It's Personal, Travel

Whether he’s there or not

It’s Father’s Day. Right now I have the urge to post one of those cute pictures and appreciative statuses, but I’m going to hold off in favor of just a phone call. Aside from that, gratitude from me to my father, no matter how much it is owed, doesn’t flow that easily (must’ve picked that up from Mom).

That said, I’m feeling especially grateful towards my dad today. I am where he was at my age, in North India. But more than that, this is the first time I’ve had to navigate India myself, walk its streets, elbow past its people, get things done. Even though I’ve been to this country fives times before, it’s a much realer glimpse of what it was like to grow up and live here. Along with my usual sightseeing reasons, I came with some vague mission of understanding my ancestry–but I was thinking, you know, a couple centuries or millennia back, not just one generation back, not the people I know.

Seeing how difficult it is to get around here–moreover, how different it is from how I grew up–helps me to appreciate where the couple who ruled over my life, determined so many factors for me, came from. It doesn’t begin to make sense of some of their more annoying decisions, but perspective is helpful all the same.  I think this would apply whether or not I felt my dad was a good one or not. And I’m fully aware that some dads, like Darth Vader, are not so great. Obama had the disappeared and disconnected dad. One of my very good friends has explained to me working through the emotions as his dad, well, shows quite clearly he doesn’t care about his son. And over the last year I have heard countless stories about friends’ dads who cheated, left, etc., steadily reducing my faith in humanity, or at least half of it.

I don’t know why some dads do that, but having never been a dad, I guess I’m not in a place to understand. Regardless, what I do understand is that dads matter: just like moms, they shape our values, our goals, our insecurities, sometimes through the seemingly smallest of things. Exhibit A, a top comment on the NYT:

The cruelty and ridicule could have been expected from other kids, but my own family? My mother once took me shopping for clothes when the salesgirl blurted out, “You’re the most beautiful child I’ve ever seen.” (Yes, I had “such a pretty face, why don’t you slim down?”)

My mother laughingly scolded the salesgirl, telling her not to give me ideas about being beautiful since I was so fat.

The ensuing years were a constant frenzy to lose weight by artificial means, diet pills, diet camps, diet candy to expand your stomach, support groups, Atkins, etc. I have probably lost and regained a million pounds in the last 55 years.

(One could argue that that’s not a parent’s fault; no one would deny that it must have had an effect.) Moreover, there seems to be some special rule for dads. They’re supposed to be role models, to be guiding hands that make us responsible adults that can take care of ourselves–and when they don’t, the results appear to be catastrophic. If I had a dime for every time someone mentioned the lack of strong fathers in American households as the center of our social problems…

But at least individually, I don’t think the key to deriving success from your father is having a good father. If I chose to ignore everything my dad said and took him entirely for granted, I’d likely turn out to be a person of poor quality, putting it one way. On the other hand, the absence of a good dad doesn’t mean that a person is worth any less, nor does it mean that person is screwed in life. Taking the Obama example again,

“I miss my girls,” Obama said as tears welled up. “I don’t want to be the kind of father I had.” But after composing himself, he added, “I’ll work it out. I’ll be okay.”

At least from what we can see, the president has been around his daughters a lot, and has been an active presence in their lives, in sharp, sharp contrast to Barack Obama, Sr. If that’s not reason for “HOPE,” I don’t know what it is. You can say whatever you want about the president, but it’s difficult to argue he has not be successful as like, a human. The key development, I think, is understanding that your dad, whatever he did, had an impact, coming to grips with the role he has had in your life, and finally, most importantly, choosing how to reflect that in your life going forward.

Because it is your choice, and that could make for a happy Father’s Day.

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