An absent present father..

Oh, don’t worry. He’s very much there, as in, his physical being is. But he has never been a father to me. He’s been the first to place restrictions, and the last time I remember having love and attention from him is when I was too small to question his view on life.

Father’s usually come with daughters when it’s time to go to college, they help them with the fairly intimidating task of form-filling and documentation and ensuring a college is good enough to go to. My father actively tries to stop me from going to college. He thought too much education would give me ideas. I got the education anyway and I got those ideas he was afraid too, but not without the fear of him withdrawing financial support, every year for seven years of my post-school education. A 16 year old should be worrying about her study schedule, not marriage schedule.

Anyway, as I studied humanities, I got to understand that this was part of his cultural upbringing. Fathers were to be aloof, he was told. They were the rule setters and they got children to conform to what was right. Which is why he tried to ensure I do not get too smart or too independent, because I would not have a husband.

It would be okay if this was all. I have seen many dads in the extended family, who want to make their daughters conform to this. But, there is still an emotional wavelength despite it. None of them have an absolutely selfish, emotionally devoid father like mine.

He grew up in a family that only paid attention to instrumental things – the earning, how much the daughter’s in law could do around the house, and how many children they could bear. My father divorced his first wife because she could not get pregnant. His family claimed this was because they were not told from before about her health issues. It is not that they feel empathy and emotions and they suppress them. No, they only understand power and self satisfaction. That’s just how they’re wired after years of conditioning. That’s why, my dad’s brother who spent his formative years in Karachi, away from this family environment, is a tad better.

So this Father’s Day, I think the only gift I can thank dad is for the many emotions that lived in me, that guided me on my path of healing and social justice. I thank him for the opportunity to study oppression so closely, and to show first hand how, relationships with the oppressor can grow so complicated.

All the absence of love and family, made me know what love and family should look like.

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A Letter To The Unborn Children: We Have No Love to Give You

Hello,

This is a letter to the unborn children.
We decided not to give birth to you because we have had too much tough love and do not want to pass it on.
Our parents never complemented us, no matter what we achieved.
Criticism, however, could always be found, like the fast food restaurants around the corner.
Is that cruel of us? Selfish?
We decided that we are too damaged to ever be good parents.
Our low-self esteem and self-destructive tendencies are too deeply entrenched.
It will go two ways. Either, we will spoil you silly, because we are too afraid to repeat what will happen to us. Or, we will just repeat what was done to us. We will rip you apart with negativity, and make you wish you were not born.
We will make you feel so shitty that you will choose the worst friends and relationships that will feel the negative cycle of bad self worth. You will feel that it is indeed true – you are bad and you deserve nothing.
And all this, because “we don’t praise our children due to the fear that we may spoil you”.

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Well, we have spoiled life for you anyway. By ensuring that you never think well of yourself and keep self sabotaging.
Life will be an endless cycle of pain, in the name of love. Tough love.
And even if some of did experiment, out of our own selfish need to prove ourselves or to have a legacy, then, what kind of a world will you live in anyway? The madness of fascism and the emptiness of capitalism are your only choices.
Not to mention, there’d be very few trees. You would never know Nature, like we did.
No, the spoilt game has gone on for too long. For too long, we have made emotional mistakes, in our homes and on our lands, and then we expect that some child from a future generation will come and fix this. We use this to quell our anxiety of making a big mistake. And we use this line way too often to take the choice of abortion away. Never mind the fact that we have an active child porn and child labour industry which is eating up at children’s lives anyway.

We had a choice once we were capable of thinking. We had compassion and competition both and we decided to fuel competition and envy for a few short gains. And spent centuries justifying it.
Our hypocrisy has gone on for too long. It must stop. Maybe we are wrong and you would indeed have been the generation that saves us and fixes our faults. But why should you have to?
People who cannot pass on love, should not be allowed to pass on mistakes to be fixed.

Expectations that kill: A case for parenting in India

I grew up in a home where girls were not really expected to soar to heights in their career, and were expected to be demure little things stirring the porridge in the kitchen. While that came with baggage of its own, I believe I narrowly escaped the catastrophe of what intense academic pressure could do to you.

My masters thesis was about the perception of school in children, and even in my current work, I come across children and teenagers facing academic and career issues.

The problem is not the stress they face, because each  situation in life will have stress, but it is the peculiar way that patentable expectations have become so set in stone that question their rationality is never a question.

‘Make my parents proud’ was written by almost each 9th std kid who answered my Masters thesis survey. This meant that he or she wanted to keep scoring impossibly high and end up in an IIT or an IIM or be an MD. Anything else was unimaginable.

The parent is a child’s first reference point of the world. We take our parents very seriously. In this country, all the more so because of the culture of obedience. It becomes very difficult for us to fathom that our parents have unrealistic expectations from us.

The result: We start to feel that the problem is within me. I must be dumb or stupid. Or else, why can’t I score like my elder brother or my neighbor’s kid?
Pretty soon, I start to doubt my self image and become a bundle of nerves. Extreme anxiety can make me kill myself. But I will not dare question my parents.

An important part of childhood is to explore and understand yourself. While we like sending our kids to expensive classes and buying world class toys for them, we do not let them be free and think. The result being that a 15 year old cannot answer a question as simple as ‘what are some things you have been good at since childhood?’

How can he, when all he was told is how bad he was, how he was letting everyone down, and how he must do better still.

India is facing a parenting crisis. Right from setting realistic expectations to handling failure to managing the sexuality of the child, we are not at all up to the task. While many parents, especially parents of children with special needs are in fact learning these things, the masses seem to still be following the age old rigmarole.

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Here’s some facts to wrap your head around if you are a parent: each child is not going to be an engineer or a doctor or an IAS officer. If money or a good career could buy happiness, 36% of India would not be depressed. 30% of young people have mental health issues.

The question before you is this, can you accept a child for his unique strengths and capacities or would you want your child to be a self-hating bundle of anxiety? Or worse, dead?