hi INDiA Copyright 2020
For most of my teenage years till young adulthood, my father and I had shared a relationship burdened by unmet expectations, unfamiliarity and emotional distance. What often confused me was the drastically different man our friends and family described, as compared to the person I experienced at home. As is common with most Indian dads, mine also preferred a relatively inaccessible demeanour within the confines of our house.
Growing Up Distant
This often left my young mind a tad concerned as well as disoriented. For he was also the man who accompanied my mother to all my PTMs, took interest in my hobbies and kept tabs on my accomplishments. While I appreciated him for all this, I still wasn’t able to get through to him emotionally, or so I felt. The inability of our relationship to enable a connection between us turned us into strangers.
I may have been 15 when my grades started slipping; after all I had just been introduced to the fantastic world of sports. My new found rebellion found a way to irk my father. Truth be told, I was just glad it elicited a reaction.
I seemed hell-bent on testing every boundary that had been set. From here onwards the rules of engagement had changed. For the next few years, my father and I constantly found most of our interactions, even innocuous conversations, regress into elaborate arguments and clashes.
By the time I reached college the gulf between my father and I had widened into a full blown cold war, we’d barely see each other since I preferred never being home. Winter was fast approaching, but not faster than the news of my grandfather’s demise.
I remember easing into an emotionally catatonic state as I entered my house. For most parts of my childhood my grandfather had been my primary caretaker, he witnessed my first words as well as my first steps. I’d often wondered how my father and grandfather could have been such polar opposites. I guess we really do try to avoid turning into our fathers.
My dad was standing in the corner, gathered in his emotions, a few feet away from my grandfather’s resting body. He made his way to me through the horde of people that surrounded him. With tears flowing rapidly, he hugged me.
I had never seen my father be vulnerable, let alone cry. My mind went from confused to conflicted to calm. As my eyes started to well up, I realized that our cold war had started to thaw.
Things Change, Sometimes For The Better
It was several years later, after my father had retired from his work, that him and I actually struck up a proper relationship. Ranging from politics to piety, we picked each other’s brains on everything under the sun.
It was on one of those nights where we bonded over a drink that I asked him,” Dad, why did you never show this side to you while I was growing up?”
He told me,” I always wanted to. But I felt that it was my responsibility to ensure you didn’t face the difficulties I did while growing up. We don’t come from a lot of money. So my priority was to ensure that you guys never went hungry. And you can now understand how stressful things get at work. I never wanted to bring the stress home, but I guess that was the price to pay, or so I thought. Also, emotions were not my forte back then. I was barely holding things together, and showing any of that to you… it just wouldn’t have been a good influence on you. Seems silly in hindsight, but it’s the truth.”
The man I saw cry that day may have been imperfect, but his tears made me realize that he was a man of his circumstances as well. A creation of his times. And unfortunately, times had been tougher back then, with crueller and harder demands.
In our attempts to view our fathers as all knowing, all powerful superheroes we forget that they were young immature humans at some point as well. Although I wish I didn’t have to wait 25 years to realize that my father could also be my best friend, but I’m glad the realization eventually dawned upon me.