Meeting my Father after 15 years

I belong to a dysfunctional family.

There are four members in my family – my father, mother, sister and me. The four of us live by ourselves, without the need/necessity to be with any of the others. We have found our own paths, and drifted as far away from Pangea as Iceland and Australia.

I lived in a boarding school for 10 years, and by myself for the next 15. As you might have guessed, family values have never been an essential part of my existence. Over the years, I have tried to analyse my life and see if it was better or worse without my family.

The pros far outweigh the cons.

For one, living independently shaped who I am today.

I was kicked out of the house by both of my separated parents. The teenage me was angry and resentful about it. But when I look back, I learned to scrape through, to hustle, to do odd jobs, and become an independent person. Everything I have achieved today are due to my own efforts – not my parents, friends, relatives, or God. And all this wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been inadvertently kicked out of the house by my parents.

Without the nagging, half-knowledge pressure that Indian parents masquerade as ‘affection’, I was free to choose the life I wanted for myself. I was answerable to nobody in the world, and my only consideration was my own interest. It’s been great!

The only con I can think of is the lack of empathy and compassion in my life. I believe that living with a family teaches you kindness and compassion. It teaches you how to talk, how to behave, how to empathise – skills that are nonexistent in me. I am as emotive as Arjun Rampal in Asambhav.

But be that as it may, I couldn’t have chosen any other way to have led my life. Somewhere down the line, my parents became side characters in my story. I knew they existed somewhere, and had general updates on their lives, but I wasn’t concerned too much about making peace with them.

Last year, wisdom-in-hindsight presented itself and waved to me.

I figured my parents were about 22-23 when they got married, clueless about love, life, marriage and kids. When I was that age, I used to masturbate five times a day. That was my level of emotional maturity, so why was I judging my parents with alien barometers?

I decided to get in touch with my parents. I began with my mother, and sailed through without too many worries. She has retired from her government job and found solace (I think!) at the ashram I grew up in.

But it was getting back with my father that had me on my toes.

I do not have too many memories of my father. I lived with him till I was about five years old, and then for a year in 2003. I remember him being efficient and emotional – those two words probably best describe the personality that I remember.

He was a boy from a village who came to the city with the proverbial 10 rupee note in his pocket. He got a job, got his brothers educated, got his nephews jobs, and spent his life being the village adarsh baalak.

I was away when most of the above happened, so my connection to him was through the letters he would write to me at school. They were all inspirational in nature, harping about how he knew I would make the nation proud one day (gotta start working on those weed legalisation measures!!). The letters were well-written, and the teacher usually read them out to the entire class. He was also the person who sparked an interest in reading, writing, and stories.

But there was also the fact that he possessed an extremely short temper, was abusive to people around him. That he ran away from our home when things got sticky, and married a girl decades younger than him, to start a family again.

On a personal level, he kicked me out of his house when I was 16. At an age when fathers are supposed to have matured discussions with their kids, my father mouthed unthinkable words and tossed me out on my own. Moreover, in the 16 years that followed, he never bothered to get in touch with me, or even ask for my number or address.

There were long-buried issues between us, and I was skeptical about facing them.

 

*

I have started a scholarship for my village school, and on that pretext, I called up my father.

He didn’t answer at first, and then called back a little while later. We got talking, and the only thing I felt from his voice was a sense of relief. Like he could tick off a long-pending item from his life’s to-do list.

I traveled with him to my paternal village to supervise the nitty-gritties of the scholarship. I was hoping to make a connection with him after all these years. Tell him what I’ve been doing with my life, describe my life as a writer, standup comedian, and journalist. Ask him what he’s been upto all these years.

Inspired by an Osho video that I’d watched, I was hoping my father would be less of a father, and more of a friend. That he would acknowledge that I have grown up, and that he doesn’t need to be the same person he was decades ago.

Unfortunately, I found that my father cannot stop playing the father.

He pretended like nothing had ever happened between the two of us, that it was all normal. I have always found the habit of Indian parents constantly monitoring their children’s lives suffocating. I don’t know why they do it. Perhaps it’s the only kind of parenting they are aware of. Perhaps they fear the neighbours would be offended if they let down their walls.

I found my father’s constant advising, guiding, cajoling and correcting to be excruciatingly frustrating. He gave out weird reasons for the last 15 years – ‘You were born on Ramnaavami. These 14 years were your vanvaas!’ Really? No they weren’t. The last 14 years were me busting my ass around, trying to stay afloat while you were frolicking about with a younger woman and experiencing the joys of being a father at the age of 45!!

I wanted to tell him that it was alright. That he could stop performing, that he could get off the stage now. The play had run its course, the cast had retired, even the theatre was crumbling. But I knew it would be of no use. I could see him flinch a little every time I expressed an opinion, as if he was scared I would burst out again, and vanish from his life.

 

*

I wanted to put up this post immediately upon my return.

But that Sunday coincided with Fathers Day – that fuckall Archies Greeting Cards day that we have all foolishly imbibed in our lives. All the posts on Fathers Day are so dumb, so demeaning, so insulting to fathers worldwide! It robs fathers of their agency, their right to have an opinion.

No! Your daddy is not the strongest in the world. No, he is not a superhero without a cape. Shut the fuck up, and let him be who he is. Such posts only add to the problem, by burdening fathers with the pressure of being Amitabh Bachhan in Baghban – of being the upright, selfless father.

Fathers are not extraordinary human beings who attained wisdom when children are born. If all it took was becoming a father, Osama bin Laden should have been the wisest person on earth. The dude fathered 25 children!

Fathers can be criticised, reasoned with, and spoken to as an equal. You didn’t choose to be born to someone – it just happened. Being proud of your parents is illogical and childish – like being proud of your country, language, or sun-sign.

*

I tried talking to my father. Explaining that I am 32 years old now, that I do not need to be told to brush my teeth. That nagging constantly is not love, it is annoying. It is encroaching upon my carefully-gardened personal space.

But I am pretty sure my father won’t get it.

And that is the sad part. I am not obliged to be nice to my parents, I don’t owe them anything. I grew up completely independent of their support, their backward ideas, their egos and their narrow-mindedness.

What I was hoping for, was to have a discussion. To catch up on life. But the pressure of being an Indian father does not permit him to stoop down from his high pedestal and meet me half-way.

There is no break from being a father. Which is probably why I do not see myself being a husband or father – it is method acting for decades at stretch!!

I still speak to my father over the phone these days. Generic shit like ‘go to bed early’, ‘work hard’, and other outdated lines that his father had told him. Being passed on to me like antique wisdom without any context. That is when I realised something that I was trying to wrap my head around for the longest time.

The greatest burden that fathers shoulder, is of being a father in the first place.

 

    *****

17 thoughts on “Meeting my Father after 15 years

  1. Arunima S

    Hi Ranjan
    It is very brave on your part to have chosen to write about this. So congratulations for being brave and open. I wish you healing. Please bura mat maan na ..lekin ye above 50 generation in India kabhi bhi sudhar nahi sakti. Yaar ye parents lecturing is so fucking boring – like it can cause death. My parents cared for me a lot in every which way , they still do but I was so mad when the lecturing started once I reached 12 ( specially from my father ) I left home when I was 15 years old- I cried and threw tantrums and fatigued my parents until relented to send me to boarding school. We send each other loving cards and gifts and are very cordial to each other on phone and I visit home only once in two years ( sometimes even less) !!!! And I am ecstatic with this arrangement!!!!! All of my friends and my exes have judged me very badly for this but what they do not understand is because I never listen to my parents , never ask for advice , because I live my life with beauty and freedom , my relationship with my parents is resentment -free . I can’t even in my wildest dreams even think of fulfilling anyone else’s dream except myself for my life . Thanks again for this courageous piece . Cheers

    Reply
  2. Nithin

    This story showed a very personal side of you Hriday, and you have penned it beautifully…all your emotions – confusion, sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration – really connected in equal measures. You have brought them out in a very graceful and touching yet humorous manner. The fact that you have not veered into pointless ranting, accusations or shaming territory shows how maturely have you handled this part of your life. That an article on such an intimate and serious topic could still bring a smile on the reader’s face tells how good a writer you are.

    I have always loved your writing and this bit really endeared you to me even more. Cheers to you man, keep writing, keep us amazed….

    Reply
  3. Pratik Gandhi

    I think this is one of the best blog you’ve written. Extremely personal and touching.

    I and my father talk, in monosyllables. It is different with my mother. I am not distant with them but I don’t have much to talk about. I guess they have TV in their lives and I have my own set of life. I am now a father to my 2 yr old son. I do play with him a lot and have taken over the role of a stereotype mother to basically break the stereotype and also more importantly because I like playing and doing things for my son. Reading your blog made me wonder will my son after or during his adolescence long for the same affection that I give him now, will we be the same again even after several several years or will it fade.
    I’d really want to break that void that father son duo have. I don’t wish to method act with my son, not now and certainly not later. I wish to be a good father and not so so regular father. Let’s hope I remember your blog years later. Thanks for writing this

    Reply
    1. Hriday Ranjan Post author

      The fact that you’re able to think about this is great in itself. I’m no expert of parenting or fatherhood. But perhaps as your kid grows, your fatherhood needs to morph into friendship. The traditional Indian mentality of ‘Beta jitna bhi bada ho jaaye, baap ke liye bachha hi rahega’, is a very problematic idea. Just my opinion. I’m sure you’ll make a great father. All the best. 🙂

      Reply
  4. asavari singh

    You are an amazing writer. You should totally have babies and spread the awesomeness. But the little critter will probably end up writing blogs about how you never showed him the light or reminded him to brush his teeth.

    Reply
  5. Pankaj

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
    They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

    But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
    Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

    Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
    Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

    – Philip Larkin, This Be The Verse

    The write-up was moving af. You’re a courageous man.

    Reply
  6. Sonali Chakrabarti

    I feel really sorry to hear this .

    I think you will make a great husband and a reallly chilled out father some day . Just ‘coz you exactly know how NOT to be an overbearing father.Not all fathers ARE nor FEEL to be pendantic assholes, some just are the greatest confidante,the rock of Gibraltar in their Childrens’ lives.

    Maybe you can show your father how to be a successful father?

    Reply
  7. Rashmi

    Looks like you already have your book !

    But you see, thats why you SHUD be a husband and / or a father – to break the cycle, to create your own definition of a father and a partner. I know it sounds like more gyan but there is a very strong context here. If one is abused (not saying you, I am saying generally..) we are wounded, irrevocably, but real healing happens when you move on and have relationships, despite the abuse. You grow not because of experiences, but despite those exps. My thought only. Wishing you peace and closure 🙂

    Reply
  8. Ni

    I am from a quintessential loving Hum Aapke Hain Kaun type of family. I have been trying for years to convince my parents that constant nagging is not love – it’s just annoying. And my sisters tell me – “you will miss all these after they are gone.”
    One, there is no guarantee that they will ‘go’ first. Two, I will miss lot of things, but definitely not miss nagging and interference – no one in their right mind will.

    Reply
  9. Shreenath

    Nice to finally hear or read your stories, which i last heard from you in 8th Std, winter holidays when we stayed together in Brindavan.

    Reply
  10. T.S.Rangarajan

    I think you have been unfortunate and perhaps an outlier statistically. You hit the nail when you said and I quote ” It teaches you how to talk, how to behave, how to empathise – skills that are nonexistent in me”. Even animals living in family groups display these qualities and what makes us human is these qualities. I was fortunate to have lived with my parents and also have them with me when I am already a grandfather myself. We have moved on from the restrictive influences of parents of older generations to modern kids who question whether they are being given the right diet at age 2 or 3. It would be interesting for you to imagine (and blog) how your life would have been different if you were with your parents like most of us do.

    Reply
  11. Jaspreet

    So true man…
    “Being proud of your parents is illogical and childish – like being proud of your country, language, or sun-sign.”
    Thanks for speaking your heart out. Just breathe…

    Reply
  12. jumbli

    The state of things will continue as long as Gandhi is worshipped as father of the nation. He sets the bar of backwardness high for all fathers of this nation to follow.

    Reply

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