My post “Do Indians Celebrate Father’s Day” elicited some comments and emails, from which I gathered that that I appear, to at least some people, as though I was some kind of a male Mother Teresa. I am writing this post to put a proper perceptive on that relationship.
It is, to be very pithy, confused.
It has now been more than six months since my father moved in with us. This was a prospect, that neither he nor I, had ever imagined possible. Man proposes and God disposes, and my father’s plans to predecease his second wife, came a cropper and I had to call him to come and live with us. His living with us has brought with us a number of changes to the way our household ran. His presence is affecting my own possible second career, due to his paranoiac fear of something happening to me, every time I step out of the house. To see that he is comfortable and be more or less his secretary and Personal Assistant is quite taxing at times. He has been a great manipulator of people and old habits die hard. To handle his manipulation in a way that he realizes that it will not work and I am on to him is like what a matador in the bull ring experiences.
For various reasons, the relationship between my father and his children has not been very loving for nearly five decades. By and large, he lived his life the way he wanted and pretty much left us all alone, and we wanted it that way. This was due to circumstances about which I would prefer to write some time in the future, but suffice it to say, we were from a dysfunctional home. He lived his life, and we did ours.
The relationship between our mother and the four of us however was on much stronger ground. She finally left an unsatisfactory relationship, when the last of her duties was performed as per our societal norms. . After that and as long as was alive, she spent all of her time in succession with one of us and had nothing to do with him. After that, to say that she was literally spoilt by the four of us and our spouses would be an understatement. Perhaps we were over compensating for what she had to endure during the time she had to live with our father.
Let me take this post forward by quoting from something that I have been reading recently to try and make sense of my life.
“The ever shifting, but almost perennially uneven balance of affection and obligation between parent and child, is one of life’s deepest and most bitter sweet experiences. And it illustrates how imprecise the genes can be in turning on and off our emotional spigots. Though there seems to be no good Darwinian reason to spend time and energy on and old, dying father, few of us would, or could, turn our backs. The stubborn core of familial love persists, beyond its evolutionary usefulness. Most of us, presumably, are glad for this crudeness of genetic control – although, of course, there is no way of knowing what our opinion would be if the controls were more precise.”
Robert Wright – “The Moral Animal – Why we are the way we are. The new science of evolutionary psychology.”
So, what is it that I am now undergoing? An experience of affection or is it an experience of doing my duty as an obligation? Whatever it is, I can vouch for the writer’s observation that it is one of life’s deepest and most bitter sweet experiences. The frequency with which I suffer from ‘whymeitis’, since the passing away of Urmeela, is not something that I ever thought that I would undergo. The mystery of and the turning on and off of the emotional spigot, and the controls not being precise enough is quite frustrating.
The answer perhaps is from this paragraph from the same book:
“In theory, and in fact, the dearness of parents to children also changes over time. In the pitiless eyes of natural selection, the utility of our parents to us declines, after a certain point, even faster than ours to them, as we pass through adolescence, they are less and less critical databanks, providers, and protectors. And as they pass through middle age, they are less and less likely to further promulgate our genes. By the time they are old and infirm, we have little if any genetic use for them. Even as we attend to their needs, (or pay someone else to); we may feel traces of impatience and resentment. Our parents, in the end, are as dependent on us as we once were on them, yet we don’t look after their needs with quite the same gusto they brought to ours.”
If an erudite and knowledgeable person can write like this, perhaps I can take solace from the fact that I am not alone in experiencing this peculiar emotional roller coaster ride. Perhaps there is something to the theory of ‘Natural Selection’ after all!
It also would be nice, if I could get Ranjan to do a guest post on his take on this subject! I shall try.