It's my father's 70th birthday this week and this has made me reminisce and reflect on my relationship with a man who for a long time has been a stranger that I have shared a home with.
My memories of my father during my teenage years are of a man that ruled my life like a general in the army. A man who insisted that every evening I study for three hours. A man who made me tremble with fear when he walked the front door. A man who was never wrong.
One strange day, in my twenties, something unexpected happened - I looked at my father and saw a man with flaws. A man who made mistakes like me. A man who has had to compromise his dreams so he can provide for his family. This was a defining moment in our relationship; seeing the flaws in a man who for so long I viewed as a faultless being. A man, whose high expectations of me fuelled my insecurities, resulting in a strained relationship that has caused us both pain over the years. This was the moment that I decided to lay the foundations to build a bridge between two men who had let the streams of misunderstandings grow into a sea of resentment that had pushed them apart.
A father and son dynamic have common threads through the cultural spectrum. There are cases of fathers trying to shape their sons to be a more successful reflection of themselves. There are fathers who resent the presence of another man who monopolises the affection of the woman whose love was once solely theirs. There are fathers who embrace the gift of raising their child, leading them through life with the hand of friendship. There are also fathers who run away from the responsibility of raising another being as they themselves have yet to grow into the men they had once hoped to be. Somewhere in this spectrum is the Tamil father, who is faced with a challenge of raising his son in the cultural surroundings that are alien to him. A Tamil father whose relationship with his son is defined by his own strict upbringing - an upbringing that taught him that tough love is the only way to guide your son through the minefield of vices that threaten to derail his journey to manhood. While guiding his son through this journey, a Tamil father battles everyday to safeguard the perception of his son in the eyes of the Tamil community; a community that sometimes revels in the misfortune of others.
Somewhere along this journey, the son begins to pull his hand away from the tight grip of his father - he wants to run across the field of life on his own. He wants to fall, get up and fall again, knowing that his father is always there with his outstretched arms. But, hurt by his son’s desire to run on his own, the Tamil father folds his arms - thinking that he has lost his son forever. It is at this moment that they begin to drift apart.
A number of my friends have lost one or both of their parents in the last few years. I remember the unimaginable grief and their tear-drenched words at the funeral - the overwhelming regret of not making the most of their time together. I didn’t want that to be me. Many people say ‘life is too short’ and we should make the most of it. What I am more fearful of is an empty life; a life full of voids that I could have filled by saying the right words to the right people at the right time.
I am happy to say that I laid the foundations and built the bridge to cross the sea between my father and me. To my surprise, he decided to meet me half way.
Image source: dfw.com
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