Hey, Dad! It’s me. Of all the other things I thought I would write about, I never thought I would be writing about you.
For the most part of my life, I never had a clue of how dad’s love felt like. I didn’t have a “beautiful” childhood like most people do. Yet, in many ways, it was a lot better than the “unlucky” ones’. Although in certain areas you gave me a blueprint on how to raise a child, you also gave me clues on how not to raise one. Except until my 1st or 2nd grade in school, I never really liked you. But since the past few years, I’m able to empathize better and get a glimpse of why you did the things you used to. It’s probably because of the entrepreneurial journey I’ve set myself upon, that I realize how stressful, hard and emotionally exhaustive it is to build and run a business.
It’s no secret I used to love mom more because the results of her work were more readily visible while yours wasn’t. The purpose of her work (like preparing food for eg.,) was evident on a daily basis. My childish mind could understand that it was for ME she was doing it all for. But your work seemed to be always about YOU. I amaze myself of how juvenile that thinking was. I’ve often tried and tested you, gave you many chances hoping that at least THIS time, you’ll prove yourself “caring” for the family, but you didn’t. I guess the whole time I was applying the wrong tests that weren’t customized to test you.
I wonder how for over 44 years, you’ve been dutifully waking up at 5 a.m every morning although you’ve just slept at 12 or sometimes even 2 a.m the night before. You certainly had a lot of horsepower in you, I imagined. But it was also your natural affection for Industry along with a heartfelt hatred for sloth and a loathing for laziness. I still remember the bible verses you used to quote for supporting them. You always seemed highly confident and quite frankly, egoistic too. I guess that kind of ego results as a natural side-effect to people who’ve worked their way through life.
You never went vocal about your concern for us nor even remotely made us feel that you do indeed care for us. I realize now being a man myself, that sometimes we express concern in different ways than women do. Much unlike you, mom used to express often how tired she was from her work, but you never did. I never saw you venting out how hard your work was or how tired you were. Not even ONCE. Was it because life showed little compassion on you? You were only a teenager when you came to our hometown from your native village. You had to stop your education midway and abandon your dream of becoming a doctor. After all, what else could you have done? Your dad (My grandpa) lost his crops successively and your family found it hard to even afford their sustenance. Farmers’ lives are hard indeed. In the pursuit of providing food for everyone, they starve themselves!
You never gave us what we wanted may be because you were hardened by the fact that life didn’t give you what you wanted. I learned that we cannot always have it OUR way in life. You were always busy; always seemed so “unconcerned” about the family except when demanding discipline. You never took a day off in all your life nor took us for a vacation. Of course, how could you? Your choice of business demanded that level of time and dedication. You never bought us the clothes we wanted; you wanted us to know what it’s like to live with a single pair of clothing. You always propounded how fortunate we were. How comfortable our lives are when compared to your childhood and how grateful we ought to be for it. (Although I never felt so when I compared myself to my friends who had all the “goodies” despite being poorer). However, i had to go through a lot to realize that you were right; we are a fortunate lot indeed.
You compared us with the workforce in your business. You used to ask us to “EARN” our food. About how they have earned it but how I haven’t; because I failed to wake up at 5 A.M in my holidays; against my will, you woke us up and took to work along with you. Of course, the concept of “consent” was non-existent. What was said, needed to be done. No questions asked. Period. How much I used to curse you within myself for that. With mosquitoes swarming my boxer-clad legs, making chai stamping & dancing to try avoiding them biting me was a circus feat of its own. However, I ought to confess, sometimes I felt very embarrassed to wash the cups or clean the tables after they’re done. It made me realize very early the “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” and realize for myself the dignity of labor. I’d often be hyper-aware if any of my peers would watch me then and mock me later in class that day. It developed a great deal of emotional intelligence in me.
Knowing exactly what the workers go through when they work, allowed me to forgive them and often be less demanding.
At the end of the day, when handing over the wages, you’d purposefully ask me to do it. I used to wonder if that’s what a day’s worth of hard, laborious and mundane work would make- a hundred rupees (less than 2$). After which you’d look at me briefly- and your eyes seemed to ask “Do you now understand the value of a rupee?”
I never felt like you had my back, there was no reservation nor privilege of being the heir. In fact, at times I felt I had it even worse than the staff. Because they could take a holiday and escape from you while there wasn’t such a chance for me.
“Worker bees can leave, even the drones can fly away. The queen is their slave.”
— Fight Club
Isn’t it enough that I’m your son?! Do I have to earn my own food and sleep? None of my friends were earning theirs. So, why should I? Do I need to earn my way out of life? But yes, even if it was unintentional, I’m glad you taught me so, and even now I feel guilt in eating the bread of idleness. Somehow you gave me the impression that I would get nothing from you. You never made me feel comfortably complacent for my future.
I can’t tell you how much I’d need to thank you for making me feel that way.
It made me independent and self-reliant; to work hard instead of relying on your earnings/assets. I still remember how we were afraid of you almost all the time; it was like living with a boss, never with a “Dad” (whatever that feels like). We never had the courage to reply you back. Our throats dried up whenever you asked for an answer. We were afraid to talk or open up a conversation in your presence. Candid conversations turned silent at your entry. Like a bunch of 5th graders turning pin-drop silent at the arrival of the principal. You were just that. A hard schoolmaster at home.
I don’t remember asking you for anything, I couldn’t dare to ask. Mom was my ambassador for that. You toughened me up. You were a ruthless and strict disciplinarian with that authoritative and dictatorial tone of yours, you had your way at things. I amaze myself at how “hard-hearted” I’m becoming these days, how I’m becoming more like you! although I never WANTED to be.
Praise be to what hardens us. — Nietzsche.
You know what Dad, now even I feel guilty if I’ve lunch when I haven’t earned it through my work that particular day. I feel guilty if I sleep when haven’t earned it. You were always a hard taskmaster. There seemed to be no softness in you. You were always bold, I never saw you venting out your fear or insecurity. Just like you, at times I too catch myself being hard on myself. Oftentimes, I find it hard to forgive myself.
I learned — because of you, that the fruit of labor is sweet and that it needs to be earned, not inherited. I wonder what I’d be doing if you had given me all the comforts without ever knowing the value of a rupee earned out of a day’s hard work. Thanks to you, no matter how successful I’ll end up, for the rest of my life I’ll treat with the level of respect and dignity that blue collar jobs deserve. Because I can appreciate and understand how hard those jobs are.
The irony however is, now I wish your training was even harder. I wish you were even stricter. Because your military-like training made me simultaneously tougher and empathetic, because of which I can now relate to a lot of stuff most of my contemporaries and many of my seniors can’t.
Finally, I may never know if you did everything intentionally- to train me for life or if it luckily worked out for my good. But the fact that it ultimately did, was undeniably because of you.
Although it’s such an understatement — for all the things you did, and for all the things you didn’t, I just want to say,
Thank you !