How choosing not to be a mother brought me closer to my father

POV

How choosing not to be a mother brought me closer to my father

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

On a semi-cold morning during the winter of 2020, I made a revelation to my father. The effects of the first wave of Covid were wearing down, and we were all just coming to terms with what had hit us. My husband and I were out of work for more than six months and I’d come down to my childhood home, a suburb within the city, to find my feet.

Returning to the home that I grew up in has always been a great lesson in humility that I end up needing from time to time. Dad was off on his routine morning walk that day, one that he hadn’t missed in over 40 years, and I decided to join him. Almost 4 km in, kind of tired, I suggested we take a break. We sat on a bench looking into a lush green garden, as I gathered the courage to have a conversation that I would naturally have had with my mother first, had she been alive.

I grew up in a close-knit South Indian household with little or almost no secrets.

“Accha (dad in Malayalam), I need to tell you something,” I said. “Last week when I was visiting my gynaecologist, it wasn’t just a routine check-up. I terminated a pregnancy,” I added.  Phew! Even as I write this today, I feel like a huge boulder of building blocks being lifted off my chest. A feeling I had carried for 10 whole days after the procedure, because I hadn’t shared such an important decision of my life with my dad. To be honest I’d anticipated a huge blow-back if I did, and consciously chose to share it with him only when I felt ready. However, I was writhing in guilt every minute.

I grew up in a close-knit South Indian household with little or almost no secrets. We were a filmy family full of emotionally overcharged people, who celebrated life as intensely as we fought with each other.  As kids, my sister and I were encouraged to express ourselves thoroughly, and no matter how adverse the situation, sharing was an unsaid rule at home. If we had a problem, we’d share it with either parent and during mealtimes or before the nine-pm TV show, resolutions would be made. Our convent schooling largely contributed to an open approach towards life, and I often felt like our parents learned to be liberal watching us grow up.

I didn’t really know what dad felt about abortion because I’d never had a chance to discuss the issue.

But, Amma and Acha were also fiercely god-loving people, and presumably weren’t pro-abortion. Actually, I didn’t really know what dad felt about it because I’d never had a chance to discuss the issue. In this case, my husband and I took a practical call as we were anything but ready to take on the emotional and financial burden of a newborn in the middle of a pandemic. After speaking to our gynaecologist,  who told us that we were well within the time frame where it would be safe for me, we took a call. Despite knowing my dad, a man who always supported my whimsical dreams and ideas, all too well, I assumed that he wouldn’t get it. I created an entire scenario in my head where he’d lecture me about how I’d taken the wrong call, and how I’d no right to defy nature etc etc.

But I was wrong. He took his time to react to my confession and after a few minutes of silence, he spoke. He told me about my mother’s first pregnancy at the age of 18, and how she’d miscarried, as her body and mind weren’t ready to bear a child. She was married off too early at 17 and was forced into adulthood, like so many girls in our country. “It took me a while to understand how she felt, and what she was going through. But today I know,” he said, staring into the sun, still not meeting my eye. “Do what you’re comfortable with and ready for. What’s important is that you both should be happy,” he added.

As girls, we’d always run to Amma when we had to discuss our bodies and feelings. But today, here I was, sharing my most intimate moment with my father.

I was taken aback, crushed and overwhelmed by this unexpected act of kindness, even if it came from the man I knew so well. Tears wouldn’t stop. I’d underestimated him so severely. In that moment I transformed into his little girl and felt more protected than I’d ever felt since I moved out of home. As girls, we’d always run to Amma when we had to discuss our bodies and feelings. Be it my first period, the first time I was kissed, the first time I felt violated by a man, it was all for Amma’s ears. Dad was never part of those conversations. As most fathers did, he usually maintained some distance when it came to girl talk. But today, after so many years of knowing him, here I was, sharing my most intimate moment with my father. Here I was telling him how I was just not ready to become a mother and he was okay with it. He understood. He didn’t guilt-trip me about how I’m growing older or him wanting to be a grand-dad.

I was taken aback, crushed and overwhelmed by this unexpected act of kindness, even if it came from the man I knew so well.

And more importantly, I’m thankful for a parent, who hasn’t just been understanding, but empathetic during this pandemic. In the last two years, I’ve crawled back to dad’s home, more times than I have in the last eight years of living independently. I needed that energy, that love, that comfort, that assurance that it’ll all be okay. Only, a parent who has seen so much more life than you can be so calm in the face of such grave adversity. I needed that calm, that unwitting faith that Dad carries with him like an invisible cloak 24/7. “You have a roof, you have food, you have health. Nothing else matters right now,” he’d say when I’d often call him complaining about projects falling through at work. And I’m sure so many of us who have been feeling like our lives are falling apart of late have found support in our families.

In the last two years, I’ve crawled back to dad’s home, more times than I have in the last eight years of living independently. I needed that energy, that love, that comfort, that assurance that it’ll all be okay.

During the pandemic I’ve had friends move back into their parents’ home, others travel with their folks after years, some reunite with estranged family members, and some others just spend days eating ghar ka khana, so as to maintain a sense of sanity. For me, it has redefined my relationship with my father and taught me how not to underestimate a parent’s capacity for empathy. We often lie to our family or hide things assuming they wouldn’t understand. Of course, not everyone has a heart and mind as open as my Acha, but you’re unlikely to find out if you don’t share. I’m happy and relieved that I did. Because it gave me the father I assumed I never had.

Disclaimer: Any decisions regarding pregnancy or termination should only be taken after consulting a gynaecologist.

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