An Ode To Fatherhood
An Ode To Fatherhood Sneha Nayak for Homegrown

An Ode to Fatherhood: What Motivates Me To Become The Person My Dad Couldn't Be

Memory is a funny thing. Has something similar ever happened to you where you are narrating a childhood story about how you and a group of friends once got into a scuffle with a bunch of rough men — you narrate with the most vivid of details but halfway through the story, you realize that you were never physically present at that moment of time at that particular scene. Everything you remember about that incident is the collective memory of your childhood friends who were present at that incident, and over the years, they have recounted that story so many times in familiar gatherings, that you don’t know when it has seeped into your unconscious and you have begun to physically associate yourself with that particular memory. Our minds often play such tricks on us. Memory, especially a childhood memory is like an unreliable narrator. All my memories with my father are along these similar lines of trickery, amnesia and wishful thinking.

Let me begin by sharing with you the most concrete memory I have about my father. The year was 2013. On a dark stormy August night when the petrichor was emanating from the rapidly drying grounds, my father passed away. When Ma shared the news with me, I felt a strange sense of emptiness inside — but it is hard to express grief for a man you hardly knew. That sense of emptiness was born and died that night. My mother never let me feel the absence of not having a parent as she has always been a woman with the strength of two. But it was that night that for the first time in my life that I can remember, I asked myself “Is Baba( which in Bengali, means Dad) really dead?” I remember this in particular because prior to his death, in conversations, both internal and with the world, I would refer to him by his first name. The idea of calling someone Baba - the sheer association with the word — the relation it connotates — has always been quite alien to me.

You see after I was born, my mother brought me straight from the hospital to my grandmother’s house and I have lived here ever since. The idea was to make sure that I did not grow up in the hostile surroundings of my father’s house. He never earned much and the little that he earned from his music was spent on hooch. No mother would want their son growing up seeing that. After all, a son’s biggest role model is his father. It was not just the financial incompetence but also his alcohol-induced rage issues that propelled my mother’s decision. I shall not delve into too many visceral details of the tumultuous life my mother had to endure before I was born. I shall leave it to your imagination. My grandmother described my father as “the gentlest man when he was sober and a beast when intoxicated” — a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde predicament.

Now, I shall step away from all the grim and painful times and don the more comfortable role of the unreliable narrator. Now, I can never tell whether my unconscious just conjured up these things or if it is the collective memories of my mother, grandmother, and all those who knew him. He would visit my grandmother’s house sometimes but that stopped when I turned ten. I remember his stylish black ambassador. For a man, who hardly earned a penny he dressed and carried himself quite flamboyantly, which at that age, I found quite amusing. I remember him playing Careless Whisper by George Michael on his Fender acoustic guitar. He had a wonderful gruff texture to his voice — similar to Tom Waits’s whiskey-soaked cigarette-huffing voice.

I remember once we had gone on a family trip, the only one ever, and it was the mountains. I can’t recall if it was Darjeeling, Himachal, or neither of the two. We had no money but my father managed to charm a hotel manager and convinced him to let us stay for free in exchange for him performing music every evening at the hotel’s lobby. Crazily enough, his plan worked and we received VIP treatment in a shady but comfortable hotel. He was a big fan of Ernest Hemingway and one evening when he had more alcohol than blood in his system, he asked me if I wanted to know what Hemingway did when he was young. I obviously said yes and then he encouraged me to urinate in public. Together, I remember peeing side by side with him as he sang a Lionel Richie song at the top of his voice. In retrospect, in a ridiculous, funny, unreliable and painful way, my memories of my father are something I cherish, especially after his death.

Lately, I have been putting a lot of thought into the idea of fatherhood. There are a lot of children from single-parent households, whom I know, who are averse to the idea of parenthood and by extension, marriage, because they have grown up seeing a failed marriage or an absent parent. Even though I come from a single-parent household, I do not think along those lines. I’ll tell you why. Have you heard how Indian parents often say “Back in our times, we had to struggle so much? This new generation does not struggle enough and that’s why they are such a wuss.” However, I see things in a different light. As someone who has grown up amidst tribulations, I will try my best to make sure that the next generation does not face it. Keeping that in mind, I want to redefine the idea of fatherhood for the next generation — totally different from the definition of fatherhood I have experienced.

It is probably because the experience of having a father has forever eluded me that I have put so much thought into it. I do not want my child to have clouded memories about me, scattered across the mind. If my child ever wants to learn an instrument, I shall take him to a good music teacher. They shall not have to remember me by just a song but by the countless albums and artists I will introduce to them or they will share with me. We will have jam and music-listening sessions. When they are old enough I will gift them a copy of The Old Man and the Sea instead of introducing Hemingway through indecent public behavior. My child will not have to be bullied for why their father never shows up for parent teacher meetings. They shall not have to learn how to play football from strangers (although that is a great learning experience) or chess from the internet. They shall not have to deal with the complications of adolescence on their own. They shall not have to keep mum when their peers are discussing how to celebrate Father's Day. Do you know that American cliche where the child has their first drink with their father? I can never be the child in that scenario but I sure can be that father.

Life is not a bed of roses. There will always be many who have it worse or better than you. I am and will always remain thankful for how life turned out for me or will in the near future. They say adversity makes hard men and I feel that to the core of my bones. But hardness is overrated and softness is underappreciated. Sometimes, all you want is to provide a good life for your child. After all, why not? Why should I not give back what I never got?

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