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Father, Friend Or Both?

This is a true story narrated by a doting father – Anonymously as per his wish and request.

It was 3rd Wednesday of March 1999. B, my youngest was appearing for her 10th boards. Saturday was the last paper and we all had already drawn a long list of ‘to do’ from noon of Saturday. After all, the last daughter of the family will soon be entering junior college.

At 5 pm, a routine CBC report done that morning for my wife, revealed Acute Leukemia! And life was never the same.

Biggest predicament I faced was how to keep it from the entire family so as to ensure that the little princess finishes her last exam without any stress. The doctors were not willing to start the chemotherapy without counselling the patient about the disease. We hospitalised her in a non-cancer ward and started investigations. Waited with bated breath for Thursday & Friday. Saturday morning when B left for school, the entire family was told, patient was counselled and treatment began. I took extra care to break the news to V (eldest) & H (second one). When B came out of school jumping, ready for a meal out and movie in the evening, we three (me, V & H) broke the news to her with a false bravado on our faces, telling her Mom would be fine and life need not change except our holiday would be postponed.

Aware of the poor prognosis, as informed by the doctor, I started planning ahead on how will I manage my 3 princesses (15, 17 & 19).

The end came after 11 months, during which I had ensured that girls were involved even in the smallest decision that I took running the house. After all, I had to nurture them to become ‘ladies’ in their own right. One point worth mentioning here is that during last 20 days of her life when my wife was in coma (at home), I had short meetings with all three to discuss, “If any one of you feel that we are not doing enough for her by not shifting her to hospital, please say so. If the consensus is to take her to hospital, I am ready. But as you know Dr S has very clearly said there is no recourse”. I did not want them having any doubt left later in life that enough was not done. These discussions took place every 3-4 days as some ‘well wishing’ visitor would comment, “Why is she kept at home?”

How all this helped? I cannot say specifically but it did ‘mature’ them in a short time.

After the final rituals, I decided it was time to play my cards and set some rules. I took them to Barista for coffee and said, “We all have been through a lot but we have to promise ourselves and each other that despite all odds we will start our life anew and reach our goals that we had set prior to last March”. “We four will live like friends but I will continue to be the father. I promise you I will not be a dictator.”

That day we decided the following:

–      We will have dinner together (I am a self employed professional & for a year, reduced my working hours to be at home by 6, before any of the girls arrived).

–      If we ever have a difference of opinion, we shall sit down across a table and either I will convince them that I am right or they will convince me that I am in wrong.

–      I pronounced that I will start exotic cooking (Indian cooking is so difficult) and weekends will be ‘self cook’ days and each one will assist me by rotation (how else could I ensure that they learnt cooking). Weekends thus turned like camping picnics.

–      We decided that we will go to theatre (movies, plays, music) twice a month and eat out twice a month and they will get to decide, by rotation, where we’ll go. I will always comply!

–      As far as possible, we will avoid having any personal programme on the weekend.

–      I told them “You cherish things more if they are given in small doses. Hence, each of you will be given liberty to stay out based on age and advancements would be 1 hour per year of age”.

–      Since V (eldest) was entering media and knowing the younger generation’s penchant for wines, etc. I said “None of you will think of taking any alcoholic beverage before 21 and then too your first drink will be with me”. I have been castigated enough, by my elders, for saying this but my princesses feel, retrospectively, this was the most valuable thing I said that day. None of their friends have been talked to like this and continue to drink without family’s knowledge. On their 21st birthday, if they so wished, I would pore some wine for them. Two wished, one did not! I also promised them that day that I will never embarrass them by drinking, irresponsibly and they should promise the same.

We had our share of turmoil, some tough times but as rules were already laid down, things got sorted out without any complications. We sailed through next 10 years like friends, clinging to each other. I had to mend dashed dreams, nurse unachieved ambitions, cry with one on getting into a good college, against all odds, etc. Whatever the ups and downs we kept the communication lines open; tended to each other’s bruises as well as egos and kept going…

Today 13 years later, the project has come to an end. All 3 are in Management, senior corporate positions. Mature beyond age, rearing to go. Two have proved to be good mothers as well.

When I look back, I some how managed a right mix of being friend and father – just like a well-mixed cocktail. The lesson I teach them and my son-in-laws – be a friend but don’t let them forget who is the parent. Pamper but not blindly!

Finally, each to their own circumstances/environment!