‘I am writing ‘10 life lessons I learnt from my father’ at Parentous.com‘
Parenting in the early ’60s was different from parenting today. Children in those days were seen and not heard. We had to trot out like angels, smile and greet everybody and then slowly melt into our rooms and keep out of the way of the grown ups.
Like all little girls I was crazy about my father and I like to think he was crazy about me. Growing up we were mostly round my mother because those were the days when gender roles were distinct and fathers were figures whom we had to be wary of ” I’ll tell your father when he comes home that…..” would be the familiar refrain of desperate mothers when children became hard to control. Fathers didn’t interfere with child rearing and housekeeping and mothers stayed away from matters of tax and government policy, a dichotomy I feel is sadly lacking today .
But despite the fact that my mother did most of the child rearing, there are some invaluable lessons I learnt from my dad.
- My dad brought us up to be fiercely independent. I remember getting annoyed with him for not taking us here and there as the other children were but then I also realised that this is how my brother and I became totally independent. We had to learn to do things by ourselves. I remember how mad I used to get when he’d tell me that I had to make my way to a friend’s house but now when I look back I realise that I can get to any place I want because I know I can do it. We had no telephone while growing up so I had to make sure that all my instincts of survival were sharpened so that I could look out for myself. I also learnt that there was nothing I couldn’t do.
- Life is an adventure – seek it. Coming from a very traditional, middle class background my father had a sense of adventure and he always encouraged us to look out of the window and think out of the box. We were encouraged to ask questions and actually given projects to do every holiday – learn how to swim, learn how to cycle, learn how to sew, learn about plants and animals, learn how to paint, learn how to take photographs and learn to think for ourselves.
- Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone – We both had that kinky sense of humour which my mother distinctly seemed to lack ( sorry mom but I seriously think you could never see the funny side of things). My father’s jokes would often be long and rambling but he knew how to tell a story and would keep us in splits with his caustic remarks about the people he met in the world. I used to look forward to his letters which came every week, full of funny anecdotes of people I never met.
- Be judicious in your remarks – My father has always been known as a jolly person a side which we never really saw at home. With his dark framed spectacles he always seemed stern and forbidding so we were quite careful with what we said. But somehow I always managed to ask him the wrong question at the wrong time which used to throw him in a rage. At that time I remember being scared but when I look back, I realise how foolish I was to ask him if we were lost when we were distinctly going round in circles in a strange town.
- Be bold and be brave – When I was in Class 3, my father allowed me to take our new slide projector to school for a “Show and Tell” class. Those were the days when gizmos like cameras were not very popular so I think it was extremely brave of him to risk an 8 year old with his special toy. But trust begets trust and my father was confident that I could use it properly and bring it back in one piece.
- Live life and enjoy it. In my parents’ house life was always one big party. My dad loved calling people home – infact he would always tell us how he met his long lost friend on the train or at a strange place far away – and we always had people come over for one thing or the other. And everything became reason to celebrate. If my father got a good posting, we celebrated, when we did well in school we celebrated and celebration meant having a good meal. In those days when eating out was not encouraged, my father would insist on taking us out at least once a month. My brother and I would be kitted out in our Sunday Best as he liked to call it and we were taken to the best restaurant in town. We were encouraged to try out cuisines which were unfamiliar and introduced to tastes that were strange. Above all we were encouraged to live life and enjoy it. Money, or the lack of it never bothered my father and he always lived life without penny pinching. While other fathers built bank accounts, my father taught my brother and me to enjoy life to the fullest. We had lots of toys while growing up, chocolates and cheeses which we could access, we could use his type writer, his camera and even his car.
- My mother was a teacher but I learnt how to think from my father. He was hugely creative and was always learning something new – He encouraged us to develop hobbies like stamp collecting, playing games, and skills like painting and singing. Once I complained to him about the short letters he used to send and he diligently cut up a sheet of paper into strips which he stuck together to make a nice looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong letter. He loved reading and I used to enjoy our weekly trips to the book shop to choose two paperbacks for each of us.
- One summer holiday my father came home on leave with an envelope which he had to hand over to a brother officer. I remember even now after all these years that the envelope was handed over but no one knew where it went. A few days later my father was told that it contained Rs.700, a princely amount indeed in the late ’60s. Yet my father made good the amount even though he was a mere carrier without the slightest fuss – saying that he should have checked things out before agreeing to do something. Since that day I have been wary of carrying parcels or doing odd jobs for strangers.
- Things always get done : When I look back at the way my father’s life unfolded, I discovered that things always get done. While he likes to think he is very organised and my mother likes to think he’s otherwise, I’ve somehow found that things always get done. Of course while things were going wrong he’d be anxious and frustrated, short tempered and testy but the one thing I’ve learnt from this is that there is a time for everything and things only happen when they are meant to. By and large my father’s never been one to worry, leaving that to my mother. He gives the impression of being messy and untidy but seems to have a system that works for him. When all else fails he shouts out to my mother and the job is done which proves his theory that somehow or the other things always get done!
- Tell it like it is – Tact was never one of my father’s virtues and he was known to be frank and often brusque. He never couched my fears of injections with silly little lies like ” oh it is just like a pinch” but tell me to look the needle squarely in the eye and face up to it! Sometimes this trait of his would discourage me especially when I used to go up expecting praise but this only taught me that life is not always about accolades and one can take criticism in one’s stride.