Dolly is the recipient of these complex themes. In fact, each of these issues is intertwined and impact Dolly psychologically. Estrangement has been a theme in Dolly's family, due to (a) her parents' decision to move them to Singapore; (b) her parents' decision to educate the women; (c) her sister's decision to marry outside of the religion and culture. Although Dolly is not herself ostracized, she has internalized her sister's isolation from the family. Her sister was already feeling like an outsider due to their living in Singapore and receiving an education. They were different from their female cousins, many of whom were suspicious. Some of their cousins believed that education would corrupt them, removing them further from their Muslim roots. Others simply believed that being educated would make them automatically wealthy.
Being wealthier than his family placed Dolly's father under a great degree of stress. He passed on this stress to his wife and children, who rarely saw him due to how hard he was working to send money home. When he died, the family did not have enough money. Dolly's father could not save anything for the family because of how much he was sending to his own brothers and sisters and their sons and daughters. Dolly's father was feeding a family of 40 people. When he died, Dolly's mother became dependent on her sons to take care of her. The family struggled emotionally as well as financially during this time. Dolly vowed to become financially independent when she was older and was grateful that her father worked hard to put his children through school, supporting the education of his female as well as his male children.
Dolly dealt not only with the death of her father but also that of her uncle and grandmother. The three deaths occurred all in the same six months. Dolly can reframe her father's death, using the opportunity to contemplate his legacy, what he did for her, and also how his death signaled positive growth for the family.
While he was alive, Dolly's father straddled two worlds. One world was at home in the village with his large extended family, his many siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, and cousins. His life growing up was relatively simple. The family was poor but they counted on each other. Their family traditions gave them stability. Identity with their ethnic and religious faith also created family cohesiveness. However stable the family was, though, Dolly's father knew that change and growth were necessary.
Dolly's father took huge risks during the course of his life. Those risks now reverberate in Dolly's own life. The first risk was moving his family to Singapore. Because Dolly's mother did not receive much emotional or financial support from her family, it was relatively easy for her to leave. Women traditionally lived with their spouse's family, taking care of the mother-in-law and performing household chores. Dolly's mother was from an educated family, though. She welcomed the move to a modern city like Singapore and hoped to raise her children in an environment more tolerant of women's education and upward social mobility. Thankfully, Dolly's father shared the same values. Although their marriage was arranged, Dolly's parents loved each other. When Dolly's father died, her mother was devastated.
In Singapore, Dolly's father worked hard to earn more income and status. His work paid off, and he was able to not only support his growing family but also his extended family back in Malaysia. This showed how dedicated Dolly's father was to family traditions, even while he broke from them. He skillfully balanced past and future, custom and progress. Dolly has inherited her father's ability to respect tradition while moving forward. She and her siblings are open-minded, interested in making the world a better place for their own children and grandchildren.
Dolly's father worked hard even while knowing that one day he might die and leave his family with little to no life savings. When he did die, Dolly wondered if he knew how much of an impact he made on her and her sisters. Dolly would not be educated or able to work if it were not for her father. She might have been already assigned to an arranged marriage. In spite of the troubles that have befallen her disowned sister, Dolly values the contributions her father made to the females in the household. Dolly's father remained intensely traditional even while he was espousing progressive values.
Dolly uses the death of her father -- and also the deaths of her uncle and grandmother that took place the same year -- as a catalyst for growth. She can contemplate what her father envisioned when he encouraged his daughters to pursue careers instead of asking them to lead the traditional lives that his sisters and mother lived. She knows that her father risked isolating himself from his family so that she and her sisters could have human rights and liberties. Dolly also knows her father hoped that his children would retain some of their traditional values and heritage while they lived in the modern world.
Dolly will carry a piece of her father with her always. No matter who Dolly chooses to marry, she knows that her children will be afforded even more opportunities than she had because of what her father was willing to do. Like her father, Dolly can combine respect for her family's traditions with the promise of a better future. Her father was a pivotal figure in Dolly's life, and played a pivotal role in the family history. Before him, the females in the family were uneducated. After him, females in her family had access to education.
V. What Would I Change
Dolly's story asks us to think about how families can retain strong ties across geographic, generational, ideological, and cultural boundaries. How can estranged families like Dolly's rediscover their common ground or develop mutual respect? Perhaps more frequent visits to other family members might help. However, a traditional family like Dolly's is frequently intolerant of progress. Visiting might create more problems then it solves, reminding each side of their feelings of bitterness. It might be impossible for some family members to accept change. Dolly's sister might forever be disowned. Dolly and others like her must choose between repressive social norms and her family. The choice is not easy.
I would do exactly as Dolly's parents and siblings have whenever necessary, moving forward while respecting the past. Change requires courage, especially when it involves going against formidable family traditions. In this respect, Dolly's father has set a wonderful example for his children. All women have a right to education and equal opportunity. Tradition cannot be an excuse for social injustice. If there is any way that I can work to improve the lives of my children, I hope to take that step.
Similarly, marriages are partnerships of two equal individuals. The improved social status of women means that females have a right to choose when they get married, and whom they marry. I will remember how hard it was for Dolly's family to accept her sister's choice of marriage partner. We sometimes take for granted that we can marry whomever we want, but many people in the world do not have that chance. Treating a family member as if they were dead because the person married someone out of love seems like a travesty. I would encourage my children to marry for love and with love, and I will accept whomever my child decides to marry.
VI. Impact on Me as a Counselor
Modernization and social progress take their tolls on traditional families. Family members who refuse to change sometimes react vehemently to the younger generations' desire for progress. In worst-case scenarios, male family members have killed female family members because of their desire to lead lives equal to their male counterparts. Family members have been killed because they choose to marry out of their ethnic group or religion. I might never encounter extreme situations but will undoubtedly deal with parents who are upset with their children's decision to disobey their wishes -- or children hoping that their parents will become more open-minded. As a counselor I must view all situations with compassion, while encouraging clients to keep their principles in place. Multiple points-of-view offer valuable lessons for clients and also for counselors. A culturally sensitive counselor does not condone outmoded practices, but does not judge them either.
Some of Dolly's issues are universal and transcend culture. For example, Dolly experienced a series of deaths in her family. The psychic effect of death, especially of a parent, is mitigated only somewhat by her closeness with her siblings. Dolly has coped well with her father's death but keeps many of her strongest emotions to herself. She is expected to be strong. Another universal theme in Dolly's story is family estrangement. Families are torn apart by marriages that were not approved by parents, or by one member's upward social mobility. Such…