If you analyze the flood of social media posts on Father’s Day, here are some of the common adjectives you would find – strong, hero, rock, smart, supportive, inspirational, leader. Almost all through literature and movies, the image of the father has been of this loving, but distant person who’s primary role was to be a strong anchor of the family, an inspiration, a stoic and composed human who would often spew out words of wisdom, and who’s acceptance we would always seek – not love, but acceptance. Art imitates life, or life imitates art ? – Who knows, but this is just the reality of the norms we see around us.
When I think of my father, most of my memories are of us discussing politics or books or movies or financial matters. Sarcasm is something we have in common, so there are memories of jokes at the lunch or dinner table. They’re all fun memories, but they’re not impactful, in that, they don’t involve major life decisions, or moments of despair, confusion and fear. We went to mom at those times. My mom and dad lived apart for almost 8 years due to their careers, so for all my adult life, I have seen my mom make key decisions around the house – that helped blur the image of a traditional “mom figure” in my mind to someone who was warm and cuddly, but also authoritative and powerful.
But the dad image never changed. He has always been goofy, fun and caring, but I always felt like there was an unbroken barrier. I never knew what his thoughts, aspirations, fears, worries were. I have never heard stories of his childhood, forgotten dreams, disappointments, and successes. My past few visits home have been about trying to change that. When he’s particularly chatty, he will talk about our childhood with great enthusiasm. I recently heard the story of his struggles, as a 27 year old, of bringing up a new baby when he didn’t even have a house of his own, or any savings. Did you know there were times he had to choose between a pack of biscuits for me, and a bus ticket for him to get to work? What must those times have been like for him? I knew my mom’s side of the story, but never his!
One of the things I really believe is that in understanding people, context is everything. People behave a certain way not because they are good or bad, but because their experiences have made them that way. And in having these conversations with my dad, I understand so much more of his context – how his parents were, what he’s given up on, and what he’s fought for, how did he view his dad, what did he wish was different. And today, I don’t need him to be a strong, supportive, inspirational superhero for me. But my hope is that there is more openness, realism and depth in our moments together. The goofy jokes will always stay, of course!