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30 January 2014

My dad. The Superman....

The other day I was sitting in the house discussing about some investment matters with my father.

My father and I do not talk much on investing. Even though I have multiple MBAs in Finance with Investing as my elective subject, he would much rather listen to the neighborhood investment agent while making his investment decisions. 

My father is about 84 now and very healthy. His memory is very sharp and his faculties are also very sharp. Except for an occasional backache, he doesn't have many complaints. 

I am the eldest of his four sons. All the four of us are engineers with Post Graduate Qualifications. I have done my MBA and my brothers have done their masters in different areas of engineering. 

My father had done his diploma in electrical engineering and joined a local cement factory at a low level and climbed the career ladder to retire as head of the Electrical Department in the company. One of the things that impressed me about my father, during my formative years, was his impeccable work ethic. Any time the company required, he was there. Since he was the electrical engineer, that (the company requiring him) would be at midnight during heavy monsoon showers when the water will short circuit the electric lines and the company will come to a standstill. Midnight or 2.00 AM, as soon as he gets a call, he will take his torch and will leave for the factory. He will be back in the morning, have a bath and will be again at the office at 8.00 AM.

Excellent work ethic, had my dad.

During our early years, our emotional relationship was formal, I think. I don't think it was very affectionate and close. His father was very formal to him, so was he to us. One area where I wished he would be different is in respecting our knowledge and wisdom. For him, he was always right and that was it. Over a period of time, the chasm in the world view grew. I came to realize the futility of arguing with him and tried to avoid situations where I will have to argue with him. Still it was difficult to stop myself from reacting to some of the very strong comments that he used to make about others.

The point is that my relationship with my father was more formal than informal. 

Which also meant that I did not know much about my father. I knew the basics of course. He was born as the fourth son of a leading lawyer in Kerala, he was born to a very rich family, he looked after his father in his (my Granddad's evening years), on his father's death, my father took care of a large extended family, his next younger brother was academically brilliant, his coworkers used to have a lot of respect for him....

But I never knew how he was as a kid. I was not aware as to what was his driving force. How he came to be what he was. How was his relation with his dad when he was a kid? Was his dad affectionate? Was my dad close to him? What was the dynamics of the house he grew up in? Like men of his generation, my granddad distanced himself from his kids and was mostly aloof to them. Also my granddad was very tall with a towering personality. My dad was short, may be 5'4''. What impact did that height difference have on the father-child relationship?

Though I had different opinions from my father on many a subject, I never went into the detailed analysis of his formative years to understand how he became what he became. 

That was why I found the following anecdote very fascinating and very emotional. 

While talking in general, my dad comes up with some anecdotes from his past which throws light on some of the dynamics that played a part in his life.

Like the one  below.

While discussing the investments, my father said, "My father had about 100 Acres of land in Mundakayam ( a place in Kerala). Before his death, he sold the entire land to Christian Plantation Owners at One rupee per cent or 10000 Rupees for 100 Acres of land (10000 Rupees works out to about 250 USD). This was in about 1950. I was sitting next to him as he signed the sale papers. I still remember all those Christians sitting in our Verandha surrounding my father as his signed away his huge property. I remember my father telling them the reason that he was selling the land. 'My sons are all useless. They do not have the capacity to take care of this property'. Now that property would be worth Crores...". 

His voice trailed off.

'My sons are all useless....'

I try to imagine how my father would have felt at that time. Here was a boy, may be a teenager, eager for the love and affection of his dad, and his dad was making this devastating comment about how  'all his sons', which included him, as 'useless'. Did his father know the impact that this comments would have on the sensitive teenager? Did my Granddad know my father at all?

The point is that not only my Grandfather held these views, he acted on them. He sold his property because he thought that his sons were 'useless'. It is one thing to shout to your children that 'All of you are useless' (my father had done it to us hundreds of times in the heat of the moment), but it is another thing to take a major decision based on that thought process. These, shouting and action, have different impact on sensitive children. Shouting tells the children that you care enough to feel, but action tells them that you have given up on them. 

As an adult, my dad turned out to be a steady, responsible fellow. He stayed back in Kerala and started working in a company at a low pay. Initially he had to take care of his father. My grandfather became sick during his last years and he had only my father for help and support. The family was very big. My grandfather had spent most of his money and had very few stuff left after he left. My father and his next younger brother, effectively took it upon their shoulders to provide for the large family. The meagre salary of my dad and his brother had to be rationed to take care of a family of about 12-14, most of them being kids of very young age. 

In addition, both of them had recently married and had children of their own. This added to the load on my father and his brother. But they soldiered on. Without complaining, without rancour, they (and their spouses) just went about providing for their large extended family. Day after day after day. For almost 10-12 years. 

On top of this, my father ensured that all of us, his sons were well educated. It was not easy. Engineering education is not very cheap, even then. Though his salary was not very high, he never made us feel as if we were hard up. All our necessities were taken care of. He had money for our tuition, for our health, for our games, for our hobbies...

Despite his hardship, he never made us feel that we did not have money. I never felt the money hardship when I was growing up. Never. 

He and his brother, systematically paid off all the lenders and got back much of what was mortgaged. He paid off one after another of the lenders....

Then he got his younger sister married off. He arranged the marriage of his youngest brother. (I remember going to Tirunelveli when he went to see our a girl for my Chithappa (literally 'Small Father', my father's younger brother).

There is something noble about doing regular stuff day after day without complaining. Getting up in the morning, going to the office, taking care of your know, the works. It is even more remarkable when you have to hide your frustrations, your disappointments, hide your 'if only things were different' feeling that strike once a while. It is extraordinary when you are doing these stuff selflessly, never for yourself but mostly your immediate relations. And it is awesome to do these stuff not for any selfish gains, but because of a sense of responsibility.

Being the head of the family, he was the final repository of the frustrations and irritations of everyone around him. From his spouse, through his children, to all those who were dependent on him, his was the shoulder to cry on. When he did stuff that people did not like, they blamed him. When people were scared he was the one they approached for courage and strength. And he was there for them.

Where did he vent his frustrations? His fears? His irritation?

He didn't. Because he couldn't afford to.

For one, he was very busy just carrying on. There were mouths to feed. And also, he couldn't show his emotions, his frustrations, his fears. It would have been disastrous for the entire family if he allowed himself to get emotional or frustrated. He was the pillar of the family, the rock of Gibraltar of the family.  Any display of fear on his part would have disintegrated the family.

He just did what he had to do.

You can measure the success of his approach by the simple fact that all those children whom he supported are doing really well today. All are well educated and all are well settled with kids of their own.

That is the result. The satisfactory result of all his efforts.

At the end of the day, when you look back, these are the achievements that matter. It is never the money you earn !!

Never did we as children realize the amazingly superior work that my dad (and mom) were doing. Sometimes I wonder if I would be able to do what my father did, if I were in his situation? Would I have stayed to fight? Would I have withstood the pressure from all those lenders threatening you with 'Consequences'? Would I have been able to take care of my siblings the way my dad did? Would I have been able to overcome my frustrations and fear and still soldier on? 

Or would I have taken the easy way out and found thousand reasons as to why it was all my dad's fault? 

I don't know. I don't have an answer.

I am thinking....

When he made that comment, did my Granddad know how things would turnout in the end? Did he know that my dad would be available next to him to take care of him in his evening years? Did he ever imagine that my dad would be massaging his feet with Ayurvedic Oil when he would be too weak to do that himself? Did he ever know that it would be my father who will be taking him to the doctor regularly? Did he know that he will leave a lot of debt and later the lenders would be at the doorsteps like a pack of hounds? Did he know that my dad and his younger brother would be struggling to bring up a huge family later? Did he realize that my dad would pay back lenders one by one and take back whatever that he (my granddad) had mortgaged? Did he ever envision as to what a fine individual my dad would become?

I don't know....

I know one thing. I appreciate the work that my father had done. It took guts and perseverance. 


Anonymous said...

Very nicely written article. Great job bringing out the sense of duty that was only to be expected in the previous generation, but seems to fray in the present one.

Anonymous said...

Your dad is the walking encyclopedia of the family. He has a very strong memory about all the past events. If you are able to get them out from hishead, you will be absolutely astonished at the wealth of information stored there.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Enjoyed reading this post.

Anonymous said...

Well written. Easy to read, excellent narrative skill.