My Dad Raised a Fire
This Father’s Day is very special for me. Many bloggers are writing great things about their dads on this day. I was also planning to write a post about Desi Dads but what happened day before yesterday just changed my life and the context of this post.
Two days ago I received a call from my uncle; he asked me how my dad was doing after his bypass surgery? He received the news from an aunt who was visiting my parents on that day. I went into initial shock because I spoke to mom a day earlier, she told me dad had been to his native village. He does that once month and she was cheerful as usual. I could not understand how it could happen to a 67 year old who never drank or smoked is active, slender, vegetarian who eats healthy and exercises both his mind and body regularly. How??
This time when I called her and demanded to speak to dad she asked me to cool down. All I could say in my most cold voice when and why. Very calmly she said it was an emergency and I did not want to worry you and your brother because you could do nothing nor can you come home at this time. I wonder what this woman is made of. Sheer Steel. She takes on so much without flinching. But this post is about Fathers…
Some of you have followed me here and there in the blog world and have seen my daddy critical comments and some of you exchange personal emails with know little more about the man I call dad. Who is this man? He is a good father and a lousy husband, very complex and very simple at the same time. He believes in Ekla Chalo Re… then he is also concerned about those faceless strangers called log.
His young widow mother and a widower uncle raised their four boys together in rural Punjab. Without any sisters or role models of intimate relationships he constructed his own ideas of gender, masculinity and femininity based on cultural stereotypes he observed. He left home at 17, joined forces and finished degree while working. Married a woman younger to him by 11 years, on one summer vacation he followed no cultural ritual or obligation just simple wedding with seven baaratis. A year later he had me, his happiness knew no bounds, first girl in seven generations. Two other women were born in 5th and 4th generation one died as a baby and other was killed during a family feud. Someone in the village ordered mine and his horoscope. The pundit went insane and never came back home. Pundit’s family and villagers say it was my father’s and my strong stars that made him insane. It is often thrown on my face when I am up in arms against something.
After my birth my young mother went through hard times with her health so he actually raised me, changing my diapers, preparing my feed on that kerosene pressure stove (he did not do that for my brother). When my mother was pregnant with my brother she was on bed rest. He would take me to his work those days there were no childcare alternatives available. He would bring interesting children’s books from library and then read them to me. He started taking me to English movies on Fridays and book exhibitions. If exhibition was in another state he would travel by himself or order books by mail. I still have my first set of Aesop’s Fables he ordered from Europe. With his limited salary he made sure I had Reader’s digest and Indian Express, I had most toys (He commits his tithe to rural schools by donating books to libraries and dictionaries to students). By 7, I was reading Reader’s Digest and newspaper. He would help me prepare the daily news that I read at the school assembly on Wednesdays and debates and speeches for inter school competitions. At 11, I heard him say to his friend “I treat my daughter like a son. She can do anything a boy can do.” I was the son that my fussy brother was not.
Things changed for me at puberty. I guess dad discovered “Oh no, she is a girl, a mere girl.” Our relationship became complicated. Now he wanted me to maintain a distance with him or talk to him through mom. He wanted me to exhibit lady like qualities, be unquestioning, obedient, good at domestic chores and soft spoken etc. I guess that was never going to happen and he had hard time accepting it. He wanted me to wear Salwar kameez to school (thank God not cover my head or wear hijab) even play field hockey in it. But mom would still buy me long skirts or stitch me middies.
My rebellion became a problem for my mother because he would hold her responsible for not being good enough to discipline me. He was trying to beat the “ideal desi woman” into me. Now we joke about that it was good my ears had good elasticity or I would be roaming around with elephant ears. Oh man, I had trouble written all over me, he wringed my ears pretty hard… Those years were total chaos he wanted me to fix the flat tires without anyone’s help but he also wanted me to be lady by seeking permission for every thing and not horse around. I was confused but I guess he was even more confused. He would ground me for every thing under the sun and at the same time gives me freedom to travel places that most women could not imagine. I guess it was my mother in the background turning the tide. She would say “Why can’t you agree to what he says and then silently do what you want to do. Why do you have to have a confrontation?” I thought it was manipulation but now I understand how for centuries women have used this survival technique and created a space to exhibit agency.
He would make me do push ups and pull ups and compete with boys who prepared for NDA but did not want me to talk to them. He would help me prepare and compete in debate competitions but did not want me to argue at home about anything he did or said. His best threat was “I’ll pull you from school and send you to the village.” He knew I dreaded it. This man I called Papa, is really a complex man.
With his meager salary he provided me with Brilliant Tutorials and Agarwal Classes but I almost flunked as I was pretty nervous and angry all the time. I was acting up and becoming my father. He was dealing with two strong women who were very different than the “ideal woman” image he had in his mind all these years. Mom owned a business and was making strong business decisions without asking him. At 17, he accused me of something that was totally outrageous based on the information his friend gave him. That broke the back of proverbial camel. I just stopped talking to him. I lived in his house, ate his food and wore the clothes he paid for but did not speak to him for three years. I would read something interesting and bookmark it and keep it on his table. He would do the same and mom would just go on with her work. Those years how much we wanted to speak to each other but our prides came in between.
At 19, just before I was to leave home for master’s program in another city he confronted me, “Aren’t you afraid of me I am your father?” I do not know where I got the courage from in a very calm voice I said “No, My father is up in the heaven he needed me to come to earth so he needed parents and he chose you. I’ll only be afraid of him not another human.” With that something changed within us for ever. We became different people. We were no longer the same father and daughter who locked horns on every thing under the sun. I was ready to leave for hostel he said, “Don’t ever travel in Salwar Kameez, always wear pants.” Each of us lost 8 lbs in a month. He would write me letters and sign your “worldly father.” It is not to say if all our problems went away but we had found some thing that would guide us through our differences. During this time he exposed me to Guru Nanak, Osho, Khalil Gibran, Sheikh Farid and other great sufi saints. I told him about Jagjit Singh. Together we sang Return to me…discussed foreign policy and human predicaments… He lit a fire in me that no water could ever put off even in the darkest times. We have our own private jokes that no one understands so we have to call each other in the middle of the night.
He says he never discriminated me against my brother. In a way he is right I went to the best Universities and got the best coaching etc. I am more travelled than my brother. Dad expected more from me. But his discrimination was so subtle that I cannot lay a finger on it like “call your brother “ji,” serve him if asks for water or anything etc. That really bugged me then, now no one cares.
My decision to marry outside caste and religion was hard on him. He was worried about my unborn children. My divorce was even harder on him. He did not know how to react. At one point he even said “You made your bed you need to lie on it.” It was my mom who stood by me through all that nonsense. But then I had an accident he came around and supported me through all this.
Last year his brother’s wife insisted that he get me married again. He asked me if I had anyone I wanted to be with or I would like to be married again. I asked him what does he wants the most for me. He said “I want you to be happy.” I said, “Dad you have your answer, I am happy, I don’t need anyone to make me happy.” He has never asked me again or pressured me for that unlike my other girl friends. Last year I told him I have decided not to be a biological parent. He told my brother and his wife to consider their daughter as mine. I guess it is little hard for him to believe a woman could choose not to be a parent.
Few years ago he told me he wants me to travel the world. He asked my brother and his wife not to rush home to see him and mom as they both are healthy. He insisted they should travel the world. He was sorry how he dragged us every summer to village to see his mother when we could have gone places. But he did take us to wonderful places when we were kids, Cherrapunji, Shilong, Kalimpong, Tawang Valley, Sikkim, Nepal, Mount Abu, Mysore, Salarjung to name a few.
We haven’t seen each other in five years. Recently we started talking on the Skype. Until two years ago he would say he wants to come and stay with me but I guess he sensed after my third rehab that it was not happening anytime soon so he has stopped saying that. It breaks my heart but that is my Karma for now. I am checking into a rehab soon again.
Few months ago he called to say “I love you and I am sorry for how I acted during your teen years. I should have had more patience” I asked him not to worry I am fine because he did the best with his given knowledge, resources and circumstance. But I was pretty upset because I wanted to hear that when I was 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. A (you met him here) told me to be happy because my dad said that many adult children around the world will never hear it from their fathers. Dad never misses an opportunity to say “I love you baby.” The other day we were talking I told him how my memory is returning in bits and pieces. I recall one time as a five year old I was riding in the school bus another kid bothered me, I told him that my dad will beat the crap out of him. He responded back that his dad was stronger than my dad. I refuted my “Dad has a hand this big (making a gesture may be 12”). I guess for a little kid his or her dad is a hero for me I guess at that time dad to me was Hulk. :)
To this dad said:
As a five year old it is, my daddy is the mightiest of all, then as a teenager and in twenties it is my daddy knows nothing and when daddy is gone it is “my daddy was the wisest of all.”
Yes indeed, he is the wisest for me as he raised a fire in me that none can put off.
I love you Papa. You rock. Speedy recovery.
Don’t waste time, pick up that phone and call your mum and dad to let them know how you feel. They are humans they did the best with what knowledge, resources and circumstances they had. Each dad is complex it is easier to remember the good or bad but it is equally important to remember he is a human too with all the flaws as any….