Most of my growing years, my father was never around as he had a job that demanded him to stay in other cities. While he was away, my mother, brother, and sister were my world. When he’d visit us during his holidays – two or three times a year – he would come armed with the best gifts for us. He was more Santa, less daddy for me; we were practically strangers.
It was only after my brother moved out to study in another city as a 17-year-old did my father decide we could live as a unit again. I was eight years old and excited to finally get to have my dad around, but little did I know that the years to come would scar me for life.
It all started with a faint memory of a cup being smashed against the wall that woke me up early one morning. Fresh tea trickled down the floor and broken pieces of porcelain lay scattered on the ground. My father was roughing my mother up after an argument they probably had over him playing cards late into the night. All I knew was something was terribly wrong and I quickly clambered back to my bed, snuggling as close as I could to my sister for comfort. I must have been nine years old.
At first, I thought it would get better but it didn’t – my father’s outbursts would go on to define my childhood. He was not always angry but that’s what made it all so confusing. I never knew what to expect from him. One day, he would be happy and the next day I’d witnessed the ugly and aggressive side of him.
For years, I convinced myself that daddy was a nice man, only he was strict, like all fathers are. Turns out, he simply wanted to control our lives; he was overpowering, wanting to make all decisions for us. If I was seen talking to a boy, I’d be grounded. When he got mad, he’d hurl abuses. If I asked to go to a movie or a party with my friends, he’d say the nastiest things to me – the words stayed with me like wounds which never heal. And then there were days, when he would lose his cool and beat me up.
My daddy had lived in the same toxic atmosphere that he had created at home.
By the time I reached my teenage years, I was always livid. Rebellion became a coping mechanism of sorts. The more daddy tried to suppress me, the more insubordinate I became. I took to drinking; I’d insist on staying over at my friends’ home on most days because I didn’t want to miss out on the fun. But more importantly, I didn’t want to return home. I chose toxic relationships, men who were uncannily like my father, only to realise that I was trying to get out of one hurtful relationship to rush into another that would be no different.
With an obedient older daughter who chose to get married when he had asked her to, daddy expected the same from me. But I had other plans; I wanted to become a writer and I was not going to let him come in the way. It was a constant tug of war between us and I often found myself on the losing side. When my first article was published, it was under a pseudonym because my mother feared he’d be angry with me for disobeying him. No matter how much I tried to reason with her, she’d always convince me to toe the line. She was caught between trying to please a man who would flare up over the most trivial things and a rebellious daughter who was turning to her for some support because she would not get it from her father.
But even if I was always miffed with my father, I hoped that things would change. Maybe a nod of appreciation or a certain sense of pride would be exchanged. I wished we would sit down and have a pleasant conversation over dinner like my friends did with their dads. I wish we could talk about the things we both like such as travel, food. I didn’t expect my father to be my best friend, I just wanted to have a functional relationship with him. An occasional pat on my back, a kind smile.
It was only in my mid-20s that I learnt that daddy never had loving parents; he’d often be beaten up just like me. He lived in the same toxic atmosphere that he had created at home. Maybe he didn’t know any better. But what if he got help for the trauma he experienced as a child? Would he have been a different person, a more loving father?
Yet knowing his past didn’t change things between us. As years went by, we only grew more apart.
And then at the age of 64, my father suffered a stroke that left him with limited memories of his life. He assumed I was the caretaker hired to help my mother to cope with his illness and stages of paralysis that left him bed-ridden for days. He had no memory of me, just my older siblings. And just like that he passed away knowing very little about me.
In a way it was cathartic that he didn’t recollect me. The agony and hurt that I had caused him might have been wiped off his memory forever. I am not as fortunate; I’m unable to forget.
Often on a perfectly sunny day, I wake up to the memory of a cup smashing against a wall.