We’ve all heard of the Catholic mantra that goes, “The family that prays together stays together.” There are a lot of people who believe this. To a great extent, I know that prayer makes people closer. It is a bonding experience.There are many other things that can bind and bond a family as well. We share many things in our family. But one special thing we have in common is we have all been tattooed.
Erica was the first one to get a tattoo at age 16. She was a rebellious teen. She got inked without telling us. We only found out when the Australian Embassy doctor who examined her for immigration sent her medical records to the house because Erica forgot to sign them. We found out that she had a butterfly tattoo on each side of her pelvis. When my wife told me about it. I was quite shocked and angry. People from my generation largely associated tattoos with criminals and lowlife. And here was my teen daughter who had not just one, but two tattoos.
As a parent who wanted to understand my kid’s generation, I tried to be a bit more liberal and told them that they could decide on such things as tattoos, tongue, ear and nose rings etc. when they reached age 18.
But while I was miffed at Erica for not waiting, I found it quite funny as I watched her squirm her way out of the situation. After she got her first tattoos, she had many more that followed soon after. I could not understand then how anyone of sound mind was willing to undergo body disfigurement, or want to permanently etch something on their bodies until I read Joseph Campbell’s explanation for body piercing and tattoos.
It basically goes back to our tribal past. We moderns have not really outgrown morphing our bodies and probably never will. Mutilation, like circumcision on a young boy, announces that he has metamorphosed into a man. He is “disfigured” during this passage to manhood so that when he returns to his mother, his mom will no longer recognize him as her “little boy.” He has transitioned to the next stage. It is a milestone just like when kids turn 15 and get their driver’s license, or have a debut at age 16, or vote for the first time.
They are rituals that assure us our place in the world and that we are part of the order in the society we inhabit. Tattoos serve the same purpose. The young person basically announces that he/she is no longer just a member of her family but is now part of another, bigger tribe. And they wear permanent decals on their bodies to proclaim it.
It is a ritual of separation and differentiation from family and childhood. It is both a breaking from the past, and a membership to something new.Erica’s short-sleeve tattoo on her right shoulder and arm was designed and drawn on paper by my other daughter, Ala.
When I saw it on Erica, I was quite impressed. I’ve never seen a more elegant tattoo on anyone else. Strangely enough, it looks so feminine and uniquely attractive. My daughter Ala got her tattoo at age 28. She designed and drew it herself.
Mio got his first one about nine years ago and intends to get more. He has had some done in the Philippines, a few in Australia and one in San Francisco. He has 10 tattoos at the moment.It was eight years ago when the kids gave their mom a tattoo for Christmas. They even accompanied her to Sin City, a tattoo parlor in our neighborhood.
Surely, it is not the type of gift that kids normally give their moms. But Lydia is not your regular, ordinary mom and my kids are nowhere near typical. She had Ala design a dragonfly tattoo.I was the only one left without a tattoo after she had hers.
In truth, I felt left out of my own family. After a few weeks, I asked Ala to design one that had meaning for me. If it was going to be permanent, I wanted it to reflect my love for music and Zen. I did not want to look through the usual catalogues that everyone looks through. I suggested to her a design featuring a guitar and a fox (symbol of Zen). I loved the way it turned out. I asked the tattoo artist to add a lotus flower and some greenery.
I’ve heard from many people who have been inked how addicting it is. My daughter Erica has 23 all over her body. She is not through yet. My son is also keen on getting more. I want a second one but I haven’t decided yet on what it will be. When I got inked, I actually had mixed feelings immediately after.
Knowing it would be there forever got me a little depressed. I thought I may have been too hasty in getting one at my age. But as days went by, I began to accept and like it. I felt it added a new dimension to me. People get inked for many reasons. They do it to immortalize a love, to remember an experience, to mark a threshold crossed, or maybe tell stories.
Writers N.R. Walker and Steven Cohen had this to say about getting inked: “Maybe that’s what I needed: another tattoo. Some pain on the outside to ease the pain on the inside.”
Even if there are lasers now that can have them removed, a tattoo is something you should not decide about on a whim since it is something that can stay with you for life if you want it. Think about it. Make sure it is a statement you can live with. Do it with love. Respect the human canvas you are wearing by filling it with things that mean something to you. And wear it with pride.