The Vauv Series: The Eldest Son
As the eldest son, the expectations are wide and far-reaching. There is an expectation to be an example to the younger siblings, as well as a father figure and a representation of the family. In this interview, we especially admired the boundaries that this vauv set with his wife on where they are able to help with.
1. What's your current age?
2. How older were you when you got married?
3. What birth order are you? Oldest, middle, or youngest son? Only son?
I am the oldest son of 10 sons and 3 daughters in my family.
4. How do you think your birth order affects the expectations of your parents of you and your wife?
Being the oldest, it has affected everything that I do. Growing up, I always had to watch the younger siblings. At every doctor's appointment, social work meeting or parent-teacher conference, I had to go and learn to be an interpreter for my parents.
Because of my schooling, my younger brother below me has taken that role, and has done a great job since he has been financially more stable and growing up, he was always getting in trouble so for those reasons, he was a lot closer with my parents.
After my mom passed away, my sister who is the third oldest in our family took over my mom's role in helping to financially support our younger siblings and everyone else in the family. She and my brother-in-law have been very helpful.
5. How did you meet your wife? Were you in love?
We first met a leadership retreat for college students. I didn't connect with her again until two years later. I would describe our relationship as "the best things happen unexpectedly." I was not really looking but then I found her. She had recently just finished college, and several people were interested in her, but then I came along.
6. Did you know your in-laws prior to meeting them? Did you get along with them?
I didn't know them until we started dating. We didn't know but it turns out that my mom is a distant aunt to my in-laws' family.
In the beginning, they always invited and called me to go kill cows and pigs, and then they realized how useless I am. Also, I had some health issues on and off.
I know they wished I would have known how to do more traditional stuff like helping at rituals, being able to chop meat, and helping them out sometimes at the farm.
I help in other ways. They always call us to go mourn as in-laws and help with money for relatives and families, and we always contribute what we can to celebrations, weddings, etc. We contribute in other ways since, with our jobs and kids, we can't help with our physical self.
7. What is your current relationship with your in-laws, including your wife's brothers and sisters?
I think we have a good relationship because they can always turn to us and ask for help. Both my wife and I work in the education field, and for some of my in-laws, theirs jobs are not as flexible or only part-time work.
8. Did your parents know your wife before you got married? Did they get along with her?
Since I was the oldest son, my parents expected me to get married younger but since I went to graduate school, they realized I may not get married until later. Most of my cousins my age were already married, many of them today have children who will be 18 soon. The first person I talk to about marriage was with my mom and she said it was okay that if I really wanted to marry her then just do it the traditional way and take her home.
9. Did you ask your in-laws to see if you could marry their daughter? If so, how did that go?
No, we did not ask but told them she would be leaving so they knew.
10. What are the expectations that you had prior to becoming a vauv? What did your parents teach you about being a vauv?
I think because of my community work and education, I am not a good vauv. I feel out of place at cultural rituals and funerals. I can't chop meat and don't enjoy it.
11. Was it what you expected? Why or why not?
It was hard at first because during the first couple of years of marriage. I was not able to get a stable job, it was hard going from graduate student to stay-at-home dad. I came across a lot of people during this time that did not understand how I could go through such changes.
12. What has been the biggest struggle for you?
My biggest struggle was for about 5 years; I was depressed and did not know how to ask for help. Being unemployed or under-employed at dead jobs, I sometimes felt ashamed and didn't want friends to know what I was doing. During this time, I was working odd jobs and mostly stay-at-home dad while my wife worked full-time and was completing her Master's degree so I was like a single parent with my two oldest kids for about two years.
13. Do you and your wife live with your parents? Would you move out? How would this affect your relationship with your parents?
We only live briefly with my parents and then we moved out on our due to her job. My second brother got married about two years before I did so my parents lived with him and my sister-in-law.
While we were living with my parents, my wife did get along with them. They saw that my wife was very reliable and she keeps me in check so my parents didn't have to worry. She always reminded me of what I should be doing or what my role was as the oldest son.
14. What are your parents' expectations of you?
My parents had a lot of expectations for me but during my struggle, they lose a lot of hope. My mom passed away less than a year after we got married so it was difficult for everyone including my dad. We drifted apart without my mom in our lives.
Since it's just my dad now for the past 12 years and it's just my youngest baby brother in his last year of high school, my dad doesn't worry so much.
I'm the oldest, but I hardly do anything with the clan family, and all the related events. I should, but I don't live close to my family, and even if I did, I can't attend the rituals or family events for multiple days. I have also never lived with all my cousins so it's not so strange to not be heavily involved.
15. If you could tell your parents how you really feel about the responsibilities put on you, what would you say?
It was hard growing up in poverty, and sometimes being ashamed of having to use food stamps and wear used clothes. I grew up not understanding a lot of these things and often felt I didn't really have a childhood. My family moved often across several states, following relatives and I didn't understand that as a kid. My dad often didn't explain or tell us; he would just say that we needed to follow our relatives.
16. Does your wife support you in your role as a vauv and/or father? And if so, how?
Yes, she supports me and reminds me of what I could do more or try to learn to be a good verve and father to our kids.
17. What kind of advice would you give to a younger vauv on how to navigate both his and her sides of the family?
My advice would be to respect them and they will respect you. Do what you can. Don't make promises or try to do things you can't because that will disappoint them more.
18. What is your view on what it is like to be a vauv versus a nyab?
Both carry different responsibilities and expectations. I think being able to wear different hats in different situations and being able to compromise is helpful to build a relationship with each other's family.
19. How do you think your parents treat your wife, and how does she think your parents treat her?
They treat her well because she is the second oldest and she is very dependable for them.
20. Do you feel like your wife is living up to your parents' expectations of her?
21. What will you expect of your sons someday?
I hope they will respect who they are and want to learn more about their culture and history. I will support them in what they want to do.
22. What will you expect of your daughters someday?
Same as above.
23. Any other last thoughts?
I would say that going through struggles sometimes can make you become a stronger person. During my struggle of depression and not being able to contribute to the family, it was very difficult. A lot of people gave up hope on me and even at times, I felt the same. But a part of me believed that I can eventually get back on my feet. About fives years later, I was able to get back on my feet and become who I used to be. I think I got sidetracked for a few years, but I think all tracks eventually lead back to the same road in life.