The Indian Father

As I browsed through my news feed, I saw just a single male friend make a mention of Father’s day. By and large, it was only my women friends who were vocal in their appreciation of their fathers. It is no surprise that when Aamir Khan said “Jab Tak Is Desh ke baap nahin sudrenge, yeh desh nahi sudrega” (This country will improve only when fathers improve), it was so well received by a lot of us. 


The Indian father (especially in the context of sons) is a scared fellow working a thankless job. He has good intentions, or at least feigns good intentions, all the while beating down the child (emotionally and/or physically), instilling fear in him and making him feel like a worthless fellow. In a strange twisted way, it is the father’s way of encouraging his son to become the best he can be. But its not so simple. The son, to him, is a reflection of his legacy and values, no doubt. But he also invariably becomes the dart board for his frustrations. His vision for his son’s future, is his greatest ambition. But the son also remains his biggest competition (although he will never admit to it). The policies towards the son is fear driven and operates on the assumption that the son is a moron and will never know what is good for him. The father’s love and pride for his son is concealed, but his critique is always vociferous. The result is a relationship that is as complex as it is conflicted.


Make no mistake, a lot of Indian fathers are excellent role models. But not all of them are role models in the conventional sense nor do they become role models through conventional means. As a son, one’s frustration towards one’s father, is made more chaotic by the love, respect and affection the father has earned in their work place and outside the home. The mothers do a dandy job of reminding the son that all his frustrations are unreasonable, as the father works tirelessly to put food on the table and keep shelter on their heads. So the son is driven to not just become as good as the father, but he strives to become better than him.  Financial independence represents the ticket to criticize the father and break free of the conflicted position. That is how we have consistently produced such phenomenal achievers.


Unfortunately for the father and the son, they do not understand that seemingly paradoxical feelings can exist for the father. Instead children assume that they can either respect their father or disrespect him, despite being sub consciously aware that such categorization is over simplistic. They will not know that they can respect the good which the father brings to the table and remain profoundly disgruntled with the endless discouragement and pressure their fathers put them through.


Speaking as a son, we would thus be lying if we say that we love our fathers. We don’t love them, at least in the conventional cheesy sense. We are respectful, we are grateful and we will be there for our fathers as they age. But we will become conscious of the good they did only after their time on this earth is over and not before. Any expression of love will be expressed and recieved with awkwardness and therefore avoided. We can never ever feel emotionally intimate with our fathers, nor can they feel that with us.


For his part, the father’s role and contribution will never recieve the thanks it deserves. His insensitive actions and words, no matter how well founded and bona fide, will never be afforded the empathy or forgiveness it deserves. In short, a significant portion of father son relationships represent the greatest tragedy of the human condition, where both father and son are victims. This tragedy is further perpetuated by our failure to accept the reality around father son relationships.


I am not drawing any sweeping generalizations. I am sure there are perfectly simple father son relationships out there. On the contrary, there could be just as many complex father daughter relationships as well. I know for a fact that mother daughter relationships can be just as confusing. I confess that I speak for a portion, not the whole.

But the one general conclusion I will not hesitate to draw is this- Can we, going forward make better choices if we become fathers ourselves? No wait, that is expecting too much. So I will rephrase.


Can we, at least promise to make mistakes, which are different from the mistakes our fathers made with us?


I am one of those rare people in India who can say that he grew up under one of the most decent, honourable and selfless fathers a person can get. Our relationship has many flaws and we have no doubt driven each other mad at many levels. My aloofness and lack of academic drive complimented his stellar achievements and expectations from me. But all things said and done, I never needed to look outside to know what kind of a lawyer or a human being I should be when I grow up.
I do not expect to improve if I ever become a father myself, but I will hope to evolve so that my kid will find fault with me for reasons, different than the reasons based on which I found fault with my folks 🙂
Happy Bloody Father’s Day indeed 🙂


3 thoughts on “The Indian Father

  1. This is a very educational post, Ashok. Even as an American woman, I can relate to much of what you revealed.

    In a home with seven kids, I watched this dynamic between my father and older brother.
    blessings ~ maxi

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