My Father Didn’t Dream of Hikikomori
Written by Sean C
Sean C : Born 1990 in a suburban neighborhood in California, USA. He lived as hikikomori from ages 16-19, then 23-24. He returned to school in 2013, enrolled as student at Berkeley (USA) in 2015, followed by postgraduate studies at Cambridge University (UK) in 2018. He plans to pursue a PhD back in the United States, with a focus on cultural studies.
After my parents’ divorce, I resented the time I had to spend with my dad. He didn’t have a nice computer, his television was old, and he wouldn’t let me play video-games for more than an hour. He didn’t understand that I was gradually collapsing in on myself, relying more and more on games and T.V. to distract myself from life, so he consistently tried to get me to ‘live’ in a different manner.
He planned road-trips for us to go fishing or hiking or snowboarding.
He enrolled me on sports teams and took me to batting cages. He gave me lectures and pep-talks about life and love and pursuing success. He also brought women and adult friends around his house for parties when my sisters and I stayed over, maybe because he was still trying to hang onto his old life, or maybe because he wanted to show us that he still had fire in his soul, and that if we were close to the flame, he might be able to endow us with some of it.
At any rate, once I began living as a hikikomori in my later teenage years, I was sick and tired of my dad’s attempts to make me into a man, so I stopped going to his house for the bi-weekly visits. I had a nice computer and could play all the games I wanted, so there was no longer any reason for me to see him. In my room at my mom’s house, I spent about twelve hours per day playing video-games.
I told my mom that I didn’t want to see my dad anymore, and since I was old enough, she consented. I think it must have been about three months that I didn’t see him at all. Finally, he came over to the house and asked me what I had been doing all that time. I lied and told him that I had been looking for a job and thinking about going back to school.
In the course of our conversation I let my gaming habit slip out by accident, and he asked how many hours per day I spent on it. I lied again and told him, ‘Maybe three or four.’ He responded with disbelief, ‘You can play video-games for four hours non-stop?’ I shrugged nonchalantly, ‘Sometimes. They are pretty addictive and fun.’ He shook his head and I could tell he was frustrated and disappointed.
But by that point, my dad had lost his power. In society’s eyes I was an adult, and the time for molding and shaping me in his image was over. He hadn’t brought up the son he wanted—the athlete, the self-confident and assertive man, the smiling and happy father-to-be fantasizing about his future wife and children—instead, I had turned into a depressed, overweight gaming addict who never left the bedroom.
In many ways I have never forgiven myself for failing to live up to the dreams my father instilled in me. I used to be angry at him for trying to get me to be a certain kind of person, for pushing me toward success and pressuring me to be a man of action. I thought that he was my enemy, someone who was trying to force me into a life I hated. But I see now that he was trying to teach me how to be my own person in a world that didn't owe me anything.
He must have realized subconsciously that if I invested everything into distraction—if I succumbed to addiction and mindless activity in my room all day long—that the outside world would be inherently terrifying, because it didn’t conform to the same predictable laws and easy instructions of computers.
He relied on what he had learned from own his father during the 1960s and 70s, about how to be a man and to find one’s place in the world, to teach me to do the same. I think there were certain things about it that had failed him, though. My dad is not entirely a traditional masculine type; he’s quite sensitive and compassionate, so I think he wanted to be more openminded with me. That was probably why he never resorted to physical force. He wanted me to understand his teachings of my own free will.
If you asked my dad today, ‘Is your son a hikikomori?’, he would certainly say no. Superficially speaking, he would be correct. I have technically ‘escaped’ the condition because I managed to go back to school and I do ‘participate’ in society as a result. My dad, knowing that once upon a time I couldn’t even leave my house, is happy to see my new path.
He still understands that he lost control of me many years ago, but now he can rest easier knowing that I am the ‘aspiring academic’, rather than the ‘hikikomori’. But in my mind, very little has changed. Despite being active according to society’s terms, there is a part of my mind which is still bound to the hikikomori way of being. I spend almost all of my time secluded in my room, but the difference now is that I have become aware of my father’s voice. I hear him speaking to me, urging me to get out of bed, to become the man he always wanted me to become.
Some may argue that for the hikikomori, the voice of the father is really just the voice of society, but to me they are independent. My dad never wanted me to be a blind conformist. It was his desire that I form my own identity, regardless of the status quo. He may have relied on traditional masculinity when I was younger, but that was just to give me a foundation, something I could use to grow.
That is why his voice remains so loud and so powerful today, after being a hikikomori for so many years. It was my father’s voice which originally pushed me toward an identity. I resisted it when I was young and tried to block it out, but to this day it is still his voice that urges me to carve out my own path. If it weren’t for my father I would most likely remain stuck in my room forever, no longer feeling pangs of consciousness, resigned to an abandonment of myself. At that point, I’m not sure what worth my life would have left.
...To the Japanese Version of This Article