite, but as you get older, you start to stand out like a parent at a rock concert because your values and practices don't always match.
Growing up in an Arab Muslim family with four boys, it would be easy to assume that I had it the hardest. There were lots of things I wasn't allowed to do – like swimming at the beach in bathers from puberty onwards, and going to public school camps, for example - that were OK for my brothers. But if things were better for the boys, they were only marginally so. I remember once, my oldest brother, in his frantic race to meet curfew (which would've been around 9.30-10pm), ran so fast from the bus stop that he got stopped by police who thought he was fleeing the scene of a crime.
We laugh about it now, but it's hardly the average script for many. Our parents instilled in us a fear that we had to obey them. We did nothing without their permission. We became weary of asking for things that might seem confronting, which meant we missed out on certain things. We always knew we had a level of difference, because our lives drew on unique religious and cultural practices.
My mum ran a tight but loving ship, and my dad was, like many fathers, largely absent because he was working so hard to support his family. In many ways, it was a childhood marked by caution and inhibition. The language was one of what wasn't allowed, as opposed to what was.
Interestingly, our conservative upbringing is still seen as a badge of honour for my mum to this day. In her eyes, she was protective and kept us safe, and any strictness from her and my father was for our own good. She has no regrets.
Even though I stood out as an Arab Muslim where I grew up, I talked about my culture and religion with pride, clutching at it as I did in the hope I could find a sense of identity. I listened to Arabic music even though I didn't always understand the words. I studied my religion and wore the hijab on weekends. I barely blinked when year 10 formal rolled around and I had to take my brother. At least I was allowed to go.
But here's the thing: having spent the last few years doing a fair amount of self-development, I've realised just how damn scary and difficult it would've been for my parents to bring us up in an alien culture. They were fearful of losing us to ideas and practices they didn't agree with or understand.
Their way of communicating these fears might have been difficult for us to accept, but if I've learnt anything from self-help besides the locations of my chakras, it's that we are all operating off learnt behaviours – unless we choose to recognise and change them.
I've since found that I'm still connected to many of the ideas and expectations of my childhood, including respect for your parents, and many of my values are intact. And while there are so many stories I could tell, of disappointment but also joy, from my experience growing up in a minority, that's not the story I want to hold on to. Because we were damn lucky to grow up here, and we have a lot of wonderful memories.
So for a while, I've been continually redesigning the colour palette from which I draw. A vibrant mess of glorious colour, even in all its difference.