Last week in class we had a long conversation about Hanif Kureishi’s “My Son the Fanatic” and what it shows about religion and parenting.
The first time reading through the story we read about a boy, Ali, who begins to show a difference in attitude. His father, Parvez, was curious as to why these changes were happening so suddenly. Ali was throwing out his clothes, cleaning out his room, nothing a typical teenage boy would do. As the story progresses we learn that Ali had begun to practice Islam more seriously, praying five times a day, not eating pork etc. This causes consistent fighting between father and son. When Parvez tries to ask questions and understand where the new found love of religion came from, Ali uses the opportunity to insult and degrade his fathers lifestyle. Judging him for his prostitute, Bettina, and naming many of the wrong things Parvez has done wrong through Ali’s childhood. In one final fight Parvez got fed up and slapped Ali, the story finishing with the line, “So who’s the fanatic now” (118). Although theres many aspects to focus on throughout this text, our class really narrowed into the relationship and impact of Parvez and his parenting.
A lot of good questions were asked, one being what hurt Parvez more, the fact that his son did not follow in his footsteps as most sons do, or the criticism that he received on living his own life. The class had a variety of answers, really going into detail that being a parent comes with a lot of expectations and when those aren’t fulfilled there can be disappointment. We came to a mild conclusion that Parvez merely wanted the best life for his son, and when Ali expressed his disappointment Parvez felt like he failed as a parent. We also brought up the topic of who was right? Ali clearly has channeled a religion to express his beliefs and follows strict rules, where as Parvez lives his own life with his own rules. At first thought most of us believed it was Ali who was in the right with the notion that no religion is bad. As we looked further though we realized there was no effective communication between the father and son. Constant criticism and bashing did not lead to solutions, and only lead to the final outcome of violence. We came to the class conclusion that they were both in the wrong one way or another.
Although fictional and 30 years ago, “My Son the Fanatic” taught our class about the difficulties of parenting for both the child and parent. In addition it reminds us how important communication is, even for the most difficult of topics.