The Dreaded Phone Call


The phone rings and its the call you dread as an uncle or older cousin. A desperate parent is on the other end asking for your help. Your teenage nephew/cousin wants to cut his hair. Can you please talk some sense into him.

This happened to me last week with my cousin and, I have to admit, I was woefully unprepared. While I’ve given lots of talks on Sikhi at Sikh camps and to non-Sikh audiences, I’ve never had to actually have this kind of discussion. One where I may be the determining factor in an individual’s major life decision.

But what could I offer that he hadn’t already heard? How could I change the mind of a guy that’s already decided? He’s grown up in a Sikh family, his entire family keeps their hair. He has lots of Sikh friends and lives in a Sikh part of town. He should have picked up Sikhi through osmosis, but he hasn’t.  

His parents have tried their best but working multiple jobs and struggling financially, putting food on the table has been their priority. And like many Punjabi Sikh parents, they’ve assumed that being surrounded by Sikh culture would be enough. So they’re shocked, betrayed, angered, hurt and deeply saddened when they’re son finally musters up enough courage to talk to them.
Like many others in his situation, I also suspect that Sikhi has largely been conveyed to my cousin through guilt or fear. Cut your hair and your Dad will beat you to death and your Mom will cry herself to death. So how do you teach Sikhi through love? How do you instill the self-confidence, comfort and belonging that comes with being in love with your Guru? How do you get someone to hold their dastaar-adorned head up with pride instead of hung in shame? I can see many parents struggling with this on a daily basis.

Where does gurparsad fit in? Maybe he’s just not in a position to receive the Guru’s blessing? At the same time, he’s never been exposed to things that helped me solidify my identity. He’s never read We Are Not Symbols or been to any Sikh retreats. He really doesn’t understand Gurbani nor is he very fluent in Punjabi.

So I haven’t talked to him yet. I’ll see him face to face over the holidays. I know that the first thing I will try to do is to listen; really listen without judgment. This must be tearing him up. But what else? How do I get him to postpone his decision long enough to consider other points of view?

Have you been in this situation? What do you suggest?

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