'He couldn't turn me into the child he wanted. And sadly, he was not the father I needed'
What happens when your relationship with your father feels like it’s beyond repair?
Some TV advertisements have been permanently etched onto our brains. Aamir Khan’s iconic “Thanda matlab Coca Cola”, the hilarious but also terrifying chocolate man in the Axe commercial, and what had been my personal anthem, “My daddy strongest!”, courtesy of Dhara cooking oil. I was that annoying kid, papa ki pari, the first-born grandchild who would be taken to McDonald’s every Sunday to have French fries and accompany their father to work parties. I would never have believed I’d grow up to have such a complicated relationship with my father.
As with many Indian families, my father went to the Gulf to work. I was just 7, so my formative years passed without him watching me grow up and become who I am today. My mother took on the role of both parents, while my Ajja (paternal grandfather) stepped in as a bonus dad. He took me to swim classes, ensured I reached school on time, and ran behind me while I learnt how to cycle. Despite the distance, at the time, I didn’t have such a complicated relationship with my father. I’d pour my heart out in letters, decorating them enthusiastically. It wasn’t easy to be away from his family, and I wanted to make him feel better.
When he finally moved back, I was 15, and it felt like we were meeting for the first time. We had forgotten how to communicate. My father lost his own mother when he was in his late 20s, so he had to become the decision-maker and support system for himself and his dad. That had moulded his personality, making him the kind of person who had to have the last say on everything, taking the wheel without accommodating other people’s thoughts. This need for control seeped into all his relationships, including ours.
His controlling nature grew tendrils into every aspect of my life. The more I fought it, the more fraught our relationship became. Neither my brother nor I are the people my dad wanted us to be – overachievers whom he could boast about saying, “Mera beta IIT mein hai (my son is in IIT). My daughter is a doctor at this prestigious hospital”. And it’s not for a lack of trying.
Our relationship started to break down in the final years of school, and college cemented it. In typical dad fashion, he wanted me to study science. I tried, I really did, to make him happy, but my brain couldn’t process any of it. I lost a point in his eyes there. During my undergrad, he went through my journal and found snippets that made him instantly believe that I was an addict and needed medical intervention. It was the stereotypical college shenanigans everyone gets into, never beyond that.
In his eyes, I fell again, and I couldn’t see us returning from that. I don’t think he even tried to hide his disapproval. As much as he tried to control our lives, he couldn’t turn me into the child he wanted. And sadly, he was not the father I needed.
Even the smallest of interferences from him turned into blow-outs. He just bought a ceiling light for my room without including me in the decision, but expected a thousand thanks from me. When I said it was a little too bright, he yelled at me for being ungrateful. My friends refuse to come over because he’s made his dislike for them so apparent, even creating a huge ruckus on the road once when I was out with them.
I still respect and look up to my father, so I pull out all my people-pleasing skills to get his approval. I still haven’t gotten there.
Having this complicated relationship with my father has had a ripple effect on other aspects of my being. I still live at home, and it feels like I’m always being watched. I have become so aware of my surroundings at home that when I hear someone walking, my brain scrambles to try and figure out who it is. I’m always holding my breath and waiting for something to happen, which is physically and mentally exhausting. I get startled easily if someone walks into my room and I don’t hear them coming. I’m always on edge, anxious and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
You’d think I’d hate my father, be angry and resent him. I have those feelings, but I still want him to like me. I still want him to be a part of my life. I spoke to him about a new job I was taking to get his perspective, but he only said I should have been paid more or worked with a bigger company. Nothing is good enough for him.
While my father continues trying to ‘mend’ me (rather than our relationship), I often wonder if moving out is the only solution. But I don’t think my ‘daddy issues’ will disappear soon. We mock women for this but rarely pull up the failures of men who make their kids feel this way. A father’s job isn’t limited to bringing in money but creating an emotional connection. Even if we disagree, or he can’t understand where I’m coming from, it should be his responsibility to at least try.
I still hope that, in time, this complicated relationship with my father will get softer or nicer, more understanding. In the meantime, I will continue to stand up for myself and do what I think is right for me, even if it hurts his ego.
The contributor’s identity has been concealed upon their request for anonymity.