Tough Love

I adored my father. Unfortunately, it was to his discredit that for a long time, I was the only one among the five of us who did.

It’s not a fact that surprises me though. As the youngest, I took liberties with him that others hadn’t dared to dream of, as to them, he came across as someone to fear, respect and obey. Somehow this was not what I saw in him and I felt quite free to question, challenge, rebel and demonstrate my love for him – all in equal measure. Looking back, he probably didn’t know what to make of me and just decided to go with the flow for his youngest child.

But he wasn’t without his annoyances, demands and dramas, and in this all five of us were of one mind. He could drive us up the wall with some of his set ideas on how things should be.

Clothes had to be folded a certain way and placed in the cupboards in a specific order. Bed sheets had to be changed to a schedule that bordered on military precision – as if we all lived in barracks and not in a home. The time to be back home after play time was 7 pm, not 7:01 or 7:02. If we were late by even a second, the whole apartment complex would know. He would bellow out the offender’s name is his insanely loud voice (something I have to my utter embarrassment inherited in good measure), silencing the entire building for a few seconds as everything caught their breath after what could only be described as an assault by a weapon of mass disruption.

He was borderline obsessed about keeping things back exactly where you took them from. Even a centimetre of deviation was not tolerated. He would go around the house muttering “a place for everything, and everything in its place”, all the while rearranging some object’s position which to us would look to be perfectly in place to begin with.

He never got involved in our studies or micro-managed our time table or study schedule, neither did he expect our mother to. It was simply not needed when your father sat you down when he deemed you were old enough for it, and say, “Your future is entirely in your hands. I am not going to go begging for a seat in college, or bribe anyone, or pay any big donations to universities just so you can study what you want to study. You put in the work. You get the required scores. Not me.” And he delivered this speech with a look that could combust your insides. None of us gave him a chance to be disappointed. It was simply not part of the brief and so it never entered our minds either.

He was big on tough love. If one of us tripped and fell and came home limping, he would roar at the daughter in violation of his rules (the limping rule, there wasn’t a rule for not falling), seemingly oblivious to the pain and tears (at least that’s how it looked to us!) and let loose a rant on how we needed to bear pain with dignity and not limp, but walk like we’re perfectly normal. Our first lesson in bearing pains in life without letting on.

He had no concept of praise, reward and recognition. Maybe it’s for the best that he never pursued a career in human resource management. If one of us was overwhelmed with a sense of self-accomplishment and went to share our triumph with him, he would hear us out and then look at us straight in the eye and go, “You have done your duty. Nothing more, nothing less.” In an age when the very idea of duty towards parents is increasingly getting to be alien, this one might be a hard one to understand. But at the time, we did. And we did our duty without complaint.

The one thing that resonated among all of us was that our father had very high expectations of all of us. And there lay the source of our motivation and drive. He never made us feel like girls were any less capable than boys. In an era where gender discrimination was rampant, he stood proudly with us and said to anyone who would listen that it was all the same to him, and his five girls were no less than five boys. And through his belief in our capabilities and his expectations that seemed sky high, we grew too. We became accomplished, strong, independent women.

His soft side was not often on display. But when it did come out, it left us in tears. It was those times when we realised just how much he loved his daughters. There were times I would be in pain, awake at night because I was too sick to go to sleep. And he would be awake too, sitting by my side and keeping me company through my pain. And he would say something that I have never ever forgotten, “I cannot take your pain, it is yours to bear and manage. There is no mechanism invented yet that lets me take your pain and bear it myself.”. He never wished he could take the pain away, rather he reinforced the bare and honest fact of life that physical pain was one thing that was impossible to share. It was our very own to bear and live through.

My father passed away almost eight years ago. But he still lives inside every one of us. And once in a way, one of us behaves exactly like he would have. To our utter consternation, we have discovered the bitter truth. We are no less annoying to the next generation that he was to us!

I guess we’re doing something right.


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