“What’s your father?”, ERN asks.
“He’s not much of anything, actually. His primary vocation was drinking with friends and selling off family property so that he could continue drinking with friends”
I was laughing out loud when I typed that, proud of my clever wording and also wondering why I had never used the line before. It was hilarious in the way tragedies tend to be when you’ve given them enough time. Like grapes you crush under your feet that end up making you a little tipsy when you take a sip after ages.
I’ve never particularly liked my father. It could be because of this quality that I have where I try to hold everyone to the same standard. Other than the obvious action of co-creating me (to which I allocated zero brownie points due to aforesaid quality), I could never think of anything impressive about my father that gained my respect. On the other hand, there was ample that I did not care for.
When I think about my childhood, all the stark memories related to him have an undercurrent of negative emotions. One day, he came home very drunk during the day, poured kerosene on our living room floor and threatened to light the house on fire; my mom made me stay at a relative’s place that night, and I burned in humiliation in the knowledge that they knew what went on at home. Once when we visited a small general store that his friend owned, I saw him wink at me and grab a banana when the guy’s back was turned, and I was aghast at the token of dishonesty. I have heard him use casteist slurs and get into physical fights – the sort of thing all other men in our extended family were too sophisticated to do, in public at least. If you tried to set background music to a montage of me growing up, it’d be drowned in drunken fights, laments about mounting loans and the sound of my mother crying.
That being said, there isn’t any dearth in villaneous stories from his childhood – stuff he would recite with some level of smugness even. How he stole money from home and gifted toy pistols to all the boys in his class. How he failed a class on purpose because his friends were bound to fail as well. How he threw such a grand party for his wedding that he ended up with a huge debt that his uncle then had to pay off. I’ve often felt my father is the poster child for the misguided and prodigal youth from rich aristocratic families.
Of course, things are better now. Rather than anger or apathy, I feel sorry for the life he had – losing his mother and a brother very early on, being abandoned by his father to all intents and purposes, being brought up by a terrorising grandfather who never spared the stick – it certainly couldn’t have been easy. But that’s about all I can bring myself to feel – sadness for everything he has been through. Not anything remotely close to love.
I remember S showing me a drawing about inter-generational trauma that I could connect to. My grandmother’s death and grandfather’s subsequent partial abandonment probably has something to do with the bipolar disorder that my father and his sister share, and which, to some extent has percolated down to me. But that is not all that I’ve inherited from him either – there is the penchant for throwing money away, the blunt and undiplomatic comments that are often my undoing, the inadvertent spilling of secrets, the uncanny trust in people, and yes, putting friends before family. Things that weirdly I’ve also come to view with a certain smugness.
As I pen this, I can’t help wondering if I would have been a more sensitive person if my childhood had been different; if this brazen callousness is a second skin that developed to cover up the crude reality of my daily life. But I also wonder if holding him responsible for my shortcomings isn’t an escape on my part. After all, I have my share of happy memories as well.
Is there anyone who isn’t broken in one way or the other?
The last time I was home, Father wanted to cut off the main shoot of our rambuttan tree so that it would grow out closer to the ground, and it’d be easier to harvest the fruits. But Mom was worried that it might never flower or bear fruit again. Apparently that happens sometimes with pruning trees.
Maybe that’s how it is with broken people as well. Everyone learns to sprout and flourish from the chopped ends, and eventually showcase a heavy green canopy, but a few might forget how to truly flower, or may shy away from bearing fruit, for fear of being cut again for it.