photo by Gary Anthony Albrecht
My grandmother holding my mother
When I first mentioned to Dad that I was marrying a Japanese woman, he congratulated me and gave me full support, but also said, “Don’t forget you’re marrying into a different culture.” He knew something about that.
My mother is partly African and has African features. My Dad is of German descent, a third generation New Zealander. According to Dad, before the 1950s came along, it was a big deal for people of different races to marry each other. By the time Dad married in 1968, interracial marriage had become more common. More importantly, Dad’s parents approved and accepted my mother.
Dad said that after the movies ‘Blackwood Jungle’ and ‘Rock around the Clock’ hit the screens in 1955 and 1956, a new social consciousness of freedom had taken root. Amongst many things, attitudes toward marriage had changed, even before the 1960s. Perhaps some New Zealanders may not agree with what I just said, particularly those aged seventy years and older. But it would be ridiculous and unintelligent to dismiss a person’s life experience, based on feelings and beliefs. If you hear about something, you don’t have much. If you see and hear about something, you have more. If you have experienced and lived through a particular thing, then you have something of deeper substance to share that could benefit people of all different races, religions, and thought.
Back in 1999, I came to Japan to meet my future in-laws. I was fairly nervous about being accepted. I’ll never forget the first time I met them, standing at their front door, waiting for it to open. My wife to be was there with me, looking just as nervous as I. She wasn’t smiling; that made it worse.
She rung the bell. The smell of deep fried, garlic chicken was in the air — a good start.
The door opened. A 151cm woman gave me a deep bow and a warm smile. Now it was a perfect start. I felt like a king. Charmingly, I bowed and smiled back. Then a shadow creeped up behind her and lengthened across the floor. As the shadow got closer and before I could see a face, I heard a man’s voice say, “Welcome to Japan.” It was the king.
The man knew how I was feeling, even before I boarded the plane to come to Japan. Hearing his warm voice before seeing his face, nullified my nervousness. We looked into each other’s eyes. I greeted him with a handshake. We both squeezed firmly. Then we bowed.
I stayed for seven days. For the entire time, they let me stay under their roof. We discussed just about everything you could think of. We ate and drank and laughed. We didn’t agree on everything, and neither did we force our opinions. He didn’t expect me to bow down to his religion, nor did I expect him to bow down to mine. If he were in New Zealand, I would have treated him in the same manner as he did with me. It’s very easy to do. Between two strangers on planet earth, our courteousness worked wonders. Why? Because — we avoided encroaching on each other’s life. My small world had found a person who thought the same as me, even though we are completely different in every way. The foundation for a good marriage was looking positive.
Two days before returning to New Zealand, I asked him if I could marry his daughter. When? Over dinner, at his favorite time of the day. I got an immediate yes. And like most fathers would do, gave me some friendly advice, but without the use of threat. Now I was convinced. I said thank-you to him in Japanese. I was on my way to becoming their new family member. It was done through mutual respect, an understanding of our differences, and manners. You may say “That’s easy” “I know that stuff.” But are we respecting other people’s differences, property, life, religion, thought?
I’m thankful for my Dad’s advice. My evaluation of my now father-in-law was as equally important as his evaluation of me.
Are you about to meet potential in-laws of a different culture? Here are three useful tips.
- Never follow popular opinion or rumor: don’t follow the crowd. When you think more seriously for yourself, you’re forging truer and sincerer convictions for yourself. And also — you’ll have a better chance at avoiding hysteria.
- If possible, talk to someone that has experienced what you’re facing. If they are trustworthy, then their account will give some good insight.
- Of the thirteen virtues in Ben Franklin’s book, ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack,’ virtue seven is very useful: “Use no hurtful deceit and think innocently and justly.” This’s only part of the quote, but it’s the meat of it. A great tip from good old Ben. Decent human beings want to be thought of as good people. What you think, will show. And you’ll be able to measure what a person is like, by how they react to your goodness.
There are many popular opinions about interracial marriage, and there are stories and rumors, good and bad. But it’s like anything else. You won’t know, until you experience it yourself.