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On Father’s Day: Letting go

By Andaleeb Wajid

My father died when I was 12. For many years, this was what defined me.

While the tears dried up after the first few months or so after his death, the hollowness refused to replaced by anything or anyone. I stuck to my tragedy like I meant it to embrace me and never leave me.

A few years later, my transition to college saw me making new friends and most of them were fatherless, either by death or through divorce. It was a common connecting factor for us but we never harboured too much over it.

I was still in college when I got married. I had a father-in-law now, a sweet and unassuming man who could never replace the forceful and authoritative man my father had been. We lost him a few years later as well and I was amazed when I saw my husband and his family move on, almost within a few days. My grief over losing my father was not fresh but it was still there. A tightly guarded space in my heart that I refused to let go.

When my son was born and we brought him back home, 21 days after keeping him in the NICU because of a birth complication, everyone marvelled over how he resembled my father. I couldn’t spot it. The upper part of his chin, I think it was my mother who said that. Were we now looking for bits and pieces of my father to surface in our progeny now, I thought.

My mother, whose grief had been the strongest and most palpable, relished the role of a grandmother. For her, those spots in her heart that hurt most had been rubbed clean with the birth of every grandchild. On holidays, her house is filled with the sound of children playing and shouting and running around and I know she wishes he had been there to see it.

On his death anniversary, every year, I get maudlin. Last year, on Facebook I put up a long post about the moments leading to his death and how it had scarred me. I don’t know why I did it. Did I want the world to know that what I am today is a product not just of my parent’s procreation but of this tragedy too? I got more than a hundred comments from friends sympathising and telling me that he would be proud of me for my achievements and I stored it away in my head, just as so many words that didn’t really mean anything.

A couple of years back my mother was looking through the letters he had written to her when he was in Hong Kong. My brother started transliterating them and emailed them to me. I broke down crying when I read them because it was like he was talking to me and I couldn’t take it. I cried for all that he had missed, all that he would never know and the more I thought of it, the more I cried.

Some days back, my mother picked up a few of the letters again. She called me and read out a portion of a letter that I had never read/heard before. He comments about how I am growing up and becoming ‘samajhdaar’ (wise). He tells her that in my letter that I had sent to him (to which he was replying), I have told him that I want nothing from Hong Kong. I just want him to come back soon.

I immediately remembered the moment I had discussed this letter with my father when he came back from Hong Kong. I told him that I didn’t mean it and I did want my nice and pretty things too! He told me that he had been so happy to read that I wanted only him and nothing else but he laughed indulgently and assured me he had got me my things too.

I recounted this incident to my mother and I realised I was smiling as I told her this. I ended the call and realised that it had finally happened. I could think of my father without the crushing grief. I could actually smile at his memory.

I had stepped away from my self-imposed shackles. And although I’ve been a wife, mother and many other things to many people, I was also a fatherless child in my head for a long time. Not anymore. I had let go.

Andaleeb Wajid is a Bangalore-based author. Her books include “Kite Strings,” “Blinkers Off,” “Time Will Tell,” etc. More about her on her website http://andaleebwajid.com.