Father son
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June 19 is Father’s Day. A day to honour the contributions of fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers and even father figures. How do you remember your father? Or, what’s the best memory of your father?

For better or worse, most fathers would have played pivotal roles in each person’s life. Many have been deprived of that simply because their fathers passed away too early, or maybe fathers walked out on their families. For children bereft of a father figure in their lives, the void is huge. Nothing can fill that vacuum.

I had a friend who never felt his father’s loving touch. His father died in an accident while his mother was pregnant. He was much younger than me; he was more of a friend to my kid brother. Every time I see him, I’m reminded of his loss, and I always wonder how it must have been for him to grow up without a father.

Lessons from my father

I could never fathom that. More because my father was a massive influence in my life. A quiet influence. I looked up to him, learnt from him and even picked up some of his habits like reading, writing and smoking later in life. I even learnt to write like him; our handwritings are identical. I even copied the early flourish of his signature into mine.

He was not much into advice or admonishments; he left us to grow up the way we wanted. Not many of my friends enjoyed that freedom. I could never understand why the sight of fathers struck fear in them. If they spot their dads at a distance, some of them used to flee during football or any other game we were playing. “Dad’s coming…”, they would say before running home. And that would leave me dumbfounded. I could never understand it.

I never had to hide in the middle of a game when my father passed by. He would never interrupt the game. On occasions, he would stop to enjoy the action. Again, no advice. No upbraiding either, even if I turned up late. That job is left to my mother, who wouldn’t miss a chance to scold me. She had a curfew: I should be home before dark. That was her order.

Progress Reports were a terror in my schooldays. They contained marks scored in term examinations. Some of us were not studious, so the marks weren’t flattering. Worse, the report cards had to be signed by a parent. I never had an issue, even when I flunked two subjects. You should do better, my father would say as he signed my report card.

My friends weren’t so lucky. I once walked into a house in the neighbourhood to find my friend, his siblings, nephews and nieces standing in a line as his father, with a cane in hand, inspected each of their progress cards. A scary sight!

Nothing fazed my father until he caught me smoking. He didn’t say a word to me, and that silence was worrying. Deep down, I knew he was hurt. He must have been angry with himself in the belief that I picked up the habit from him. In reality, it was peer pressure.

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I was lucky. I knew that. My siblings and I were free to chart our careers. And we thrived in that freedom. I used that freedom to choose my wife without his consent, which didn’t go down well with him. He would have preferred someone from the same stock, but he never showed his displeasure. In fact, he treated my wife more like his daughter.

I carried that freedom into my life and let my children choose their academic pursuits and careers. Even encouraged their choices. I tried to be like the father I had. But unlike my father, I never skimped on giving advice or reprimanding them. My daughter would attest to that.

But then, that’s me. I’m not my father. I’m overly concerned about my children. Are they getting it right? Did they miss something? I keep worrying.

I know I can’t be like my father. He’s one of a kind. He lives in me.