Sunday, January 27, 2013

To My Father (In All His Forms)

Today is my late father's birthday, a day my family remembers as we all feel his absence most poignantly. Along with my family, I miss him terribly as well. People tell me that he and I have the same smile.

The myth of Orpheus (my students well know where I am going with this; I can feel them roll their eyes and say to themselves, "Here she goes again!") cautions us against looking backwards. Orpheus, the musician, convinced the gods of the Underworld to let his dead wife's soul to follow him out of the Shadows; the gods agreed, with the condition that he not look back until both of them are out of the Underworld. Orpheus agrees and somehow holds his patience until he is out of the Underworld, waits a bit, and turns around, hoping to see his beloved smiling at him. However, she is not out yet and he loses her all over again and spends his days mourning him, unable to do anything else, until he is torn apart. This myth resonates heavily with me. I have tried very hard to avoid looking back, no matter how strong the lure. The myth cautions that every time we look back, we lose that which we love the most, all over again; who can afford any more losses?

There have been many days when all I've wanted to do is submit to debilitating grief, rage against the most basic principles of existence, and I am ashamed to say, I have indulged in this. When I was young, this was my nightmare, a world without my father. Then I grew up, made choices, and it turned out that I never saw my father once I immigrated.

Before my patient reader resigns to a litany of self-pity, let me stop. This post is about celebrating all those we miss, not a list of all things we miss about them. Yes, I miss my father's voice, his laughter, the way he said my name, his fingers circling my wrist in protection and comfort, even his silent rage. Then, I went back to visit my home town after over a decade of having left it, imagining that my father's absence will yawn at me and I was apprehensive.

What happened, however, was the absolute opposite. I saw my family alive and well, his favorite foliage swinging in the breeze in our backyard, his favorite knick-knacks on many, many shelves, even the cadence of his speech and pitch of his laughter every time I talked to anyone in the family.

The time away from my father during the first years of my immigration taught me to seek him in the world around me. I learned to recognize my father's voice when I heard his favorite songs; I learned to enjoy the sunrise and sunset for him; I learned to remember the maxims he repeated and use them as guiding metaphors. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter picked up the violin in middle school for her music credit; I was happiest when she would practice, since my father used to love his violin and played all the time.

Now, even though I miss my father's presence all the time, I do not feel his absence any more. Every time I see my sibling and cousins, every time I meet my uncles and aunts, every time I get an email or message from my mother, every time I see my child smiling, every time I see my niece concentrating, every time I see my nephews laughing, I feel my father's presence. The nightmare world of my youth does not seem nightmarish at all!

Today is his birthday and we all have greeted each other in his name. I raise my tea cup in his name, on this warm, silvery day, as I look forward to enjoying my Sunday afternoon, stretching out infinitely before me. I know that somehow, somewhere, I will meet my father in many many forms and I only pray that when I do, I recognize him as we share our smile.


  1. Feliz cumpleanos to your dad.
    I read somewhere that you are always in existence as long as someone remembers you in their hearts!

  2. Beautiful. I wish I, too, could see him in his absence the way you do. I just miss him terribly and feel no body can ever be near him even symbolically. But, I think you are right. Rather than missing him we should see him in things that he loved and enjoyed. Thanks for giving me a new vision.

  3. Beautiful Shefali, brought tears to my eyes.

  4. Oh Chaula! I wish you many smiles instead! Thank you so much for visiting!

  5. Truly have inherited your father's artistry!

  6. I know I should smile, you write so well,I shared with my mother too.

  7. Thank you so much, Chaula! Please do convey my pranams to your parents.

  8. Shefu, beautifully written. Reminds me of all the wonderful times we shared and will cherish. we will always miss Nalinkaka.

    1. Thank you, Namisha! Yes. We will always miss the times past, but I am equally glad I got to live them!