3.2 Editor's Pick
June 13, 2024

To Dad, with Love.


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When I was in Singapore last month visiting my brother and his family, my Bhaiya (older brother) said, “Papa was such a gift.”

Truer words have never been spoken. Moms earn most of the adulations, but I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge how much our fathers impact us too.

Don’t get me wrong; our father was not perfect because perfection is a myth. Dad had his own idiosyncrasies and an annoying relationship with impatience. He would get us to the airport seven hours prior to a flight. Haha, I wish I was making this up. He got hassled if the server took a few extra minutes to bring out our food order. Dad was always in a rush and when he died a year ago, I remember muttering to myself, even in your end, you rushed, Papa.

But he was a solid man who respected every person he met—no matter their age, caste, religion, skin color, economic status, education, or other discriminatory parameters. I have met many honorable people from his generation who are courteous and generous to people with similar financial standing. But they abuse, cuss, hit, violate helpers because they are from a lower class.

After Dad passed away, his driver in Pune said to me that Dad was the only man who had ever sat up front with him in the car and always enquired about his wife’s well-being and children’s education. He used to take Prashant, the driver, out to lunch at cafes. The cook and the bathroom cleaners were in awe that Papa always had fresh food for them in the house, not stale leftovers that he didn’t desire to consume. He would give the elevator-guy chocolates, and I would joke that Dad alone was contributing to lifestyle diseases in India.

He treated Bhabhi (my brother’s wife) as his own daughter, and he didn’t play the traditional, boring, formal father-in-law with my husband. He supported that my husband helped me around the house, and he offered my Bhabhi childcare assistance when her girls were babies. He was a man whose laughter echoed louder than most people’s heartbeats.

Papa was all about simple living, high thinking. His avant-garde way of being earned him love and respect from so many. He was always eager to sign up for more responsibilities. Ask his Rotarian friends how much of free work he did to make his community and country a better place. He taught us that no work is small.

Ever since I have returned from Asia, where many people said I look and behave a lot like Dad, I have been thinking about the biggest gifts Papa has given me and my brother.

Be open-minded:

Mom was a traditionalist like 99.9-percent of the people from her generation, and social pressures got to her. But Papa taught me to never bow down to anything that didn’t feel right in my heart. When a boy a year younger than me bullied me (we were seven-to-eight years old then), Papa showed me how to speak up, remain assertive without becoming nasty. Even as I grew older and realized I was quite different from my peers, he taught me to never apologize for my ambition, authenticity, and boundary-pushing way of thinking. He also taught us about kindness and compassion.

Travel because experiences can’t be bought:

My brother and I love to travel. It’s in our DNA to experience food, cultures, and cuisines. Thankfully, we married partners who share the same belief system. I remember the first time Papa sat in a plane (his first foreign work trip); we were little kids growing up in a small steel township in India. When he returned from his trip to the United States, Papa had saved up. He took Mom, my brother, and me to Andaman and Nicobar Islands so we could enjoy a plane ride and vacation that didn’t include trains.

Pineapple fried rice was something Papa chanced upon in Frankfurt, and he made sure his family ate at the restaurant and savored this particular dish. It’s now one of my husband’s favorite rice entrees! Papa would always tell us, “Beta, I’d rather give you education and experiences, not pay for dowry or leave behind jaydaad (inheritance money).”

Optimism is an asset:

My brother and I will always find a silver lining in the most horrendous of situations. Papa taught us that a positive mindset and self-reliance are the easiest way out of any challenging circumstances. Our father’s 75th birthday was at the peak of Delta in India. Instead of celebrating with the family, he was all alone in his apartment with no access to helpers. We organized a virtual celebration for him via Zoom where his friends sang and shared memories from when Papa and the gang were younger. He was happy, grateful, and overwhelmed with all the outpour of love on his birthday. Not once did he complain that a much beloved extrovert like him was stuck at home on his milestone birthday. He felt grateful for all the planning we had done and the time his friends had taken out to honor his day.

Love life and dark humor unabashedly:

The two things my brother and I have in common—we love life and dark humor like it’s going out of fashion. Dad was the heartbeat of every gathering. People loved his energy, laughter, poetry, and edgy sense of humor. Last year when Papa passed away and two days later my father-in-law (and a day later was our mom’s death anniversary), both my brother and I cracked jokes about who the fourth person would be to fill the gap in the dates. When I used to get mad about entitled fools, Papa would say, Laugh it off, yaarThat’s the only way to stay sane. With him gone, I embrace his wisdom dearly as I realize we can’t change people.

Never too old to learn:

My nieces introduced Papa to so many new social media apps and politically correct language. He never once said, I know it all. There was hunger and desire in him to better himself and remain a perpetual learner. His connection to his family and friends mattered deeply. When I told him that I wanted to do a Doctorate in Ayurveda, Papa had me speak to one of my Bua’s (Dad’s cousin sister) who was the Head of Department in her college, a mom, a wife, a daughter-in-law, and a fabulous human being. She decided to get a PhD after her kid was born and in an era where her in-laws expected her to cook fresh meals twice a day. He told me that my Bua could teach me the best way to handle this commitment, so I needn’t worry about becoming an Ayurvedic Doctor in my 40s.

It’s been a year since Papa has been gone. This will be the second Father’s Day where Bhaiya and I don’t get to wish, “Happy Father’s Day!” But with every passing day, I realize I am who I am because of him. The values he taught my brother and I have helped us effortlessly fall in love with life, celebrations, people, and the art of living.

“Confident women are raised by loving dads.” ~ Nitya Prakash


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