Tag Archives: Father

The pain and glory of remembering

At school, my history teachers made me learn the important dates off by heart. Battle of Blood River: 1838. Anglo Boer War: 1899-1902. World War 1:1914-1918. Arab-Israeli War: 1967.

My father was my true history teacher. He made me understand that the dates were important but not as important as the context in which those events happened and the bigger stories at play.

We live in an age that asks us to mark dates that mean something to us, be it frivolous and fun or deeply profound – Braai day, National Cleavage Day, break-up dates, hook-up dates, the day we lost our virginity, the day we stopped smoking, the day we cried for the first time in a movie, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Women’s day, Mandela day. And so it goes.

We are date obsessed so when it comes to remembering a day you would rather have obliterated from the Gregorian calendar, it makes it more difficult because of our ceremonious conditioning.

One year ago, today, my father died. June 18, 2014. I want to remember the day because it is natural and it is a marking of a rite of passage of someone I loved. But I also want to forget it so desperately because it was the day the light was snuffed out. The lead up to this day was torture – a giant, looming, dark 18; a clanging bell over my bed. I’ve been tense and angry, irritable and sullen. I don’t want to be reminded of the day the Universe took my rock, my teacher, my hero, my confidant, my father.

If he was alive today, he would say, “Suhani, remember the dates are not that important. History needs to be understood in context. You need to understand the bigger picture.” So I will do just that.

There is a big picture and hundreds of thousands of extraordinary pixels that make up that big picture. I will start with a small list:  Holding me above your shoulders at the beach. Green chillies and salt and vinegar. Red- beans Saturdays. Your red gown. Red Toyota Cressida. 4am History lessons. Chaiyya Chaiyya. Popsicles on holiday with a wheezing chest. Long strides. Arthur Murray. Sunday crosswords – completed. Post-Diwali shopping lounge modelling. Nani bhen. A capful for the ancestors. J&B – Juggath and Bhagath. December 16 Caddie. Old Folks Laugh by Maya Angelou. “Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the rang’d empire fall.” Trips to Silverglen with Pankaj Udhas. Highway Sheila. Impeccable suits. Amitabh Bachchan. Dirty jokes. Clean shave. Kouros.

Veterans of war, wives of soldiers and mothers of sons will always remember dates in ways that historians won’t. June 18th is someone’s birthday. The day someone will get engaged or publish a novel or learn to ride a bike. For us, it is the day we said goodbye. The philosopher in my father would remind us that it was just a farewell to the mortal coil. The pragmatist in him would remark on the laws of equilibrium in all things of this world.

While it is the most difficult thing to do, there is a pain and glory in remembering.

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Why a girl will always need her father

My dad has a full head of silver-grey hair. He always says that I’m partly responsible.

I’m sure I can think of a few incidents that sprouted a couple of those grey hairs. There was my 21st birthday opening dance. I choreographed a little Bollywood number and gave him about 15 minutes to learn it. Then there was the time I borrowed by cousin’s fitting suede and leather black dress to wear to the Standard 9 dance. Daddy took one look and calmly asked me to turn around, head back to my room and find some more clothes to put on. And then there was the day he came home from work and found me in tears on the phone with ‘long-distance’ boyfriend. Dad picked up the phone in the other room and gave the guy such a tongue lashing that even if he wasn’t planning a trip to hell, asshole boyfriend started packing his bags pretty fast.

Fathers are different to mothers. The close bond a girl forms with her mum is pretty natural and starts from about the time you decide you need to go bra shopping. Mums nag you about absolutely everything; you rebel as a teenager about absolutely everything and by the time you’re an adult, you’re the closest friends and can confide in each other. The bond a girl forms with her dad is different. It’s less verbal and less overt but supremely powerful.

The way a father exercises discipline is different to a mother. Mothers tend to spend the bulk of daily activity with their children and that allows them all the nagging time in the world. Very quickly, you get to learn mum’s reactions. But because you only see dad towards the end of the day, he tends not to play the nagging role and concentrates only on the major mess ups. So when you’ve done something wrong and dad voices his disappointment, you take note. It’s partly because he reserves his anger for special occasions and partly because you’re surprised he’s echoing mum’s words. Fathers watch from a distance. They observe everything and say little. But…they know things.

A girl will always need her father because he is the first man you get to know and he is the measure for all men you will ever meet. A girl will always need her dad for his quiet guidance and his ability to weather the storms with grace. He reminds you to see the world in perspective and to maintain dignity wherever you can.  He builds a protective force field around you from the day you’re born and you feel it even when you’re old enough to know how to kick a guy in the balls. He can dispense advice like the Dalai Lama and dance with you like Fred Astaire. And most of all, he is able to straddle the worlds of old-school charm and contemporary reality.

Dad was my after-hours English and History Teacher. I wouldn’t sleep well at night if he didn’t tuck me into bed. He open-heartedly agreed with my decision to study Drama and welcomed me back into his home when I decided to leave advertising to be a ‘starving’ dancer. He once sat through a long, angst-ridden contemporary dance piece of mine and when it was over he said: “I’m sorry, I didn’t really get what that was all about. But you were beautiful.”

My dad once gave me permission to tell a nasty, disrespectful old woman to “fuck off”. He has shared dirty jokes in my presence and taught me that no state of being is a permanent state. He always surprises me with his ability to help me put my head back on my neck when I’ve clearly lost it. He is the most open-minded person I know and has taught, and continues to teach me, that better judgement sometimes exists without society’s approval.

Dad, I know you’re not sentimental or romantic like mum. So forgive my next gushy outburst – you can blame it on her genes. But…I have to say that I love you more than you know. I will always always need you. And even though you have not one remaining black hair on your head, I’m proud of your silver crop. In a sea of men, it makes it easy to spot you, for you are the rarest of them all.

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