Of Fathers and their Sons……

There have been stories, poetry, movies and even advertisements galore about the special bond between a mother and her son, a mother and her daughter, a father and his daughter. There is however, very little said and talked about a relationship between a father and his son (at least not to the scale of the first three relationships).

Yesterday, 1st of June 2017, would have been the 70th birthday of my dad – Shankar Shetty. I used the word “would’ because he passed away in 2013. We have been celebrating his birthday and his life for the last 4 years without him actually being there with us. I thought I would pen down a few thoughts running in my mind for all these years after dad passed away. It would probably resonate with most sons out there when they try to think of their fathers and probably strengthen this bond for those who are still lucky enough to have their dads around them.

Dad owned a small bakery on Tilak road in Pune for more than 40 years. He had a promising job with the Indian Railways which he had to give-up considering grandma’s insistence on setting up a business and marrying off his sister. Grandma’s logic was that a salaried person would have limited financial means to address the task of getting his sister married whereas with a business there would be much better cash flow to deal with the expenses that come with an Indian wedding. Grandfather had passed away long ago and grandma was the matriarch of the house who had brought up the 2 kids on her own. Hence, dad had to comply with her wishes to let go of his job and start a business.

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Pic 1: An old pic of dad’s bakery on Tilak Road (apologies for the spotty pic)

Dad had barely completed his 12th standard, hence he did not have the luxury of formally completing his college education. However, he was a voracious reader who couldn’t do without reading the morning newspaper from the first page to the last page.  The bakery itself was on Tilak Road, diagonally opposite the famous Tilak Smarak Mandir and was named Regal Bakery. Now this area of Tilak Road is known for its highly educated residents who were mostly well to do and even their brand of Marathi (local language of the state of Maharashtra) was considered the most polished version of Marathi. Even though we belonged to a South Indian family, dad quickly picked up the lingo of the local residents and it was difficult for most people to believe that dad did not live in the same area due to his mastery of the language. From the very beginning, he had a flair for engaging with people – whether it was his customers at the bakery or friends who dropped in to check on him.

When he was about 12 years old, he was physically very weak and used to fall sick at the drop of the hat. It during that time that grandma asked dad to take up exercise seriously to lead a fitter life in the future. Dad started loving working out at the traditional gymnasiums in the old parts of the city. There wasn’t too much equipment there in those gyms, mostly a range of dumb-bells and weights. Very soon he picked up the tricks of the trade at the gym and by the time he was 18 years old, he had a well-built muscular body frame which was not just beefed up but also flexible at the same time due to dad’s love of kabaddi (traditional Indian sport). Dad in fact got so good at kabaddi that he played professionally for a couple of kabaddi clubs back in the day.

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Pic 2: Dad’s kabaddi team. He is in the centre (no surprises there 🙂 ) This pic is from 1978.

So here was this well-built, well-spoken and decently employed guy who had to throw it all away to fulfill the wishes of his mom and run a business. The bakery’s schedule was taxing – 7 AM to 1 PM and 4 PM to 11.30 PM. He just had a lunch break when grandma used to manage the bakery during those lean business hours. This continued all through the year without any weekly offs or vacations.

Pics 3,4 : Some random pics captured by dad’s friend who was a photographer. These are from early 1980s.

As years went by, dad could manage to marry off his sister and bear the expenses of the wedding with support from grandma who had some of her savings too. As time passed by, something extraordinary started happening at the bakery. Dad’s knack of connecting with people put them immediately at ease and many people who initially dropped in as customers eventually walked up to him just to have a casual word with him. There were a lot of schools and colleges in the neighborhood of the bakery. School and college kids who dropped in to have a quick snack at the bakery immediately fell in love with dad’s warm and amiable character. These kids shared their problems with dad who would give them his words of wisdom when they were stuck with something. This could either be a conflict with their parents, difficulty in coping up with the studies or typical heart-aches related to love affairsJ Dad always made these kids look beyond their current problem and enabled them to look at life in a larger perspective. There were numerous cases where kids who were contemplating suicide as a last resort to their woes, changed their outlook after speaking to dad and many years down the line came back to the bakery with their spouse and kids to seek dad’s blessings. Dad always told us that seeing a troubled life getting a second chance was one of the biggest rewards of his own life. Several other kids who didn’t have as many problems but loved talking to dad went on to become respected artists, actors, cops, politicians and businessmen but they never forgot to pay a visit to dad whenever they were around Tilak road. The most surprising element to me was when a lot of strong men from different parts of the city and were on the other side of law started dropping in to visit dad. I have personally witnessed on many occasions luxury cars stopping in front of our bakery and well-built men stepping out of such cars with heavy gold chains around their neck and the moment they climbed up the single step of our bakery, they would embrace dad with complete humility and love. The younger ones of the lot also bent down to touch his feet to seek his blessings – such was the respect that they had for this man who was not even a graduate, lower middle class in stature, had no political standing or an influential family behind him.

Pics 5,6,7 – Random pics of dad at the bakery with some of the college kids and mom by his side in one of the pics.

In my younger years until I was about 10, I never noticed all of this but as I started growing older, I noticed that my dad was not like the typical dad of most of my friends He didn’t just belong to us but to a larger community of people around him. Can you imagine what all his friends called him? He was lovingly known as “daddy” – nobody knows who called him by this name for the first time but it was not something that dad himself came up with. In fact, he told us that initially he hated it since it felt odd for men older than him calling him “daddy”J It was only later when the trend caught on and everyone around started calling him that, did he realize that this was a salutation born out of the love that these people had for him. It was not that easy for my siblings and me to understand this though. Imagine the dilemma running through 10-12 year olds when everyone around calls their father “daddy”. When we asked this question to mom, she said that we would understand in due course of time why he was known by that title.

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Pic 8 – One of the rare occasions where dad could attend a wedding of one of his friends’. He was the light and heart of every social gathering that he attended.

Regal Bakery over the years was almost like a landmark by itself around the Tilak Smarak area. People passing along Tilak Road on their cars, bikes or even the Pune Municipal Corporation buses shouted out “daddy” or simply “dad” and dad on his part simply raised his arm and waved to them as an acknowledgement to their callout. As we grew older, we understood what mom meant and we grew in awe of dad. My college (like my other two siblings) was S. P. College on Tilak road and we used to drop in at the bakery to catch-up with dad when we had the time. He was hardly seen at home considering that he had to leave the house at 6.30 AM and arrived home post-midnight when we were all asleep. During his afternoon break we were either at school or college. Hence, we looked forward to catching up with him at the bakery since that his was kingdom, that was his playground and as you would say in Hindi – that was his “karma-bhoomi”. He was in his element at the bakery – switching from chatting to long time customers to cracking jokes with the kids at college to providing serious advice to seasoned strongmen, cops, politicians alike. Due to his fitness that continued for many decades even after he stopped going to the gym, he had a very solid handshake. He always said that a handshake should display the character of a person – assertive and confident. He also learned a few tricks over the years to keep his customers/friends entertained. For example whenever someone came to the bakery to buy eggs, he would have the paper bag for the eggs in his left hand and throw the eggs from his right hand almost slamming the eggs in the paper bag but none of the eggs were damaged in the process – every single time! Then there was another favorite trick which the school and college kids simply loved. After paying for the stuff purchased at the bakery, when it was dad’s turn to return the loose change back to the kids – dad would flick the coins from his right hand to the ceiling of the shop and do this about 2-3 times when he would suddenly flip the coin from the right hand to the left hand and the kids would be left looking at the ceiling wondering where the coins disappearedJ He also had a guessing game with the kids and adults alike with the loose change. He would place the coins in either one of his hands and then hold both the hands in front of the kids/adults to have them guess which hand would have the coins. More than 99% of the times these kids/adults would choose wrongly and dad showed the coins in the hand other than the one chosen by these people. Dad later told me that he would use his guesstimate based on his understanding of each person, predict which hand they would go for and then place the coins in the other hand ahead of time. I am sure dad would have dealt some solid hands at the casino with such a sharp brain J but he always believed in sweating it out and earning the bread on the table through legitimate means. In fact, grandma used to tell us over the years that it’s a miracle that “your dad did not fall prey to negative side of being in the company of politicians, cops and strongmen” who visited him frequently. Small kids were entertained by his bulging biceps which he was able to wiggle at his command, much to the glee of the small kidsJ

This was our dad to the world.

Pics 9, 10 – Dad at some wedding functions in the family. Mom can also be seen in the pics. The child with mom was my younger brother Sameer.

How was he to his family? Even though we would get only limited face time with him due to his hectic work schedule, he was a very devoted father who wanted his kids to do well and an extremely supportive husband. As the eldest son in the family, dad had higher expectations from me as was the case with him being the elder sibling in the house. I got decent marks in school and he wanted me to do well at academics to not only be well-off myself but to also motivate my siblings (a sister and a brother).  Even though he did not have the opportunity to complete his formal education he wanted all his kids to complete their education and also pursue higher studies if we were interested. He never expected us to support him in managing the bakery even as age was catching up with him but he told us that devoting some time to the shop will not only teach us humility but make us street-smart in this dog-eat-dog world. So on Friday evenings, I would handle the bakery even when I had a day job and my work week would end by downing the shutters of the bakery at 11.30 PM. I felt good that my dad could enjoy at least those few hours in the comforts of the home watching his favorite game of cricket on TV or go on a walk with mom by his side. My younger brother also pitched in by handling the Sunday afternoon shift when he was old enough. After grandma could no longer manage the bakery due to her age, mom filled up the duty in the afternoon. So for several years as kids, we could either see either mom at home or dad. The only occasion when we could see both of them together was when there was a shutdown/curfew in the city due to some political unrest or some social disturbance. We cherished seeing mom and dad together at home but dad always fretted the loss in business during such days because the bakery was the only source of income for the family.

Dad’s only vice was that he was a chain-smoker. At different points in time, we tried weaning him off this habit but he said a puff of the cigarette was a stress reliever of sorts for him, having to run the bakery from morning to midnight. No amount of cajoling could get him off this habit. When either one of us at home were upset about something or dad had to scold us for something that we messed up, he would wrap his huge hardy hands around our face and tell us to not worry and force us to break into a smile. I still have very clear memory of his large, hardy, warm and smoky hands cupping my face whenever I broke down on such occasions only to see myself melting my own sorrow in his deep intense eyes. There was no chance in hell that anyone could stay rigid with this gesture of his or not feel moved by his powerful yet caring embrace.

Dad taught us the importance of humility when as a kid he had to face taunts from richer kids his age when they saw him dropping out of college to manage the bakery. Similarly, when I managed the bakery while in college and for a few years during my initial professional career, I was initially embarrassed at having to cater to customers who were my classmates in college or my colleagues at office who happened to drop in at the bakery by chance. That initial embarrassment turned into a sense pride when I started peeling off the fake sense of self-worth that I had not earned myself. Even before managing duties at the bakery dad asked me to help him with the samosas and wadas (fried Indian snacks) that my mom made at home to be delivered at the bakery early in the morning before I went off to school. So when other kids my age got up just to be in time for school, I had already delivered a consignment of samosas and wadas from our home to our bakery delivered on a cycle taken up on rent from a local bicycle shop. This dignity in labor and humility at work also helped me during the first two years after college when I went all over town on my office motor-bike to repair desktops and printers in dusty offices or homes, be it rain or shine. While most of my school and college friends were lucky to pursue higher studies or get a good job, I was out in the sun and rain toiling away as a computer hardware engineer with barely any salary to come by. But I held strong during those years with dad’s words of “this will also come to pass” ringing in my ears.

 

Dad was a great story-teller and used anecdotes and analogies to great effect to explain a point that he was making. He always told us to stand with the truth and do things the right way else even before others picked on our wrong-doings, he would take us to task for indulging in any sort of wrong-doings. He often told us that the only thing that he had earned in my life was a little bit of respect and he expected us kids to keep it that way and build on it to make it even better during the course of our respective lives as his kids. He always used to introduce me as the ‘smart, witty’ one from his lot of kids. This always made me feel a sense of pride but at the same time I had a deep sense of obligation towards fulfilling his expectations.

When we were kids, he always told us that the world as we knew it was changing and the traditional Indian concept of family was also changing. He told us that when we would grow up to be adults, he expected us to be independent and have our own place so that we would be able to chart out our own destiny without a sense of dependence on the family. Just like baby sparrows are required to leave their parents’ nest to find their own homes. So when I got married in 2005, he told me that it was time for me to be independent and even if we would be staying in a different place, the sense of family that we had would keep us together rather than staying together and running into the usual issues that every family faces when kids get married and have their own kids. In hindsight, it was a very difficult message for him to convey to me because the day when my wife and I moved out to our own flat, I got to know that dad had tears in his eyes for many hours looking at the room in the house that we had just vacated. This was the same man who wanted his son to be independent but at the end of the day, I was HIS son, HIS blood and skin even if my house was less than a kilometer from his house.

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Pic 11 – A random moment of dad captured by one of his friends

As my professional career started looking up, I wanted dad to take it easy with the bakery and enjoy the golden years of his life but dad would not have it that way. He said he didn’t want to be at home and stare at the TV the whole day, neither did he want to be part of a ‘senior citizen’s group’ and think of himself as old because he was always young in spirit (people that have met him will know exactly what I am talking about). He had a very clear prophecy for himself. He used to tell us “I don’t want to die an old, ragged man who has to struggle from the bed to the bathroom. I want to die while I am firm and done with all the responsibilities towards my families and seeing all my grand-kids. Death should be instant and not a saga of pain and suffering for myself or more importantly my family members” He repeated these lines to mom and us kids several times in later years.

It was a task by itself to have him join us for lunch or dinner at a restaurant. The first challenge was to have him stay away from the bakery for the time of the lunch or dinner and the second challenge was to not make him look at the prices of items on the menu. Most parents of his generation were of the same character. They had seen a life of hardships and they sacrificed their own pleasures of life for the betterment of their kids. The money spent over dining out could instead well be spent for the kids’ tuition fees. This is a big difference in attitude for the parents of dad’s generation and for the parents of our generation. As parents, we love our kids too but we don’t mind splurging on things that make ‘us’ happy as well. Not the same with our parents who always put their family/kids on the priority list all the time at the cost of their own happiness.

Around 2010, dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma which is a type of cancer. Even with the earth shattering news of this diagnosis, he was not shaken. In fact, as his family members, we were more in shock than the man himself. Even when it came to his multiple chemo sessions, he didn’t want to trouble his kids because he thought we would be busy with our work and went ahead with the chemo sessions on his own. I chased him several times to be with him for his chemo sessions but he kept saying all the time that he would let us know only if he would not be able to deal with those sessions on his own. As a result of the chemo, he lost the hair on his head but his spirit was intact. He continued going to the bakery even during those days. He responded to chemo very well and the doctors at the hospital where he was being treated were pleasantly surprised by his upbeat attitude. Dad was clean of the cancer after about 7-8 rounds of chemo and the doctors at the hospital maintained his medical file as a case study for other cancer patients to motivate them to recover faster from this dreaded disease. Dad was back at the bakery which he loved and the company of his friends which acted like oxygen for him.

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Pic 12 – Dad with my son Shuban during his cancer treatment days. That tattoo of the flying Hanuman was got by him when he was about 8 years old at a fun fair just for fun. Grandma had thrashed him nicely when she saw the tattoo on his forearm 🙂

Dad’s smoking came down after the cancer episode but even then he wasn’t ready to give up on the habit entirely. In November 2012, dad had a major lung infection due to his continued smoking habit. He tried to rub-off his labored breathing around that time as regular flu and was not willing to visit the doctor. Mom finally called me up to say that dad was not in a good condition and his breathing was extremely labored. I immediately dropped in at dad’s house and requested him to accompany me to the hospital. He was adamant that it was nothing serious and that he would be fine after a good night’s sleep. However, I was not going to give up so easy because I knew dad’s habit to not bring up any expenses to the family by visiting the doctor. After he was clean of the cancer he was supposed to do a screening for the cancer every six months to ensure that there was no relapse of the cancer. He tried to avoid even those screenings and I had to literally scold him like I would scold my kid to not take these screenings lightly. Eventually, he went to all these screenings with much reluctance and thankfully the relapse did not happen. So during this episode in November 2012 when he was acting stubborn, I had to tell him in no uncertain terms (of course out of love for him) that I would not move out of the house unless he would accompany me to the doctor. After sensing that I would not budge, he grudgingly accompanied me to the Sahyadri Hospital, Bibwewadi. I knew the doctors there and after conducting some tests on dad, they told me that if we had been late even by a few hours, dad would have lost his life. The oxygen levels in his lungs had dropped dramatically and very soon he would have lost his consciousness and fade away in that state. He was admitted to the ICU of the hospital and even there dad was grudgingly telling me that these were all tactics of the hospital to rip money from people. I couldn’t imagine what kind of metal people like my dad were made of. Imagine being admitted to the ICU would have scared the living daylights of the patient but here is this man who was not worried about his condition at all and was worried about burning a hole for his family. After a week at the hospital dad was discharged and he resumed his duties at the bakery in December.

As a family, we tried telling dad to take it easy with the bakery and also enjoy other family functions like weddings, birthdays in the family which he had missed all these years managing the bakery but he kept deflecting the topic and continued with his bakery duties regardless of the biting cold weather in Pune that year in December (that too without a sweater or a jacket).

My wife delivered our second child, a baby girl on 17th January 2013. Dad was overjoyed at the news and told me how beautiful my daughter was. 10 days later on 27th January 2013, dad passed on away on a Sunday with the same lung infection which he had faced a couple of months earlier. I last spoke to dad on the 25th of January in the evening. It was Muharram that Friday, 25th January and on my way back home from office I was caught up in a major traffic snarl due to the Muharram processions in the city. I reached home at 10 PM after about 2.5 hours of being stuck in traffic. When I reached home, Divya (my wife) informed me that she had called up dad at the bakery to know how many of his friends were coming for the naming ceremony of our daughter and that dad didn’t sound too well. I immediately called up dad and asked him how he was doing. He was sounding very labored in his speech and I told him that I was coming to the bakery to pick him up. Dad being dad said he was OK and he had a friend who would drop him home and he planned not wait until 11.30 PM that day to shut down the shutters of the bakery. He told me that he had learnt from Divya that I was caught up in a traffic jam and hence was late coming home so he didn’t want me to come down all the way again when a friend was offering to drop him home. Grudgingly, I kept the phone down and called him back after 15 mins to check if his friend had arrived and he said that the friend was here and he was downing the shutters of the bakery and he will be back home soon. Little, did we know that it was the last time Regal Bakery shutters would be pulled downL I called up mom to tell her that dad is coming home and he did not take my offer to pick him. Mom told me “you know that he is someone who doesn’t like to hassle his kids so it is OK since he has someone who will drop him home”. Next day, I was busy with some errands related to buying stuff for the new born child. Along the way, I called up mom and asked her how dad was doing. She said he was doing all right and was resting at home. I asked mom to call me back when dad was awake again. She called me in an hour and said that dad is awake now and handed over to phone to him. I asked dad how he felt and he said he was feeling better. I told him that I will come to fetch him and take him to the doctor just to ensure that everything is OK. Dad told me that he was feeling better and a good night’s sleep would do him well so let’s wait for a few more days. He told me not to hassle too much since I had a lot of preparations to do related to the naming ceremony. I insisted that I could manage the time and I just wanted to ensure that everything was OK with him. He said let’s take a call the next day (Sunday) and if he is not feeling well by then, he would come with me to the hospital. That decision to agree to his offer runs through my mind every single day even today. Next day was a Sunday and after I had my breakfast I was planning to visit dad when I got a call from mom who sounded desperate on the phone and asked me to rush to Sahyadri Hospital, Bibwewadi as soon as possible. Dad had lost consciousness and was being revived in the Casualty section. My heart missed a beat and I knew something was not right and I immediately rushed to the hospital. Upon reaching the hospital, I ran to the Casualty section. I saw mom sitting on the bench outside the casualty ward. My younger brother was inside the Casualty section and there I saw dad’s feet lying motionless on the bed while the on-duty doctors were using electric charges to revive him and he had an oxygen mask to his face with his eyes closed. I was still hoping against hope and I did not disturb the doctors who were doing their best. After about 10 mins of these earth shattering visuals, one of the doctors came to me and said that they are conducting the emergency procedures mandated in such situations and his last statement hit me hard. He said “we are trying our best and let’s hope for the best”. My mind kept telling me ‘Lets hope for the best?’ what the hell did he mean there? C’mon it cannot be that bad, you can’t be serious doctor! While all this was happening, I could see dad’s feet jostling with the electric charges that were being administered to him. Every time, I felt his feet moved because he was conscious again but that was not the case. After about 10 more minutes, the doctors came to me and said that dad is not responding and all the vital signs were showing a flat line. Hoping against hope, I asked the doctors once again to try and they said they have surpassed the normal screening time that they usually follow when declaring that the patient had not survived so there was nothing more left to be done.

I felt the roof over my head was pulled off and the sky was breaking upon me when I heard these comments. My brother and I trudged towards mom and broke the news to her. She was in a state of shock asking how this could have happened, that he had a full bowl of soup last night and had slept well through the night. It was only this morning when he had difficulty in breathing did they get him to hospital. At that moment, the grief was profoundly more than the reasoning of who could have done what to prevent this situation. I went back to the Casualty room and saw dad’s feet again reaching almost to the end of the bed. The same hardy feet which used to be usually dusty with all the time that he put on the bakery floor (he hated putting on slippers or shoes when in the bakery). I saw his face lying motionless with the nurse taking off the oxygen mask and pulling out all the sensors from his body. That hardened face which had aged over time, those wrinkles near the eyes which disappeared every time he used to smile at us with his gleaming eyes.

Even though I was 35 years when dad passed away, I felt like a child whose hands were suddenly separated from the warm grip of his dad’s hands. I remembered all my birthdays when I touched his feet and he pulled me up by my shoulders to embrace me in his bear hug as he wished me on my birthday. I was probably a bit taller than him as an adult but to him I was still his first child.

I remember the episode when I was just about a year old and mom was at her mother’s place in Mumbai and dad was missing me so much that he got me back to Pune holding me in his hands all through the train journey.

I remember being thrashed by him when I did some crazy things as a 10 year old kid (like walking on the terrace wall of a building which had 4 floors just because one of our friends had dared me to do it). I had won the bet but I was thrashed by him for doing this. I decided not to talk to him but he didn’t have the same hang-ups. Within an hour of that incident, he came to me and consoled me and explained to me that he had to be a ‘bad’ guy to his son for the love of his son. It took me a few days to understand what he meant there. In most homes, the father has to be the villain to stop the kids from watching too much TV, reprimand them for doing some really naughty things, ensure that they finish the food on the table etc. A father does this for the love of his children and for their betterment even if it means that he has to be the bad guy in the eyes of his kids.

Like every father and son, I had my disagreements with my father on several things but there was always this sense of respect and admiration for him which was not openly expressed by me to him. It was almost as if I was too shy to show that love and respect to him. Instead, I chose to be concerned about his visits to the doctor when he was ill, pleading with him to take days off and attend family functions, taking him out for lunch at a nice place and similar gestures which communicated the love and respect that I had for him indirectly. In hindsight, I realized that dad’s needs/expectations from me were really simple – he wanted me to me happy. His patent dialog to me anytime I sought his blessings was ‘Stay fresh and keep smiling’.

After I moved to my flat around 2009, I had arranged a surprise gathering of dad’s closest friends on his wedding anniversary. Only mom was informed of the plan but was requested to keep the plan secret. When dad and mom walked into the flat, dad was shocked to see his friends waiting for him in my flat. The next few hours that he spent with them were filled with laughter and the same old stories about famous people that these friends knew. At the end of this surprise, dad told me that this was the best gift ever that he had received in his life. It suddenly dawned upon me that all the material gifts that I had given him in the past – clothes, wrist-watches, shoes and the like came to naught as compared to the time that he could spend with people he loved. You can’t buy that happiness with money.

During dad’s cremation, many of his friends, customers at the bakery had gathered to pay their last respects to the man who was a landmark by himself on Tilak Road. I broke down in front of dad’s closest friends and I shared how as a son, I wanted him to enjoy his life in retirement but dad wanted to manage the bakery right up to the last day of his life. I felt I should have done more for him. To this one of dad’s friends had some remarkable words. He said “Siddharth, your dad was never born to be retired. He planned his death exactly how he wanted, be at peace that he passed away without being a burden on his family and there was no pain in the final moments. There is nothing that anyone could have done to prevent this so don’t try to go back in time.” The best comment came at the end. This gentleman finally concluded saying “The best tribute that you can pay your dad is to be a good father to your children. It is only when your children realize how lucky they are to have you as their father will they realize the values that their grandfather had instilled in their father. Your actions towards your family and especially your kids are the best tribute to your father” I felt a sense of closure when I heard these words. There is still a way how I can be my father’s son by being a good father to my kids.

A lot of the ex-students at S. P. College shared with our family how dad used to sometimes lend them soft loans to pay for their fees since they came from poor homes. Dad never even shared these things to us. He also offered stuff to eat at the bakery for kids who didn’t have the cash with them, asking them to pay off this debt later. Of course, that ‘later’ never came and even dad never pursued such loans of kindness.

Mom told me during the 13th day ceremony after dad’s passing away, that dad probably would have left us in November 2012 itself when he had the same lung infection and was hospitalized upon my insistence. According to her, probably he wanted to see the last of his grandkids (my daughter) being born before he left this world. Hence, he borrowed a couple of extra months just to be able to see my daughter.

I can go for many more pages but I guess there has to be a hard stop at some point to this personal experience sharing. Hence, I will summarize:

If you are lucky enough as a son to still have your dad around in this world:

  • Try to be close to him wherever possible. He will probably want to act strong and push you away from you to make you feel that he is OK on his own but probably in his heart he is pining for you to tell him “Dad, let me be with you”
  • Don’t lose an opportunity to tell him how much you love him and look up to him
  • Don’t forget to be grateful to him in the company of your friends and his friends for all that he has done for you
  • Rather than material gifts try to think of experiences that will make him happy, like a family reunion, time-out with the grandkids, have him enjoy the food he likes in your company, spending the whole day with him, going on walks with him etc.
  • Keep taking feedback from him. Every father loves it when his son counts on him to give honest feedback about work and life in general

If as a son, you do not have your dad around you:

  • Be the embodiment of all his good values
  • Be the best father that you can for your kids which doesn’t mean just making the kids happy but also being the occasional ‘villain’ that you need to be in the house to reprimand wrong behavior. A spoilt child who misbehaves and disrespects elders is not a sign of a good upbringing however comfortable the life of the child may be
  • Share funny or courageous stories of your father with your kids. Let them have some sort of a memory of the grandfather that they don’t have in their lives

Any amount of disagreement that you may have with your father counts for zilch when you compare it to just having your father around you. It is only when your father is no longer in this world do you realize how much he was worth to you. Don’t leave it for too late!