‘We don’t miss what we never had.’ I’ve heard that several times, and perhaps it’s true. Partially. There are some things which you never had, which down the years you wish you did, and you build up scenarios in your mind involving their presence, and inevitably, infinite possibilities open up. I have never known my father. He died of a rheumatic heart when I was two months old. In my maternal grandparents’ home, my uncles were my surrogate fathers, and though I probably did not get to experience the intimacy of a father-daughter relationship, their love was adequate to bolster me and make me feel secure enough to not feel like half an orphan. There were times though, in school, when I remember the pitiful glances of my peers, whenever the topic about fathers cropped up, and while I felt like a lesser mortal by virtue of the absence of a parent, in hindsight I do realise that it was all well meant. So, when my classmates got their report cards signed by their fathers, my mother signed mine. She was also the breadwinner, a single mother, holding up for the two of us.
It was much later, when I began to read and write and think about how life would have been had my father been alive that I began to miss him terribly.
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It’s incredible how we adapt to our lot, to what life doles out to us. As a child, my fatherless state did not bother me. I don’t remember mulling over it or being conscious of it all the time. That was the way it was. I had nothing to compare it with, though when I visited my friends’ houses, and met their fathers, there were times when I grew wistful, albeit momentarily. It was much later, when I began to read and write and think about how life would have been had my father been alive that I began to miss him terribly.
What would I have done differently? What might our conversations have been like? Which favourite books and authors would we have had in common? What would we have argued about? Would he have been liberal or strict? Would I have grown up to be the free-spirited rebel that I am? Or would I have submitted to authoritarian fathering? I had no clue. I could only conjecture. I played ‘what if’ in my head often, a fruitless game really, which provided the temporary succour that imagination offers. There were trying times when the void did feel like a physical ache. But then, moping over what is not to be never helped anyone, and yet I needed to have some picture of my flesh and blood father to get to know him a little in his absence.
I played ‘what if’ in my head often, a fruitless game really, which provided the temporary succour that imagination offers.
I began to talk to people. To my mother, my grandparents, to whoever would fill me in with details about him. I picked up the fragments—that he was a poet, a voracious reader, a connoisseur of the arts, that he was romantic and caring and meticulous, and fun-loving. Also, that he was as quick to temper as he was to cooling down later, a trait I know to be mine, and on which I have worked diligently. I pieced these bits of information—opinions, facts, and perhaps wishful thinking conjoined together to form a portrait. I keep adding to it, as and when someone remembers an anecdote about him, and it seems as if I know him a little now. I have come to terms with this absence just as one accepts the many other vacancies one grows up with.
I keep adding to it, as and when someone remembers an anecdote about him, and it seems as if I know him a little now. I have come to terms with this absence just as one accepts the many other vacancies one grows up with.
There is one undeniable truth though. He lives on in me. My body is a part of him, the blood that courses through my veins is a gift from him, and so are some of my genes. It feels both wonderful and strange at the same time. When I laugh and my mother remarks that I sound just like him, when I do something mad and my sedate mother shakes her head and attributes it to my father’s genes, I feel the connect. In the two-month period that we shared as father and child, what I hold most dear is the kiss he planted on my cheek, as he held me, sitting on the hospital bed, waiting for his surgery. Mother told me about it, probably to reassure me that he loved me. It’s obviously not a memory a two-month old infant can claim to have. It has been recreated by me, the precious, tender father-daughter moment, going on in my mind and my heart on a loop. It’s enough to move on. It has to be.
Archana Pai Kulkarni is a Journalist, Editor, Creative Writer and Blogger.
Feature Image Credit: Arleen Weise-Unsplash