Thirty years ago, I was born on a typically sunny South Carolinian morning. I grew up with many fond childhood memories, most that I took for granted, assuming this was how the world was. I thought my children would one day experience the same joys I experienced, not knowing that at the age of twenty-four I would marry a Brit and leave my beloved country behind to join our neighbors across the pond. At the time I thought of it as an adventure; I had never left the country before and this was my chance to try something new. When my son Jude was born on the snowiest day of November 2010 (the coldest in the UK for forty five years and already a complete contrast to my first days on this Earth), my wife and I immediately began to anxiously discuss his upbringing. That’s when the cultural wars started.
You see, having grown up in different countries, with different ways of life, we both wanted our son to grow up as we did. We were both lucky to have had secure upbringings, and we both had wanted a child before we even met each other. So the question was – US or UK? Did one of us have to forfeit to the other, or was there a way to, hopefully, integrate our two cultures so that Jude could get the best of both worlds? We’re still working on that, but we’re still together 2 ½ years on, so I guess we’re doing OK so far.
I have to reluctantly concede to a few things while living in the UK. For example, he’s going to pick up British terms and colloquialisms in school, but I can subconsciously engrain American words in there as well. Whoever heard of the “Hokey Cokey”? Jude knows it as the “Hokey POKEY” …much more civilized! I don’t know any child in England who has a “mema”; Jude does, just like I did. For those who are curious, “mema” is an endearing term for Grandma, originating from the southern states. To look at one of the biggest differences between how I grew up and how Jude will, we have to backtrack slightly to the day he was born. After the doctors cleaned him off and put him in my arms, I expected them to soon whisk him away for his circumcision. A few hours went by and I began to feel sorry for the little tike, thinking “why prolong it? Just get it over with.” Day two in the hospital and my wife finally tells me “It’s not something we really do here, unless you’re Jewish.” What? But… OK then. UK 1 US 0.
One of the major considerations that Kate and I discussed in raising Jude was holidays. This is probably the most important thing to consider for us as a family, because this is where Kate and I had the biggest differences growing up. Let’s start with the Fourth of July, the day we Americans celebrate our independence from England. No offence England, we just didn’t like your tea. For me, this was always a time to get together with family, have a BBQ and maybe roast some Smores on a campfire on the beach. For Jude, it will just be an excuse to go out to dinner or, weather permitting, have a small BBQ, but the significance will forever be lost on him. I can see his little mind working now: I’m American, I’m British – am I celebrating independence from myself? Thanksgiving is yet another holiday exempt from British culture – the closest holiday on the calendar would be Guy Fawkes Night. Jude gets to experience both, as I practically demand my turkey and cranberry sauce in November, but let’s face it – Mom and Dad inviting the grandparents around for a large meal is nice, but all of his friends will be involved in shooting fireworks and eating lots of toffee. Which one, from a child’s perspective, will have more influence? As a parent I’d like to see him enjoy both, and as his American Dad it will be my duty to tell the story of how the Pilgrims and Native Americans helped each other survive. At school I got to participate in plays depicting this – Jude won’t. Will it still have a significance for him? I hope so.
There are some major advantages, however, to a multi-cultural family. Children growing up with parents who speak different languages will grow up bilingual. For Jude this isn’t the case, as both of his parents speak English, apart from a few different words and terms. The biggest advantage for him lies with his dual nationality; with both a US and UK passport, this asset opens up half the world to him, which he can really take advantage of when he’s old enough to go to University. Speaking of world travel, Jude also has another major advantage over me when I was his age. Like most Americans, I never left my country until I was an adult; Jude had already visited five countries by the time he was two. Being so close to Europe will give him experience of world travel as he gets older, and open his eyes to cultures that even I haven’t experienced yet.
In truth, Jude is going to grow up with a multi-faceted way of thinking as both Kate and I will undoubtedly influence him in our own ways. There are positives and negatives in both cultures; nowhere on Earth is perfect. The thing that we, as parents, have to remember is that Jude isn’t us. He’s his own person who will grow up with his own likes and dislikes, making his own fond memories. All we can do is expose him to experiences from both sides of the Atlantic. But which team will he support in the World Cup?