badge

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Switching roles with my father

Unedited version. Published in "Chicken Soup for the soul- Indian fathers"- 2010 titled "Not a Superman, but my hero still"


'What do you want - a girl or a boy?', asked the lady doctor from my father when  I was on my way into this world.
'I have a boy and am blessed with a girl too. So, this time I leave it to GOD'. And pop I came in this world into his arms. 'My elder daughter is special because she's my first child, my second child is special because he's a son and third one is special because she is the youngest', he said proudly looking at little me.


For me he has always been my superhero, the one who let us believe that we have a secure life while he took care of all the worries. My early childhood memories of my doting father is of a very confident, strong, daring, honest man with a heavy voice and some short temper. He has always been a man of authority like in any typical Indian family and we used to have goosebumps when he was in some bad mood.

The day I received my first salary as a software engineer, coincided with the day my father got his last from his job of 30 years as a Banker, 29th November, his birthday and the day he got retired. So, here I came to my room with new dreams, aspirations and a new beginning while my father came back home the same day with a composed mind and a new end.

He was the only enlightened mind in his family and a self made man. His job gave him the confidence that he can raise his family as he desired providing good education and good future to his kids, something which he heavily missed in his siblings. Our schools were the best in our small town and we three were considered the most decent kids in our locality and amongst our relatives. As the years passed my father's desires were fulfilled with my sister's masters in organic chemistry and her marriage to a good guy. My brother too became an engineer.

'What should I do with my salary papa? How do I transfer it to your account?', I asked my father over the phone. 'No need dear, keep it with you and enjoy there', he said with assurance. I really had fun of my life with that money and never bothered asking him again. I was in one of the best world class training campus enjoying my stay in seven star accommodation and spent the money wherever I wished. Our expensive education never allowed us to spend even a penny on anything other than absolutely necessary. So, I was basking even more in this new glory of being a self dependent earning girl, while my father was experiencing a new post-retirement life with a fractured leg from a small accident.

I visited parents after three months of my training on a leave and gifted my father a fine leather wallet and a Hyderabadi pearl set to my mother. My simple father who never had used a wallet in his life was quite amused at my choice. But as the days passed, I could see some change in his attitude or should I say it was hard to accept that my father now spent so much time staying completely at home. We all started giving him all sort of advice about what he could do next. His frequent irritation convinced all of us that he is not taking his retirement positively. His daughter is married in a good family, his son is also happily married and his youngest daughter too is having a good career ahead - that should make him proud instead of unhappy..., I started wondering. The childhood fear from his anger had transformed into frustration since the day we realised we were not kids any more. Things went on like this until one afternoon I had a fight with him over his depressive state. Being the youngest I was the pampered and stubborn child. So, unable to argue with me any further, my father became silent and retired to his room in agony. 

...I hate to be here and wish to go back to my new world..., I was painfully thinking, ...why is everything like this, why is there no peace yet..., I can't see him going berserk like this, I want to see him happy, ENJOYING life - now that everything is settled..., several thoughts were flying haphazardly in my mind. I engaged myself in a conversation with my mother to keep myself distracted from the fast moving thoughts. We discussed how difficult those days were when papa was the sole bread winner. How the months for us meant balancing school fees, bills and papa's salary. During the course of my conversation I started wondering about the present income of my father. It so appeared that since the construction of our house, my father was spending a substantial amount of money on our education and repaying the housing loan. The sole responsibilty had made him so vulnerable to decision making that he had not opted for pension in favour of some new government scheme that promised a large amount after retirement. His plans failed when the interest rates dropped and he was left with less than half of the amount he had hoped. I realized that apart from the savings for my marriage my father had very meagre sum left for his monthly expenses. Our responsibilities had left no time for him to plan some good investment or vocation for himself. My innocent mother confided to me that they were still in hand to mouth situation and their self respect never allowed them to ask money from their children.

'Keep it with you and enjoy there', my father's words echoed in my head. So much sacrifice for the kids!
I held together myself, went to my father's room where he was sleeping or pretended so. 'Papa', he is still angry like a wife, I thought amusingly. 'Papa', I called again sitting beside him. He opened and looked through his one eye and then sat making a face like a child. He looked down at the wallet I was holding in my hand. 'I know you won't take but please for my sake, take this', I said while keeping some money into his wallet. His eyes were wide with surprise and he looked at my smiling face. His face was speaking volumes, 'Oh dear, I am afraid. How'll I manage and provide your mother.'. He sobbed and hugged me. 'Sorry papa', I said calming him down.

Later in the evening we talked and this time I made sure I listened to him and so I understood the conflicts going inside my father's head. I also learned that we should never give up on our parents just like parents who never give up on their children. I saw him as a man who is walking on a path with no example to follow. For such a man he surely has achieved a lot, but that doesn't make him invincible. He can get afraid, he too can become nervous but he has to conceal it for he's the responsible one - the example for us to follow.

I loved my father always but this incident taught me that my father is not a superman. And it is okay. Our bond since then grew stronger and I feel good that he finds it relaxing opening his heart to his youngest child. It is like we simply switch our roles for some moments and I listen to him like a father. 

He always knows what I need. So it was no wonder that the same year he found and married me to a wonderful guy whose perfect match with me made me love my father even more. As for his personal achievement my father is still on his way to self discovery with the support of my mother but he no longer worries about his finance, thanks to the revival of the pension policy and his able son. And he still uses the same wallet, while I have taken the charge of gifting him a new one every time!