“I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents.”
― Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Dad, “we accept you for you, so if you want to be angry, be angry, if you want to cry and be upset, that’s okay too.”
A sentence I never thought I would hear my Punjabi dad utter. Allowing me to feel my feelings and not hide them? Like what the heck!
Let’s take it back a little. I was born in January 1983 (I know can you believe I’m nearly 40!) and my parents were over joyed. A different reaction to most who have a daughter first in an immigrant family, but my mum is also the eldest and her family treated her birth like a boy, so why would my parents be any different.
They went on to have another daughter and a son, and their births were just as special as mine. Mum has admitted many a time she was happy that I had a sister, as it’s a bond like no other.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have an easy upbringing, I was second generation British Asian. Even though my dad was born here, he raised us in a strict Punjabi household, whilst my parents worked all hours to make ends meet. So, yes they celebrated all our births but we can’t ever escape our gender growing up in a desi house, which led to many an argument as is got older.
I was not an easy teenager, moody, angry, stubborn (ask my parents and they’ll tell you there is no change, cheeky gits), but I was not fun to be around. It didn’t help I wasn’t allowed out, talk to boys, have friends or extra curriculum activities. I was never pushed to be the best academically, for my parents as long as I had enough of an education to get a job and buy a house, they were happy.
So, what would any teenager do who didn’t believe they were smart or clever enough? That’s right, I did not apply myself, I knew I wasn’t going to university so what was the point. All I wanted to do was sit in a comfy chair, or with my back burning against a radiator and read books. All of which comes in handy now I’m an author and ghostwriter.
As we enter my twenties, with no friends, a job and learning to socialise and make my own money (at least my parents weren’t so strict they took my wages), I still hadn’t navigated the world of talking to guys. But that wasn’t necessary as I got married at 23, you can read about that here.
My life took a turn after the separation and then divorce but so did the relationship with my parents when they put me before societal pressures immigrant families face. Log kya kahenge? What will people say?
The next decade was more open communication, travel, shared laughs, holidays, my mum encouraging me to use something new called ‘dating apps or websites for matrimonial matches’ her finding her style as she went from factory worker to taxi driver and business owner with my dad. Working class to middle class and all three children intact. They were happy.
Mum went on to encourage me to go to university, she stills takes credit for my degree. But that’s okay she can, I no longer mind. Entering my mid-thirties, I made a decision to move out, my siblings having left years earlier, getting married and settled in the normal timelines assigned to life milestones. I was 35 divorced living at home and I needed to make a change.
The last five years, our relationship has flourished, yes, I still have my mood swings (but so do they), they over use my Amazon Prime (why do they order so much online!?), and think I work in IT whenever I visit but we’ve never been closer.
The statement from my dad at the top of this blog was because a week today I’m going to hospital for a minor heart procedure for a condition that was only diagnosed in the last twelve months. I was angry, annoyed, scared, upset and it all came through on the phone. I spoke honestly with my dad (mum overhearing in the background) and he let me rant.
I asked him “dad, answer me honestly, are you and mum scared?” The reason I asked is because their faith has always been bigger than their fear, and my dad admitted, yes of course they were, I was their eldest baby girl who was going to hospital. Oddly, this calmed me down after the panicking day I had had. I could breathe again because I knew they were going to be here when I got discharged. They were coming to look after me no question and why wouldn’t they?
They have helped me financially, encouraged me, let me yell at them, taught me to communicate and allowed me to teach them to communicate. The journey we have been on was one I would never in a million years have foreseen at 7, 15, 24 but here we are. My parents proudly calling my book their baby, mum telling me off when I’m not writing (ironic as she never told me off for not doing my homework!), allow me to have a life and vice versa. We found the pattern and language that works for us, most of the time taking the piss but when it matters, I can tell them what I’m feeling and I know they always have the right thing to say to ease whatever I’m feeling.
It hasn’t been easy, for any of us and we’ve lost a lot along the way, but their unconditional love, even in their own strange way, their faith and their support has meant so much over the last 15 years. Especially as the parents I grew up with were not ones that I could grow old with.