“Wait till your father gets home!” That grim uttering from my mother were the few that sparked real fear in my heart when I was young. I was a very difficult child. I was moody and uncommunicative, always wanting to stay in my shell and snapping at anyone who tried to coax me out. I was also a very fussy eater. It led to terrible, tiring confrontations with my mother, and it wasn’t surprising that sometimes she threw her hands up and let my disciplining be tackled by my father.
This was the time when the dictum, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ was in force. I got spanked a lot and my father’s hands were hard. He often used to threaten me about taking his belt off; he never hit me with his belt but just the sight of it on his trim waist used to give me palpitations! I was often locked up in a bathroom with threats of spiders jumping on me for my bad behaviour and I haven’t quite looked at spiders with a whole lot of love ever since!
Knowing his true soft nature now, I try hard to understand why he was so harsh to me at that young age, but I suspect that it was his ardent love for my mom and his anguish at seeing her frustration that made him resort to drastic measures. Perhaps they both believed that that was the only way to prevent me from becoming completely unmanageable later on.
My dad started looking human to me when I was a little older. I never used to be pressured to study for long hours because my father had strict instructions to my mom to let me be. “She only has one childhood,” he often used to say, “let her enjoy it!” He also used to tell me of his own experience of not even knowing the English alphabets until he was seven years old. He always stood first in class. When I started floundering in Math in high school, my dad took me in hand and, in very simple terms, showed me the beauty of numbers; I even started enjoying Calculus!
I will never forget the day when I started becoming careless in my tests and my grades started dipping just before a crucial Class X examination. He came to me, sat me down and in all seriousness stated, “Why don’t you want to do well? I expect you to have a brilliant career. I have never pressurized you, but the exam you are going to give counts a lot to which career you want to pursue next. You know, I have always believed that you are cleverer than your brother; but he does better because he is ready to put in a lot of hard work. Can’t you put in a little and excel, because I know you have it in you!” I never forgot his faith in me and I honored it by working hard for my exams after that.
I am like my father in so many ways. Both he and I were reclusive introverts who opened up after marrying our polar opposites. Physically too, I have his long, lanky build, though it is his daily regimen of exercise contributes to his still muscular build. He is now in his mid-seventies, but just ten years ago, he could have outpaced anyone from my generation. Who know; maybe he still can!
I remember as a child, I really wanted a dog for a long time. My mom was adamant with her refusal as she said it was a lot of work. I finally whittled it down to a parrot because I had seen one in my friend’s house. My mom shook her head and said that my father would never allow it. “He hates seeing anything caged,” she said. That statement stayed with me for a long time. At that time, it increased my love for Nature to know that my dad also had an understanding for wildlife, and later on, the statement morphed to something more.
When I was graduated high school with great marks, I again asked for a dog. This time, my dad relented, but with the strict condition that I was to clean up after it. “What happens if the dog wants to go potty at six in the morning,” I whispered apprehensively to my mom. She smiled, “Don’t you know your dad yet? He’ll probably be the one pampering and taking care of it the most! He just pretends to be strict but he’s a complete softie!” Later, even the dog knew that he had only to press his nose against my dad’s hands at the crack of dawn for him to bound up and take him for a nice, long walk!
When I got into a prestigious college that was also miles away from home (my commute used to be almost two hours each way), my mom was insistent on my being driven by our family driver in our car every day. I was completely opposed to this because it was my first taste of freedom to travel in public transport, and also, I knew that many students of the college was underprivileged and I hated the idea of arriving in a fancy chauffeur-driven car in front of them. I felt utter relief and delight to hear my dad jettison my mom’s idea for those very reasons!
When I was doing my PhD and friends were getting married left, right, and center, I started feeling apprehension about my parents getting anxious about my own marriage. I didn’t want to get married and I definitely did not want to get married to a stranger. Here is where my father showed me his ultimate open mindedness; “Don’t be in a hurry to marry,” he told me one day while we were sipping some tea together, “there are so many of my colleagues’ and friends’ children who got married, be it by their own choice or an arranged marriage, and then got divorced within a few years. I don’t want you to have that pain. One does not need to be married in order to be happy. And, I would like you to choose, if you decide to get married; it would be too painful for me to see you suffer if I made a mistake in choosing someone for you”.
In between these moments of brilliance, my dad would subvert to what I would describe as over-parenting. It would come to major verbal exchanges in the past; I now choose to think of his attitude as excessive concern that I not make mistakes, and he felt that giving advice liberally and at every instance would help me avoid that! 🙂
My dad was by no means a perfect parent; but then, which one of us is? Now, when I see him happily teaching his grandsons how to putt (my dad’s one of those ardent golf nuts), talking animatedly about investments with The Husband, or volunteering at a bazillion non-profit agencies, I feel privileged. I am blessed that he thought of me, not merely as a daughter, but as his child, for whom he did the very best that he could.