23 November 2011

Fathers and sons (or daughters)

My friend Shanthi Abeywickrama asks me, ‘was your mother proud of you?’  I think all parents are proud of their children, but parents don’t always say it out loud because parenting is a life-long vocation and as such no parent would pass out blank cheques to their children, who might very well cash them at inopportune moments.  Maybe it’s a South Asian thing.  There is affection. It is shown.  A pat on the back.  A word of encouragement.  All this is there.  Still it is rare for parents to go overboard with praise.  That they do in private. To other people.  Not to the child.  

Shanthi asks, ‘Why are people so close to mothers and why is it they write only about mothers?’  The question left hanging is not spoken: ‘why this neglect of fathers?’ It is an old question.  It’s perhaps best asked in the wonderful T.M. Jayaratne lullaby, ‘Amma sandaki…’ (mother is a moon…) written by his wife, Malini Jayaratne.  A couple of lines will give you the drift.

Piya senehasata kau gee liya una madi (there’s not enough poetry written about a father’s love).  Piya senehasa nethida daruwani handunanne? (Do not children recognize a father’s love?) Ammavarun pamanada mathu buduwanne? (Is it only mothers who are to attain enlightenment?)

It’s true, come to think of it.  There are very few Sinhala songs about fathers.  That’s what this song is about.  And it was written (ironically?) by a mother/wife.  Are fathers less present in our growing up?  Are they (too) aloof?  I don’t know. I can’t speak for others for all of us have unique relationships with our parents and our children.  My father chides me every now and then about how I am bringing up my children and I respond irritably, ‘What do you know about bringing up children; you were hardly around when we were small!’  Thinking back now, I remember hearing ‘hurt’ in the silence that followed such unnecessary and unthinking outbursts. 

He was not around in the way our mother was.  Years later when someone told me that there was this fundamental difference between men and women I thought he was talking about my father and mother. This is how it went:

‘Women known the birthdays of their children, when each has to be vaccinated, what time they have to be taken for piano lessons, what time they have to be picked from cricket practices, what their colour preferences and food preference are, what their allergies are; men are only vaguely conscious of some short people living in their houses for about 15 years!’

Thinking of myself, as ‘father’, I felt that Malini Jayaratne was being a tad generous.  I felt, ‘yes, it is only mothers who go on to attain enlightenment’ (on account of merit acquired, on account of having perfected the paramitas, those virtuous qualities one has to cultivate in order to achieve ultimate liberation).  Mothers nurture in ways that are beyond the comprehension of fathers, however much they might want to be part and partner to that process.  Amaradeva’s song, ‘Thaaththa unath’ alludes to this ‘fact’.

But fathers are present.  They just don’t get it right most times.  My father didn’t thrash us when we did something wrong. That was Ammi’s turf.  Mine hit me once with a stick.  Just one shot.  He controlled with ‘presence’ and ‘silence’.  He had his way of educating, of making the transition from infant to child, child to adolescent, adolescent to adult less rocky, traumatic and painful as it could be.  Speaking strictly for myself, my father gave me two things that have been constant companions throughout my life: chess and the word. 

We are told that we know we have reached middle age when we look at the mirror and start seeing our fathers. I haven’t seen him in the mirror, no.  But I do see him in me.  And others do too.  My father speaks into his beard. He’s so soft spoken that one has to sit at the edge of the chair and strain to get what’s he’s saying. People make the same complaint about me now. It is ironical because there was a time I used to complain that he was being incoherent.   

There are two things about fatherhood that was part of my growing up. The first, a poem written by my father to his, in the first collection of his poems to be published (Twenty Five Poems).  This was I think the first in that collection and a dedication of sorts. I remember a couple of lines. 

‘You kissed me much, last time we met’.  And then the last line: ‘…but this, my first poor giving, which you shall not receive’.  My grandfather died before I was born.  And so, my second father-story, I used to think, was about him. It is a song my father sang quite often: ‘Oh my papa’ by Eddie Fisher (the internet tells me).  The lines I remember are slightly different from what the internet offers.  This is what I remember. 

Oh, my papa, to me he was so wonderful
Oh, my papa, to me he was so good

Gone are the days when he could take me on his knee
And with a smile he'd change my tears to laughter

Oh, my papa, so gentle, so adorable
Deep in my heart I miss him so today.

To me, as a father now, these are the same sentiments that are expressed in TM’s song.  Not the same meaning, but it’s the same thing.  It is as much about himself as about his father.  We are insecure creatures, us fathers are.  Aren’t we?  We shouldn’t be.  We love our fathers, regardless.  And our children love us.  I am not sure if I’ve answered Shanthi’s question, but I’ve answered some questions I’ve been tossing aside for decades.



Chamindra H said...

Hi Malinda,

First of all Very Nice Post. personally, I feel children should be blamed to a certain extent for not understanding their fathers love. Fathers are always there and they love their children just as much as their mothers though they don't show it expressively like mothers. Children doesn't understand that and mostly get close to their moms from the day they are infants.

Mothers are the active lovers and Fathers are the silent lovers. Both love is equally needed to kids grow up and build themselves
to great men and women.

As human beings we tend to care about our parents after they are gone (I am not saying all, but majority is). So in my opinion, it is the duty of the children too to understand both their mothers and fathers love and affection towards them.

And regarding the blog post, just ask your father if he loves you. I am sure he will say he does. Since you have mentioned some songs let me recommend another song " Thattha mata anapu tokka " by Sunil Perea of "Gypsies" it is a apt song which describes how a Father love their sons.

Fathers will not always tell you or show you but deep down they love you more than they love themselves.

Cheers !!

pussycat said...

These are the writings i love best ... the personal sharings and conversations which you articulate so well cos you leave the vulnerable sensitive stuff in its fragile casing leaving out this absurd tendency to dissect and lose the essence in overanalysis. My father was always on the corner verandah chair at a certain time of day and on sundays. His almirah was arranged in a certain way and had a certain envelope and paper-linen-teakwood smell from the extra stationery supplies he kept in the drawer. He didnt provide the family with regualr income as he didnt work regularly up until 50 yrs of age ;) but he had a routine and with this routine rhythm was a constant in our lives. He showed us the clouds that change, the moon, the monsoon rains coming over the sea and these I remember as love. Love takes many forms... Lovely one.

Sum said...

Why Malinda, you didn't mention 'pithu senehe mudu piyeku nomathi lowa' song. That's a 'tear-sure' song for me every time I listen to that.

Thanks Malinda for this one. Reminded me that I should let my father know that he is my hero always.

NJDS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Malinda Seneviratne said...

i have only daughters. :)

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Sum.....i hadn't heard it and i read this comment only just now.....
අම්මාවරු මතු බුදු වන්නේ
පියවරු මයි ලොව
බුදු වන මව්නට
ඒ විවරණ දෙන්නේ

nice lines