DIMINISHING DAD

It wasn’t very long ago when I was big and rich; really big and rich. Less than three decades back.

I had a small telly, the best I could afford with my Navy pay. I didn’t have a car since I couldn’t afford it. My wife and I used to call our Yezdi 250 cc a donkey since the mobike could carry everything for us including gas cylinders that we used to carry on it from Navy Nagar in Colaba to Worli where, after I got married, the Navy had given me a one room house. It was a large room though. We put a double bed on one side of the room, had a kitchen slab on the other side with a dining table right in front of it. We became very fond of walks along Worli Sea Face since it used to cost nothing. At the end of the walk we used to sit at the breakwater and reward ourselves with two rupees of singdana (peanuts).

You must be wondering where do ‘big‘ and ‘rich‘ get into the description of me? Well, let me explain ‘big’ first. Immediately after marriage, until several years after that, my wife used to think I was the greatest man she had come across. And then, when the fact of my not being as big and as invincible as she had imagined started to sink in, our two sons were born. I was an instant hero with them until their teens. As an example, the telly was hardly ever switched on; my sons used to think that nothing could be more interesting than what they called Papa TV. After dinner, it was race with them to the bed or the carpet where I used to perch them on my tummy and tell them stories; the most serialised and longest one was the story of the animals in a jungle with such names as Georgie Porgie Lion, Richard Snake, Elizabeth Cow, Charlie Elephant, and Martin crow. They would be breathless to know what happened next when Georgie Porgie took all the animals for a picnic by the Jungle Train. Papa TV had everything: songs, poems, jokes and even commercial breaks when they’d run up to their mom and have milk and come back.



Arjun  & Arun enjoying Papa TV (the actual TV lies switched off)

Interestingly, they were fascinated by everything that I did or said and indeed some of my expressions are still prevalent in the family; for example, whenever I made a proposal, say, about a picnic or to have Kulfi at Punjabi Kulfi at Chowpatty, I’d ask them, “Yes? No? Maybe?” or after explaining something I’d look at their faces and ask, “Not understood?” Recently, Arun, our younger son explained something about what he does at his Animation job and ended up asking me, “Not understood?”

I was  their best toy. With whatever money I had, I had got them the best of toys but they were quiet content playing with me.


Their ‘best toy’

 Also, both the children’s future passions were nurtured in the childhood. Arjun, our elder son, has emerged as one of the leading critics of pop music in India. Below is a picture of Arjun listening to the first of the songs that he would have understood the tune of. It was on my Sony two-in-one that I got in 1975 on my first foreign cruise as a navy  officer.

Arun (the younger son), on the other 

Arjun’s first exposure to music

hand, became adept at a Commodore 64 computer and I got him a few ‘video games’ to play on it. He had to put a magnetic cassette in a corder attached to the computer and type out ‘Load’ on the computer and then type out ‘Play’ and then race those speeding cars with the pointer keys on the keyboard. This he did when he was all of three years old. So, even before he learnt ‘A for Apple, B for Bat’, he learnt ‘L for Load and P for Play’ on the com. Arun, later, became the video-gaming champ in India for seven years and went abroad each time to take part in video gaming competitions. Arun, therefore, wants to design his own games and is presently a qualified Animator.

The best education that my wife and I gave them was to be good human beings and gentlemanly at all times. To be able to look themselves in the eye, at all times; to speak the truth even when it hurt them; to be bold and courageous even when the majority did wrong; and to know right from wrong. What about religion? My wife is a Catholic and I am a Sikh. We never forced the children to strictly follow any or both the religions. They are free to choose on their own. Arjun, therefore, believes in God without following any particular religion. Arun doesn’t believe in God. Both of them, however, agree with me that organised religion is beginning to do more harm to our society and that religion should become more personal and private. It is better to be good and “irreligious” than to be “religious” but evil.

We never encouraged them to babble so as to look cute. Both could, therefore, express themselves well and freely. Also, both did not have to agree to our point of view. I have enumerated several incidents in this blog when I could learn things from them. For example, on one occasion we, as a family, went by our Maruti 800 (we could get a car in 1988; thank God for that) for a picnic at one of the beaches in Vizag. In my enthusiasm I had driven the car close to the beach on the sand. Being on the East coast, the sunset was fairly early and we later realised that dark was setting in fast. The only difficulty was that as I started to race forward, the right side rear wheel made a burrow in the sand, started digging deeper and panic set in with me since it was as a remote part of the beach with nobody around. The more I tried, the worse it became. Arun, in the meantime, kept telling me, “Try the jack, dad.” How idiotic, I kept thinking. This boy of seven had no idea, I thought, that a jack was to be used on a static car and not whilst moving or trying to move. However, finally, after trying various things, I tried the jack for the right wheel. As the car lunged forward with the force of the left wheel, the right too came out of the burrow. The jack of course fell but now the car was out. We collected the jack and drove back without getting into any more panic.

All kids want to step into their dad’s shoes
Incidents like these taught me a lesson: to have more trust in their abilities rather than choose the safe option of always trying to spoon-feed them. It took me some time to learn that a child when he steps out of his childhood and enters boyhood, wants to step into his dad’s shoes. But then, that’s only a transitory stage. Soon, he wants to step out of his dad’s shoes and see the world with his own eyes, make mistakes and move on. In Arjun and Arun, the desire to do things on their own was probably more intense than most other children. They’d get very impatient if I would give them detailed instructions about anything. Here is Arjun on the right trying to learn to tie a necktie on his own. Arun too broke a few teeth but learnt to ride a bicycle without my holding the handle or steadying it for him. How did this absence of spoon-feeding help them? Initially, they used to read my poems and articles etc and marvel at how well I’d written these. Later, I found that they could write much better than me.

There were two big surprises for us: one, when Arjun appeared for his CBSE exam (12th std). Because of my frequent transfers, I thought he had not been able to study much and hence, when the results came; we sat around the computer to check these. I said a silent prayer to ensure he’d pass. Just before his mark-sheet flashed on the screen, I asked him what was his expectation? He said he expected to be amongst the top rankers. I made a mental note of his misplaced expectation and thought I must speak to him about it later sometime. But, lo and behold, Arjun with nearly 93 percent marks had stood first in all Naval Public Schools in India.

Arun too gave us a pleasant surprise. The first one was that he could order his computer accessories and parts on the computer at the age of ten. Only when the courier would come to deliver a part at home we’d realise that Arun had ordered it from thousands of miles away. Then one day he asked our permission to take part in a video gaming competition. We allowed him “as an encouragement” but never knew he’d win and would continue winning for the next seven years.

Arun learnt music entirely on his own. He’d sit for long hours in front of the computer and try to learn the basics from the net. A few years later, he could write his own music and play. With another friend of his he formed a band of his own. Nowadays when he plays and gets a fair amount of audience applause, no one believes that he had no trainer to teach him about music or how to play the guitar.
They finally grew very fast and very soon started rubbing shoulders with me. I had got substantially diminished by that time. But, then  I had to be content with the fact that my wife and I gave them values, told them what is good and bad, gave them means to discover their true potential and then left them on their own 

to make their lives the way they felt the lives should turn out to be. In the end, a diminished dad is not a question of parental ego being hurt. It is a recognition of the fact that life is unique and precious and parents ain’t God who should, at all times control the lives of their children and mould these to produce clones of themselves. My mother still says, “Bachche tanh kaka bachche hi hunde ne.” (Son, children will always be children). True, mom, but they have every right to live their own lives and not their parents’ lives. A diminished father or diminished parents is not such a bad thing after all.

In so many different ways, they’d always be children. But, why should I impose my point of view all the times? I don’t want them to step in my shoes. I want them to make their unique lives independent of me, whatever they choose. One of my friends, when I told him that Arjun has got into music and Arun into animation, told me about the courage that I had in allowing my sons to follow their passions, even when they ain’t earning tons of money, which they would have if they had followed traditional fields.

That brings me to the question of money. At one time, in my childhood, I was very rich indeed. I owned ships, skies, clouds, stars. Here is one of my ships:

I continued being rich in my life; I always had enough. I never scrounged. On my Yezdi, when we travelled, with one son perched ahead on the fuel tank and another in my wife’s arms on the backseat, I was rich. I was rich when, as a lieutenant, I took money out of my provident money and took my wife with me to a two week duty cum holiday to Italy, France and England. I was rich when I married my wife on my own and we didn’t know how we’d run a household without any money between both of us.

My father too was rich when he earned all of Rupees 150 when I was small. His father once gave him advice, “Mani (my dad’s name) I pray to God that you’d spend a lot of money.” Dad, at that time thought of it as an idiotic advice since money would grow multifold if one’d save it rather than spend it. Many years later, he learnt the truth. Of course, you can’t foolishly spend money. Dad never scrounged and somehow had enough. He passed on this richness to me and I, in turn, passed on this God given richness to my children.

Life is a dream, they say. But, I ask you, how many people have the courage to live that dream and…..allow their children to live their own?

Being diminished, as I said, is not a bad thing at all.

© 2012 – 2013, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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15 Comments

  1. That was such a beautiful post…

    Nice pictures too…

    My son is 3 years old and when I look ahead a myriad of feelings and emotions fill me thinking about his future.,..Millions of ifs and what ifs storm my mind…

    I also believe that children should have a life of their own and do things sensibly but according to their hearts….Parenting is not easy….Its like someone has given you a lump of clay and given you a potter’s job….

    Yours was a very inspiring post…Thanks 🙂

    1. Thank you for always being encouraging of my efforts. The problem with parenting is that you have to get it right the first time; there are no rehearsals. Also, the results of your efforts take a long time to come. The only prize is that they become good human beings in their own mould.

    1. All of us are but we don’t realise it. You should have seen my wife and I when we got married, as I said, on our own. She made curtains out of an old sari….but, we never felt poor. After the children are born, there is no occasion to feel poor.

  2. Read this post in utter silence. Could feel the intensity and the thought behind every word you have carefully penned. As a father, I too can feel the generosity in which you have brought up your kids. There are plenty of fathers out there I suppose who tend to pass on values and let children take their path and wait for surprizes… yet how come there is so much burden on Earth if children are brought up so well?! Sometimes I too wonder why simple living always looks so sophisticated and wonder if the yezdi, lambretta, morris minor-gen can see any more luxury in the audis, mercs, hyabusas’ spinning around as I reflect and think with a grin, “Man, we have been materialistic and unrealistic too…”

    1. Thank you very much for detailed comments. As I mentioned, for both my wife and I, it was a first experience! We had to ad-lib all the time.

      You have brought out a very interesting point. For some of the young kids who became terrorists, the neighbours were later surprised that kids who had been brought up so well with requisite “values” imparted by their parents, could still turn out as terrorists. There was, thus, this hidden trait there all the time that the parents were not able to detect in time.

      What’s the way out, then? I feel communication is the way out; even if it leads to serious arguments, even if differences are being aired, the parents must communicate with their children.

      There was a time in my own past when, because of dictates of my job, and other reasons, this thread broke. But, then, my wife came to my rescue and never let go. Even till now, she enjoys a terrific sync with them always.

    2. Think I will take that advice too… and work my way with communication, verbal as well as non-verbal. Often “the lesser said, sooner mended” ideology seems to override the idea of “wiser said better taken” and I need to learn as life twists and turns and teaches me to talk at times, to talk more often at times, to talk more at times and more often as I rarely follow, to shut up more at times and be a model than pontificate from distance for children to follow. My God what eyes they have than ears! Hahaha…

  3. A lovely post and the first few paragraphs, there were lines, I could share with !

    Having a good partner, children who grow up to be role models with truth and honest life, what else can any of us ask for? You have the world (which ack. these values) clapping for you!

    1. Thank you. I, of course, hasten to admit that now in retrospect, it all adds up to satisfactory parenting. However, there were frustrating moments when I used to fantasize about “successful” children in the traditional sense.

  4. Lovely post and direct from the heart. In late 70’s & 80’s we were rich at heart , happy and contended. We brought up our children imbibing values and righteousness.

  5. Whole account shows your justful way of living life . One can learn lot of it.
    Anyway Sir diminishing along growing of children is one of the nicest gifts of life given by God.

    1. Thanks Jaswant. It is very difficult but it pays rich dividends. My elder son now writes much better than I do and my younger son knows animation better than most. I would say the crux of leadership is to let the people in your charge emerge as leaders in their own right.