Each one of us experiences fatherhood through a unique lens and in a polarized world, the definition of the word is skewed in itself. It is largely a coalition of individual projections that incites emotions of joy and safety in some while also being a life-long wound for others. However in this confusing maze of parental ambivalence, my own father strived to paint a picture of fatherhood that did not conform to simplistic ideas of control, but was instead one that provided his daughter with a nuanced view of masculinity and the sheer ability to wonder.
It is rare to find fathers who are not burdened by the limiting ideas of manhood that command performative stoicism or ones that prefer to stick to the other extreme of performative vulnerability. Instead, I grew up with a father who showcased genuine strength in the face of hardship and also had the ability to build truly deep emotional connections with his children, hence providing a genuine understanding of safety and attachment for his daughter. All of this helped build the base of my current world view.
As words such as toxic masculinity gripped our public discourse, I became increasingly aware of how my own father broke away from the conventional mode and embraced a healthy alternative. I believe that he has played an integral role in forming my view of masculinity as a woman, as for most daughters their fathers are the first figures who shape their understanding of the same. He channelled a unique form of manhood that gave me the confidence of depending on him and also confiding in him. Never consumed by outdated ideas of unrelenting control and dominance or a complete disregard of traditional ideas, he showcased the reality of embracing healthy masculinity that made others seek him for guidance in times of uncertainty.
On revisiting the memories of my childhood I am reminded of the fact that it was my father who first introduced me to the world of storytelling, creativity and imagination; in the process sowing a seed for my lifelong love for narrating engaging tales through my chosen craft. My earliest memory could be traced back to the bedtime stories where younger me was provided the ability to envision myself as a victorious protagonist who went on adventurous escapades with her animal counterpart, ‘Appu’ the baby elephant. Each night I entered a fantastical world where our imaginations could run wild and where I could embrace a self confidence untethered by fear.
Furthermore he was the one to expose me to the fictional tales that have left an impending mark on my psyche. Through his dramatic readings of books such as ‘Kabuliwala’, ‘The Blue Umbrella’ or even the poem ‘Daffodils’, he instilled the streak of wonder and whimsy in me. Where fathers are expected to be mere power figures with little to no human connection with their children, he dared to form a relationship of shared curiosity. While my father easily fits the bill for a traditional man who provides for his family and showcases the expected virtues of fatherhood, he did not let these qualities limit him but instead embraced a wholesome relationship with his children that helped craft their future selves.
He was also the kind of father who gifted books such as ‘I am Malala’ to his teenage daughter, inscribed with inspiring messages of resilience. Motivating me to embrace a complete vision of femininity which could be both gentle and courageous, he raised a daughter who was aware of the hurdles that await her and instilled an understanding of the world around her. Furthermore, he raised a daughter who was not consumed by nihilism or contempt but with a fire to change the circumstances in the future.
He also gave his daughter an ability to build an understanding of the society and the men that inhabit it through contrarian perspectives. First by modelling a manhood that helps improve society and channels both strength and kindness, in addition to introducing me to a world where varying other forms of manhood also exist. He taught me that these should not be feared but rather be viewed as an extension of issues in society that could be improved via structural change.
On Father's Day, as we thank the various father figures in our lives I have taken this opportunity to revisit the very real impact of my own father. As someone who embraced his role as a vessel of change in society through the invaluable role of fatherhood.