If you had asked me before I lost my father on May 24, 2017 how I would cope, I would have said that I would be rudderless in life. He was my touchstone, and the conversations I had with him as a child, an adolescent and young adult were the mirror by which I came to know myself.
And yet I find, of course, that his voice has never left me. Almost a month later, I still think of him every time I close my eyes to pray and remember the things he taught me to pray for as a child – ‘vidya, buddhi, arogya’ (knowledge, intelligence and health). These were enough he’d say to overcome or achieve anything you faced or wanted in life. Amen to that!
My dad wasn’t perfect. No dad is, and some are more obviously flawed than others.
But on Father’s Day, we’re not just honoring particular dads, but also an ideal. For fatherhood is more than a category of relation, it is a description of a collection of virtues — we can all tell each other what a good father is: Someone who is loving, who is forgiving, who is guiding, who protects us and frees us to be our best selves, who helps equip us to pursue happy lives of our own.
I didn’t know exactly what to do this Father’s Day so today I did some of the things my dad loved to do including going to his favorite Ganapati temple and shopping for fresh fruits.
Normally, my dad also loved to go to Darshini restaurants, any of the several venerable South Indian fast food joints across every street in Bangalore.
Dad used to love the steaming Idlis dunked in piping hot sambar. It now seems strange to eat idli sambar without thinking of him.
Dad was a man of the Silent Generation. He wasn’t one for sentiment. He wasn’t much of a hugger. But he could be warm and generous when he wanted, and always did his bit when it came to sponsoring the education of a promising but needy child or feeding the old/poor.
He taught good values by example. Be prudent with your time and your money. Don’t lie. Be honorable in your dealings with other people. Be humble. Be kind.
Dad also tended to be a pessimist. “It’s all bad karma,” he would say every time he faced any hurdle before even looking at possible causes or solutions.
His common refrain during my teenage years: “Come back before 6 pm” – a curt warning that really meant, “Don’t do anything stupid and Don’t disappoint me.”
In the last few years since my mom’s passing, he phoned me often, sometimes only for two minutes, sometimes longer. “What’s for lunch?” he’d always ask. And off we’d go, talking about mom, recipes, family, work, travel or the headlines of the day.
A company secretary by trade, he spent a big part of his busy, long 42-year career working for a large government textile corporation. Anyone who knows anything about finance knows that all company secretaries are essentially the same.
They prefer money matters to matters of the heart. They’re most comfortable dealing with mutual funds than mutual friends.
They know what they know, and that’s all they really need – and they’ll happily tell you so.
Dad was like that, which could be frustrating at times. He was most at ease with crunching numbers. He loved the stock market. It was his dream that I either become a chartered accountant or company secretary. He begrudgingly accepted that that was not to be.
Every child wants his/her father’s acceptance, and I was no different. My dad’s grandest gesture of love was when he said, “I’m proud of you,” and I thought, “I’d rather he said, ‘I love you’, but this is probably the closest he’ll ever come to saying it.”
When the mortuary van took him away, it left a gigantic empty space where he’d been. His body was gone, but so was… everything else. It felt as if a piece of my heart was cut off and had been yanked away. It sometimes feels like everything I do is pointless because there’s no daddy to make proud. But I find solace in my belief that he’s lovingly watching over me.
So what does one do on a Father’s Day without a father? I’d say: Remember your dad. Don’t pretend the hole he left will ever be completely healed. Remember his death as well as his life, because that’s the memory that will make him most present, at least it does for me. Take your turn on the ridge, and do for your family and others what your dad would do for them.