( This Article first appeared on Masalamommas, an online Magazine for mom’s with a South Asian Connection. You can also read it here.)
We’ve always heard the terms “Daddy’s Girl” and “Mamma’s Boy”, and very rarely the opposites of it. I’m not hinting that a child prefers a certain parent over the other or vice versa, but I guess they say that for a reason. I’ve always been (still am)”Daddy’s little girl”. Apparently, the first word I uttered was “Appa”- (dad in Kannada). I don’t think it was a coincidence either. What I feel for the man is a mixture of awe, adoration, respect and undying love. Your father is the first male you know since birth, or even before. According to a BBC documentary I watched, the child starts connecting and relating to the fathers voice inside the womb itself. That is deep.
I have inherited a lot of my father’s qualities and attributes. The man can speak over ten languages, play about fourteen instruments, make everyone laugh until their stomach hurts and cries like a baby watching movies.
It was a life changing experience for me when my father left to go work in another country. I was eleven. It meant having to let go of everything we did together. Studying, playing, motorcycle rides, jam sessions, eating together, falling asleep on his huge tummy-everything.
His leaving left a void, which I’ve tried to fill the most of my adult life.
My mother had to raise two girls (me and my sister aged two then), amidst all the speculation that she would fail at it. We chose to live away from family and relatives to avoid additional pressure. It wasn’t an easy transition for my mother or for us. We didn’t foresee, what we had signed up for. Even though dad visited us once in six months in the years that followed, the major chunk of raising both of us was done by my mother.
The absence of my father forced me to teach myself a number of things. Apart from schoolwork, I had to learn being prim, well behaved, being a role model to my younger sister and help my mother with all the additional chores (bank work, paying bills, doing grocery shopping, managing money) as I was the eldest child. I couldn’t bring too many personal or school problems home as I didn’t want to burden my mother.
I wasn’t very comfortable interacting with men, for the very same reason. I had to grow up very quickly.
Sometimes, his absence was conspicuous during all the accolades I won. He would’ve clapped the loudest, have his head held high and would’ve been so proud of me if he was around. My mother couldn’t attend many of these ceremonies because she had a toddler to care for. A part of me slowly didn’t want to do well, or win anything because his absence was unbearable at all such events.
My dad wrote tons of letters, sometimes one every week. They were so colorful and always had a picture of him or two, explaining what he did there and how things were. We sometimes got audio tapes too. I missed him even more, but never could get too weak in my letters. I wanted him to think that we were okay and I was doing really well with coping. I was afraid that showing my weakness would make him weak as well. I carried some of those letters with me to school, to feel his presence. I still have a box somewhere at home that has all his letters.
My father’s absence might be one of the major reasons that strained my relationship with my mother. I am not very proud of it. She was a disciplinarian and always wanted us to be the best. Our performance in school and extracurricular activities had to be great. Otherwise it would reflect badly on her and her upbringing. There was too much pressure. At least, that’s the way I saw it. To channel the resentment I had, I started being difficult and indifferent towards my mother’s feelings. My grades started dropping in school. I had started nurturing the rebel in me.
It took a while for things to get back on track, and I am glad they did. My father started visiting home regularly as the years passed. He always made it a point to be home during important events, exams and award functions. We still missed him; however the schedule adjustment was a blessing.
When I became a parent, I had this in my head that I had to take the lead. I was still functioning like before and was always in a “go” mode. I ended up doing a lot, being exhausted, angry and discontent. In turn I wasn’t able to enjoy my child as much. I was being authoritative and expecting too much.
I had to then ask myself to slow down. I started sharing responsibilities with my husband. We worked together to come up with a schedule for both of us. He watched her during weekends while I got some rest. I then stopped to realize that my child has a wonderful father. She is daddy’s little girl, just like how I was (still am) daddy’s little girl. I still sometimes write him off, only to realize that he keeps trying hard every minute, to be the best dad he can be to her. The bond that they share is beautiful and beyond comparison.
When I look back now I realize that my mother was only trying to play both the roles. It was really hard and she did so well. I have also made peace with the fact that my dad left to give us a better life. I was able to do what I am doing and get the education I wanted because of the sacrifices my parents made.
Since then, I’ve been trying to fill in the “Mamma’s boy” role with my mother. That has been going fairly well. (I say “Mamma’s boy” here as we are two girls. Since I am the elder daughter, I am trying to be the son she never had.)
Each parent brings their own set of ideals and values to the table, and it is so important to have both of them on board. Even though I wasn’t fortunate enough to always have my father around while growing up, my daughter is very lucky to have a doting father around her. Maybe it is time to stop filling the void, because it has been filled, by a wonderful man, my husband and the father to my daughter.