Dilemmas: Caught between cultures

Tabbie's husband has gone ahead to set up home in Australia as the family is emigrating. But their 11-year-old daughter has landed an audition, two weeks after the rest of the family's departure, that might win her singing and dancing group a place in a London show. Tabbie, like her daughter, wants her to stay just for the audition and join them later. Her husband is furious and wants them all to come at the same time.
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No one emigrates lightly. To leave your home country for another, particularly one the other side of the world, is a huge and frightening step. And my guess is that Tabbie's pioneering husband, now he's sitting all on his own in the roasting outback, cooking his lonely boiled eggs and ironing his sad little shirts, is scared witless - terrified that he might have taken the wrong decision, that his family might suddenly let him down and not join him after all, that when they do come they won't like it. In other words, this is not the moment for one of his family to start wobbling in any way about joining him. Just the thought makes him feel let down, betrayed ... and, because chaps don't usually burst into floods of tears, furious. Tabbie's husband must feel as jumpy on hearing the news of his daughter's audition as a surgeon might if, during a six-hour operation on someone's heart, his assistant suddenly asked if he'd mind if he popped out to put some money in his meter. No, of course, it wouldn't take more than a couple of minutes, of course it's a perfectly reasonable request, but one could understand if, waving his scalpel in the air, the surgeon were to go red in the face and roar: "Not now!"

But Tabbie's reaction is understandable as well. It's not every day that a child gets offered a professional audition, and the parents could agree that whatever the outcome, the daughter would fly to Australia immediately afterwards. Were she forced to give up the audition, she might not only feel immensely resentful of her father but angry at the entire new country as well. Tabbie would argue that their daughter should be given every opportunity to exercise her talents, and that the chance of an audition is quite a big thing in itself. There's a huge difference between mucking about at school doing a song and dance routine, and performing for real. The professional audition itself would look good on her CV.

Tabbie's problem highlights her and her husband's very different roles, when his responsibility to the family as a unit conflicts with Tabbie's nurturing role as a mother. How on earth they can sort this one out is unimaginable - on a crackling line between England and Australia, when one is exhausted and the other bleary-eyed in the morning, when both are furiously defending their different roles hampered by the irritating time delay on the line that makes spontaneous speech impossible. But resolve it they must.

When I considered this problem initially I thought Tabbie's husband was being a real bullying stick-in-the-mud. In the back of my mind I thought that had Tabbie's son been offered a place on some junior rugby team his father's response would have been quite different. But I'm not so sure that the poor old pioneer wouldn't have felt even more betrayed if one of the blokes in his family wanted to linger behind. He would have gone spare with anxiety and rage.

And in the end, I'm not so sure that in this case it might be better to sacrifice the audition for Tabbie's husband's self-respect and the health of the family as a whole. Sure, Tabbie will resent him. But the alternative is that Tabbie's husband will resent the entire family. If his daughter stays behind, even if only for a couple of weeks, he might well cast an air of such fury and gloom when they all arrive that their new life, which should be aproached with excitement and enthusiasm, might well be blighted by anxiety and mistrust.

Go now, then try for 'Neighbours'

There is such a thing as a prior engagement. Your daughter's is with her family, an aeroplane, and her father who is eager to welcome you all to the new home he has prepared in Australia. His reaction doesn't surprise me at all but yours amazes me. It makes me wonder how you ever taught any of your children that tomorrow's Mars bar cannot be eaten tonight.

It is possible to sympathise with a child's enthusiasm without being over-indulgent. Of course, an unexpected success in the early stages of a competition appeals to an 11-year-old; but it does not sit well upon yourself. Maybe you are both seeking compensation for your husband's absence and your consequent lack of emotional security.

An "iffy" group appearance in a London show will do absolutely nothing for your daughter, at her age, in terms of career prospects. If she's really talented, tell her she might be auditioning for Neighbours in 2000. At the same time, examine seriously your own priorities which sound a bit dislocated to me. Instant gratification before long-term gain is no recipe for life.

A S Crocker

Bath

An actor's life can be wizard in Oz

Of course the girl must be allowed her big chance - otherwise she'll be understandably filled with resentment for years. But what happens after that, whether she wins or loses, should not be dictated by an obsession with the British stage.

I have lived in Australia for three decades, on and off. Theatre there can in some ways be better than British theatre - multi-cultural, more imaginative, with rather less "back-biting" (I'm told). And don't forget that theatre isn't everything: the quality of life, work and leisure is in many ways superior. And opportunities are usually wide open. So after the competition here, head for Oz. If the 11-year-old does have real talent, perhaps she'll soon be wowing them in the Sydney Opera House?

Len Clark

Uxbridge

The family's future comes first

I can empathise with the feelings of your daughter. Of course, an 11- year-old girl passionately wants to join her friends in the singing and dancing competition. She has little idea of what her future life in Australia will hold and I imagine that you will have to face antagonisms and possibly hysteria at being thwarted. However, surely the needs of the family come before a child's temporary upset.

Your husband has made a major commitment to his family's future life and I think it's vital that your daughter learns the value of family loyalties and support in spite of her reluctance to tear herself away from her friends at this moment.

There must be opportunities for a future actress in Australia. Could you not research these and present the information to your daughter?

Barbara D Owen

Porthcawl

Let the child's needs take centre stage

This is a typical example of a parent (a father in this case) putting their needs before their children's needs. How often are children consulted before their parents move house? Rank bad timing all around, so perhaps Tabbie and her husband can delay moving until their daughter is ready. Fat chance!

If Tabbie's daughter really wants to win the competition she must go for it. Such opportunities are infrequent and need to be seized. Depriving her of the chance to appear in the competition will inevitably cause sadness, anger and resentment.

Australia will still be there. What seems vital is to find a caring guardian who will take responsibility for the daughter for a minimum of two weeks. If this is impossible then I fear the daughter will need to let the opportunity go.Assuming a relative or friend can help, the daughter will be able to enter the competition. If her group loses she can fly out and join her parents. If they win, however, there's no turning back and she will need to stay on longer for her appearance in the London show.

Nicholas E Gough

Wiltshire

NEXT WEEK'S PROBLEM: A WIDOW'S LONGING

Dear Virginia,

I'm a middle-aged widow. My husband died several years ago and now I am engulfed by the loss of sex and physical cherishing.

During my happy marriage sex mattered very much to both of us. My rational self reminds me of the blessings and good things in my life: my loving, successful, grown-up children; my own stimulating and varied work; my fortunately still-growing circle of friends of both sexes and my lively social life. But my nightmares and dreams highlight my physical needs. What can I do? Unattached men of my age group are a protected species. I rarely meet them.

Yours sincerely, Angie

All comments are welcome. Everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features department, the 'Independent', 1 Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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