Last week was my father’s birthday. For the last couple of years, this time of year didn’t bring me any especial anguish. So I finally thought I was over it, that I was whole again. But this year, the scars tingled again.
There was so much about my father I didn’t like. So much I didn’t agree with. Often, I feel my life is less complicated, more peaceful because he’s not around.
But recently, I have been wondering what it might have been like if he was. Maybe he’d be enjoying retirement after a lifetime of work. Maybe he’d have learned to relax and have fun. Maybe he’d call me up once in a while, tell me about a book he’d just finished. Or ask me about my work and how I’m doing. Maybe he’d have been proud of me.
He’d come to visit. And drive us crazy. But also, maybe, sit with us talking into the night, of things that seem abstract and big: politics, society, art. After all, he was the first person I’d ever talked to about any of this.
I remember him having long conversations and debates about such stuff with friends or guests, when I was just a few years old. And I’d sit in a corner of the room, enthralled. He’d rarely ask me to go away. I remember his students coming home, arguing with him like equals, obviously enjoying his company. How proud he would have been if he knew that a student, probably his favorite student, had set up an award in his honor.
I learned from him that knowledge is important. That anyone, even your teacher, might be wrong. That it is right to question, to debate. That it is important to keep learning.
He was interested in things outside his narrow realm of studies. He was interested in art, in culture, in literature. My love of reading came merely because I grew up surrounded by books.
But he wasn’t very influenced by popular culture, and I inherited some of his disdain for it. I’ve never been to a movie with my dad. I’d never, till I was in the tenth standard, watched a popular movie within weeks of it being released. My classmates found my ignorance of movies appalling.
We had a VCR when it was rare for households to have one; we didn’t get cable TV till I was in college. I found this incomprehensible and unfair for years. Now, I sympathize. Isn’t it better to watch a carefully selected movie or two on a weekend than to watch hours of TV shows all week?
He was outspoken, my dad. Quick to speak up when he thought something was wrong. Unlikely to back down. I too grew up quick and ready to challenge. He wasn’t pleased when he was often the brunt of my challenges.
Unfortunately, I also inherited his stubbornness, his impatience, his neurotic worrying.
I like to emphasize my difference from my parents. To measure how far I’ve come from them.
But this Sunday morning, as I sit working on a piece of embroidery and listening to Hindustani classical music, I’m struck at how much I am my parents’ daughter.