After Ma’s Betrayal, I Couldn’t Hurt Dad: An Ode to Our Odd Bond

My father hasn’t been talking to me for more than a month. Far from him, in London, I feel physical anxiety.

4 min read
I miss my father so much.

Sometime ago I asked Pitaji to visit me in London. “I will, when you make £4000 a month”. I barely make two.

That’s my father...always wanting me to do better. He hasn’t been talking to me for more than a month. I scrolled through old messages to check what I did wrong this time. This seems odd to many coming from an adult woman but whenever he goes silent, I feel physical anxiety.

“Daddy Issues”

The Man once said I have daddy issues. Urban Dictionary defines it as “what a girl has when she is rejected by her father. Often results in her having trouble finding a significant other and trusting people. Girls with daddy issues will also sometimes date older men.”

A writer (male) on claims women with daddy issues ‘crave male attention’ and are ‘clingy’. None of this is derived from any scientific studies or data analysis.

I looked for something a tad more scientific and it led me to ‘father complex’. The term was first used by Freud in the early 20th century and later adopted by Carl Jung. US-based Perspectives Counselling’s website says, “father complex develops when a person has a poor relationship with his or her father. The need for approval, support, love and understanding progresses into adulthood, and it may result in bad decisions with relationships.” The website further adds that “men with father complexes tend to struggle with approval and self-worth, while women tend to yearn for protection and validation.”

The fathers, in such cases, are absent, unloving or abusive. Pitaji is neither. He lived his life by the books — never late for anything, never bribed anyone, stayed married to the same woman and never shirked his responsibilities. Meticulous, organised, rule abiding — always played safe, no experiments and no risks.

Growing up, I needed him more than I needed my mother. I feared that post my menses I would’ve to keep a decorous distance. But he bought me pads and washed my stained bedcovers. He was the one who made me taste alcohol for the first time before I turned 18.

Disappointing Him

As a kid, his disappointment in me was mainly pertaining to grades. Silent treatment was his go-to move even then. He would resume conversation once he felt I was suitably chastised. Good grades didn’t receive any special treatment, only a note to do better. “Why can’t you ever say anything nice, dad?”

I am 31 now — still waiting for him to say something nice.

Pitaji was fairly liberal for an Indian middle-class man from the fifties. Once he came home early from work while I was fooling around with a ‘boyfriend’. He offered the guy tea. He didn’t ask me any questions or reprimand me for bringing home a guy. When this guy turned stalker after the relationship ended, Pitaji put him in his place with one stern warning.

Years later, he told me to not short-change myself for a man; “never chase after them; be so accomplished that they come for you.” So it baffled me when at 25, he said it was time to find a husband; that I might have to compromise when it comes to finding one. He thought it was okay to list me on wedding websites; in giving me a deadline to find a husband — before his retirement in a year’s time. My marriage became his obsession. I didn’t ask why.

I never asked why: not when he said homework HAD to be done by Friday night; when he said NO to school trips; when he said NO to sleepovers at friends’ houses. Daddy loved me, daddy provided for me, daddy knew best, I should respect daddy because that’s what good kids did.

“I am not possessive, I am protective about you,” was a line I heard often. “No one can ever love you the way I do,” was another. When the boyfriends and best friends broke up, he said “I told you so.”

My Mother’s Betrayal

I think the unexpected breakdown of my parents’ marriage had a role to play in making him a paranoid person. I was around 18 when my mother looked out of the marriage. Pitaji asked me if he was a terrible person, whether he looked ugly; what could he do to get my Mom back — trying to make sense of why his painstakingly nurtured family fell apart. How could his plans go wrong?

I couldn’t betray him like mom. So I was prepared to get on any wedding portal if that gave him peace. The new refrain was no one can be trusted. “Don’t even trust me. Who is to say I won’t turn against you?” he said during one of our emotionally tense moments together.

Now, after 10 years, his words seem to ring true; whenever London becomes overwhelming and I feel like leaving it all and going home, I am not sure about the reception I will receive. Mom and dad are still together but mom’s one-time betrayal has now been replaced by mine. I am the lasting blemish on the family honour.

The Man and I have been together for six years but he has no plans of marriage and kids. Pitaji wrote to The Man to marry me else “what will become of Shyama”. I’d rather he had threatened The Man with dire consequences. Do not chase after a man, indeed.

I miss my father so much. Sometimes, I contemplate getting married so that his attitude towards me softens a tad. But the ridiculousness of it slaps me in the face.

After 26 years of ‘ji pitaji’, I am beginning to find my personhood. Marriage to get daddy’s approval is a recipe for disaster and divorce still doesn’t have a place in India. I am sorry Pitaji if you can’t see how far I have come. I will focus on making the £4000; publishing a book; building a house.

Maybe then you will say something nice.

(Shyama Laxman has an MA in Creative Writing from City University, London and now she writes sales pitches. Dreams come true or so they say.)

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