This is the life of a family who cares about what others think about them. The male protagonist is Doug and the female is Carol. They are both obsessed with the opinions of others. It is important to them. It is what they live for. They hang onto every word. That is the air they breathe. This obsession really took flight after their marriage. In fact, they met due to peer pressure. Friends in church told them they were made for each other like Adam and Eve. They flowed with their view and tied the knot after 4 months of courtship.
It was a record whirlwind romance for them. They just felt right. The wedding came and went like clockwork. They did little since most of the organization and coordination were done by friends and relatives. Even their honeymoon to Bali was influenced by friends. After 9 months, the inevitable happened. Doug and Carol had only one child. He is a boy and he grew up fast. Their marriage was not made in heaven but was built upon the opinions of many. Everybody had a say in how Doug and Carol should live their life. It was a democracy of near chaos at times.
Even the decision to have one child was arrived at on the insistence of the majority. For this reason, they constantly live with the morbid fear that they would not live up to the expectations of others. Sleepless nights were common because they were afraid of what others might think of them. They sacrificed privacy, autonomy and contentment for public affirmation and acceptance. They cannot imagine living in a world where they cannot please everybody.
It is said that those who live in a glass house should not cast the first stone. For Doug and Carol and their only son, they indeed lived in a glass house for full public viewing and judgment. And they were charitable masons who offered stones to the people to throw should they live below their collective expectation.
Over the years, a few stones had been cast their way when their son did not get the best nationwide grades for "O" and "A" levels. In fact, he scored a disappointing third in the entire school and a fortieth place nationwide. But the disappointment was already sealed because not all expectations of society were fulfilled. His best was never the best for them and by extension, his parents.
So their son lived his youth to regret everything he did. Even his admission to the U was marred by a personal score of second class upper that was just not good enough obviously. If a double first was a tad too much, at least a first class would be the minimum - so clamored the collective expectations.
Doug and Carol were in fact heartbroken. They were visibly crestfallen when they attended his convocation. Their son simply had not lived up to their expectations, which was based on the expectations of others. That day, they did not celebrate. They went home straight and had an early night. Carol was in tears and Doug kept to himself for three weeks. He did not speak to his son; not even a word of encouragement. If anything, his son was a marginal failure to them.
Then there were the career of Doug and Carol. It is said that much was given and much was expected. They were like the biblical stewards who had invested everything they had for a return that everybody could be proud or envious of. But life unexpectedly was not smooth for them. No doubt both Doug and Carol climbed up the career ladder without much hiccups. But they did not meet up to expectations.
Doug retired as a vice-president of a medium size trading firm and Carol retired as the head of department of a well known junior college. Both of them had been given awards and accolades for lifetime's business and educational achievements. They lived comfortably and had more than enough for themselves and their son and their son's children. Yet, they felt that they had missed the mark set by society at large. They agonized over lost opportunities and hoped bitterly that they could have done better, gone further, achieved more, and been more recognized.
They even blame their lack of focus and effort for being a marginal failure like their son. They piled up decades-long regrets into giant mental heaps and never enjoyed a night of peace and contentment. Even their prayers towards the end of their life were to ask for forgiveness for not being exemplary stewards and living up to expectations.
All in all, they felt like they had buried their talent in the ground to gather moss and earthworms. At their cremation - they died 4 months' apart - their son gave largely the same eulogy. It went something like this:
"Dad (and mom) lived his life for others. He aimed to never disappoint those who expected him to not disappoint them. My dad had little expectation of himself if not for the expectations others had on him. He strove to be the best he could be by the standards of the best of the best in society. Alas, he did not make it. His death is a testament of how he had fallen short. He had sadly missed the mark. There were some victories of course. But they were small consolatory victories. The big ones…he had missed them all.
Before he died, he told me to not live the way he did, that is, to consistently fail to live up to the expectations of others. I suspect that he also felt that I was a failure too...though marginally. This he had dutifully kept to himself. But his disappointments were obvious to me. It was unhidden in his glum look, his tolerant smile, his choleric mutters, his dispirited words of encouragement, and his weary countenance.
If the apple did not fall far from the family tree of disappointment, then I am afraid that I am going to end up like him. As the longest running CEO of a multinational pharmaceutical company, which has won worldwide acclaim, I don't think I measure up too. There are still lingering eyes of disapproval at the board and the world at large.
So, goodbye dad (and mom). I will miss you very much. I hope I have not disappointed you too much and driven you to your graves in the most subtle and unintended ways. I guess our collective hopes now rest with our descendants. Let's hope they will take up where we had failed and do us proud. Rest in peace dad (and mom). God knows that that was the one state of mind that had remained beyond your reach in your living years.
Thank you for coming my beloved guests. I hope the service tonight lives up to your expectations. Good night." Cheerz.