Growing up, he was never at my cricket games. He was not there when I won the debate competition in tenth grade. He sometimes attended parent-teacher conferences. When I went to university, he did not visit me until graduation day. It wasn’t the flight money that was the issue. My father was a wealthy man and he afforded us some of life’s best luxuries. It was that my father always prioritized work and social life before family life. It’s a trend that a lot of my friends have also faced in their families.
I grew up in Mumbai, India. My father owned a well-run, well-managed jewelry business. Growing up, I had no lack of the best toys, the coolest video games, and the trendiest clothes. As a kid that was the dream. I remember very clearly that for my eighth birthday, my father went on a business trip to Singapore and brought back decks of Pokemon cards! What late nineties, eight-year-old kid wouldn’t love that?! My father loved all of his children. A lot. That much we know. Whenever he went on a trip he brought chocolates for me and my sisters. He brought whatever list of things my sisters gave him. My mother used to say that because my father grew up in relative poverty, he didn’t want his children to lack anything. So he gave us what he wanted when he wanted. It was his way of showing his affection for us. Buying us things.
His best gift to us was putting us through the best education money could buy in Mumbai. We went to a private school, one that prepped us for college in North America and the UK. His efforts and the education he allowed us to have enabled us to attend world-renowned universities (which he also financed) and allowed us to lead the successful lives we live now. Both my sisters were Oxford graduates who are now doctors. I went to Berkeley and now work in big tech as an engineer for a Silicon Valley software company. My father was directly responsible for this success.
As grateful as I am for having a father that provided us so much, when I look at my sisters and their husbands, it makes me jealous to see how involved they are in their children’s lives. My nieces and nephews have fathers that ask them about their days at school, what they did if they were having any issues or not. I’ve seen my nephew talk openly to his dad about a crush he had in school. I watched how my brother in law advised his son to ask the girl if she felt the same way and be respectful when he popped the question. When I liked a girl at school, talking to my dad about it was the last thing on my mind. I feared the awkwardness of the situation let alone backlash I was sure to receive from going against my family’s conservative values. During the rare dinners when my father actually had dinner with us (he would often miss dinners because he was out most days until 10 pm), he only asked me how my studies were going at school. I usually replied by saying they were fine. When I brought home the report cards and it showed As and A stars, he was fine with those too.
In hindsight, my father’s lack of involvement in my life affected me profoundly. I was never able to ask my father (or my mother) the deeply personal questions I needed to ask him. I couldn’t tell them about the girl I liked in my school. Talking about sex and how to do it safely was firmly taboo. I wish I could have talked to him about my insecurities about pursuing an engineering degree (something that was the best for me) versus pursuing English Literature (something I loved). The inner child in me still wishes I could come home every day after school and get a hug from my father. I wish he would have played cricket with me after school. I wish he would have attended those games, and watched me score the winning runs, and then told me how proud he was of me. I am grateful for how he loved us. However, his hands-off approach to family life gave me a sense of loss in my childhood that I still carry as a burden today.