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My dad always argued that life is black or white but I believe that we all live in the greys. Emotions aren’t black and white. Not a single one of them. You don’t just love or hate anything. You live in the degrees that make up the greys – the tears no one talks about, the pain, the love that wrenches at you at the bottom of your heart, the time and regrets that you are not going to get back with those few who’ve mattered in making you who you are. Emotions are the roller-coaster ride that you take rushing from ten to seventeen. This post is about my father and what he meant to me.

Most fathers are a deeply quiet presence. A strong rock that you know will always be there for you in life no matter how far you go or how old you get. Dads are the unspoken shadow that follows you through life, making sure you get it all right. And then when you step out of the shadow, the sun’s too bright to take. The heat, you want to run away from. I feel shelter-less now. Open and vulnerable to all the elements life can throw at me. My shadow, my shade is gone forever. He isn’t around to yell, scream, smile, love or even get angry. I would settle for just angry.  He’s gone. To a better place perhaps. I didn’t want him to go. When it comes to people I love, I’m selfish. I want them around me forever. I want them close to me because life’s not worth living without them.

Growing up maybe, he wasn’t my favorite parent but like pooh says, “There is only one tiger”, there was only one Achan.

Every girl knows a father is her refuge, her last resort when everything else has not worked. He is the back-up you want when everyone pulls out the plugs. He knows how to fix stuff you wouldn’t go to mum for. He is the first man you see and every man who ever walks into your life after that has to live up to being him. It’s easier to never admit it to him but that’s a high yardstick to measure up to. Not all dads hold you and hug you the way mothers do. Dads have a gruff way of showing you how much they love you through their actions. They pat, nod their heads or smile at the really impressive stuff. And it takes a lot to impress them. If they throw in a laugh or a larger emotion, that was truly a special day. Overtime you notice what they do to love you and it stays with you. My dad sent me newspaper clippings of articles he collected and thought I would enjoy reading because I lived away from home in another city. Now, I find myself hunting them down for the little notes he wrote in the corners of each one of them.

It was a surreal four months when Achan got sick. Though he was never the center of my life, I guess this was life’s sneaky way of making sure he got enough Mali time too! It took three months and enough sleepless nights for me to finally believe he was perhaps on the mend. Fingers crossed he was gonna kick life’s butt a lot longer. I really believed that. Any other reality was just not an option for me.

I was always his first-born to everyone. There aren’t very many people who say it that way anymore. He was tough. He was hard, he hardly said I love you but he did love us in the little things he did, in his tough, hard way he loved us all. That’s the way dads show love, by doing things for you. He knew you did more for your kids by being tough with them than by pampering them into spoilt-brats. In the end, hearing him shout was a joy, anything to see him get stronger. It wasn’t easy loving him. But it got easier once I got older. I will always cherish the last two months and the time I had with him. I will also remember his last joke…. When my brother and I visited home for his second checkup, I asked him “What are the names of Amma’s three brothers?” And he said,” 1, 2,3.” All three of us were laughing – My brother, Achan and I. He knew he was being a smartass and he smiled at it.

There’s a sadness that comes with being strong all your life, you don’t like giving up. You don’t like feeling helpless. You don’t like being at the mercy of everyone else to do every little thing for you. That stubbornness to not listen and have your way is ingrained too deep. He was like that till the end.

What will I remember best about my father?

The last joke with my brother and Achan sitting in the front room.

The morning on April14th last year with mum and dad in the garden drinking our morning chai and reading the papers.

The way Achan cried when he listened to Bridge over Troubled Waters and how he sang along to Yesterday on my i-pad when we were in the hospital.

The way he said “be kind” when I lost my patience with him in the last few months when he stopped eating solid food. That went straight to the heart and stopped me in my tracks reminding me, “No matter whatever we were going through, it was harder on his side.”

He was never demanding, even when he got so sick. In fact he never told us when things started affecting his health and that perhaps was the most difficult thing to realize that we didn’t notice early enough. It’s not easy watching someone you love slip away. You want to fight, you want them to fight and not let go. Perhaps more so because, it’s your own failing that stares back at you in losing them. It’s not easy being helpless, finding yourself at the mercy of doctors who tell you what to do and if it’s right to move him or feed him or be tough with him. It’s not easy accepting that you don’t have all the answers and then at that crucial time when you are ready to trade in your soul because you want answers and any get-well-quick remedy, you can’t have it. Patience was never one of my strengths and it showed when I ended up fighting with the doctors the last time dad was in hospital because I didn’t see him recovering as fast as I thought he should have been doing. In his last hospital stay, all he wanted was peace. To rest mostly, speak if he felt like it, exercise if his strength was up to it. The physiotherapist was probably his least favorite person. He threw him out of home once. He didn’t want to be bothered much less exercise or walk and I didn’t give him that peace. I wanted him to get well, I was willing it with all my being. When we forced him to sit up in a chair for two or three hours he did it without complaining. What I will miss though is his talking. His stopping to communicate with us was the hardest thing to take. Not knowing what he was thinking or feeling was cruel. I don’t ever wish that on anyone. The only grace was he went peacefully. Without suffering I hope. And hopefully without pain. Mainly I pray he went knowing that we loved him very much because he deserved it. He was a good father. A tough one but good nonetheless. No one can teach me how to be tough better than my dad.

I always grew up thinking my boyfriend /husband better have the balls to stand up to my dad, look him in the eye, respect him for who he was, have a proper conversation with him and not shit in his pants because dad was difficult to handle. A few friends could do it. No boyfriend ever made it to see him.

My two biggest regrets in life? Not bringing him to Dubai for a holiday and not having him ride in my dream! He loved both – the fact the his daughter drove a car he had first seen during his college days in the States and that she lived in a city born of the desert. He thought Dubai was still mostly two roads in the desert and some buildings around the sand. I wanted to bring him here and knock his socks off. Dubai is a city of dreams. It’s made so many of mine come true and I never got to share that with him.

But on the upside, I got to say I love you a lot to him and kissed him to my heart’s content in the last few months. He is not going to walk me down the aisle now or scare the daylights out my kids ever. I had it all planned down to their summer holidays, one month a year with their terrifying grandfather so they would learn discipline in life. When I told Achan about this once, he just smiled. I hope he is in a happier, pain-free place watching over all of us. I love you a lot Achan. Always did even if I didn’t get to say it much. Maybe I do take after you after all!

The morning he died, I flew back home for his funeral. Watching the sun set over the clouds from the window of my plane seat, I found myself wondering if he was standing at the pearly gates right then giving St. Peter a hard time. If there are idiots up in heaven, he is going to cause a commotion up there. He never did have any patience with stupidity or nonsense. But he spent half his life giving back. Working for an NGO, traveling the outer reaches of rural projects in India and writing books on how the various NGO projects made lives better. He taught me how to question money being put to good use simply because too many bureaucrats drowned out the good before it got anywhere close to making a real difference.

Fathers are the ones you rebel most against growing up. They set boundaries, sometimes perhaps too many of them. I think dads should realize if you tell us not to do it, we tend to almost always go ahead and do it!! I think everyone should rebel a little bit, it helps build your character, adds a little backbone from when you get walloped for standing up for those idiotic teenage ideals that seemed like a matter of life and death at sixteen. But in better times, rebelling and everything that goes with it, brings you closer to your dad. Dads teach you to stand up for yourself. They teach you humility when shit doesn’t go your way because you are being pig-headed and egotistical about the very little that you seem to know. Ever notice that your father is the only one who insists you learn it the hard way? Mothers are made for comforting, they teach you different lessons. Your father teaches you how to live and work. Your mother teaches you how to love. But they both hold up your sky. So what do you do when one half of your sky disappears?

You spend hours crying silent tears because you feel like you didn’t tell him enough how much you loved him. You didn’t spend more time enjoying the races you watched together or show him a bit of your dream that you drive now. You didn’t really learn the guitar from him or how to write sheet music. But you understand now why being morally right and making enemies matters more than kissing up to people or staying in good books just to score points. Eminem said “You made enemies?Good! You must be doing something right with your life.” Fathers worry about teaching you how to be a man & when you get there by some miracle, you get treated as equals. We all grow up craving dads approval & moms love.

Dads never let go. Ever. They get out of the way and watch you drive your life. But if you crash, they are right there, standing next to you. Here’s to you Achan, hold up my sky a little longer. I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet. I’m sure you’ve got less pain to deal with in heaven so kick up less of a storm up there and rest. Just rest, read, play Bob Dylan’s guitar. But stay ever close. Because there is only one you and that took God an awful long time to craft. He made you special and I’m glad for those of us who got it, it was worth the ride. I couldn’t have picked a better dad!

Your first-born, who will always miss you more than the rest,

Mali

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