My father knew better, so he raised a feminist

I may have picked up on his impulsivity, overthinking, and stubbornness, but what came just as naturally to me was his feminist ideology.

My father knew better, so he raised a feminist

"You're just like your father," my mother would tease me, a familiar refrain echoing through the living room as another episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S played on the television (for the hundredth time). There I sat, cross-legged, my posture mirroring his, eyes fixed on the screen, the TV remote fidgeting in my hand. It was a scene she'd witnessed a few times now— it’s what keeps reinforcing her argument with incontrovertible evidence. And as much as I might protest, I know there’s some veracity in that. 

Now, the thing about accidentally duplicating your parents' core is that it comes with its own boons and banes. So while I may have picked up on his impulsivity, overthinking, and stubbornness—what came just as naturally to me is his feminist ideology, which circled the skill of autonomy. 

Growing up, I don’t remember him explaining feminism to me. But I recall him constantly drilling into our heads that growing up meant learning to be self-sufficient. He’d tell my sister and me, “You should be able to stand on your own feet; that’s the foundation.” This is partly why my sister and I have come to value financial independence and security early in life. It also planted the seeds of feminism in me from a young age.

But for the most part, my childhood consisted of him playing the typical Maharashtrian dad from a middle-class household—taking us out for dinner every Sunday to the same local place, berating me over math problems I couldn’t solve or the science textbook torn into three parts, and then reminiscing about how ‘obedient’ he was as a student.  On weekends, he’d grab a racket in an attempt to teach me his favourite sport, badminton. Despite his national-level skills, I couldn't manage to hit the shuttlecock to save my life. "You lack focus," he'd remark as we returned dejectedly from the court to our apartment. Constructive criticism was one facet of my childhood. 

Image credit: Pexels/Thilina Alagiyawanna

On the flip side of the coin, once he was back from his officer's duty, he wore his heart on his sleeve. Whether it was me demanding yet another Amar Chitra Katha comic, showing up to my monthly parent-teacher meetings, or my sister crying out for the pink Barbie house, he'd attend to it in a fleeting moment. On days when he returned from work early, he'd bring us our favourite desserts. Early mornings on weekends were strictly reserved for reading newspapers, followed by trimming our nails. And then, napping together for a good two hours, shortly after the food-coma from the chicken curry we had for lunch takes over. In short, he ensured that my childhood bore no resemblance to his own.

As for him, he had quite a tumultuous one. Being born in a small town in Maharashtra, he was the first child of his parents. Back in 1973, the Land Reform Act wasn’t implemented yet. So we could say that he was born into a wealthy ancestral line that bore 200 acres of land. Until 1974-75, when he was still a year old, the act was officially passed. “Earlier in small towns, you could either be born with a silver spoon or get tortured at the hands of poverty; this was the direct effect of colonisation,” is what he’d explained to me.

Our then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, envisioned the regularisation and redistribution of land across all classes to prevent concentration in the hands of a few. Naturally, inherited family land was duly disrupted, leaving us with little. This marked the beginning of a cycle of misfortune. It turned out my grandfather wasn't adept at financial planning, and the loss of land plunged him into a catastrophe that lasted for years.

Now, my dad was left with an absent father and a mother who had four children to raise with little money. Growing up, he watched his helplessly dependent mother struggle. My grandmother had an early marriage, and still in her 20s, she did what she could to keep the house running. He’d tell me stories of days when they had no money, so they cut down on rations, moved houses, and even wondered if every child would get an education. Despite what went down, he saw his relentless mother fight through the patriarchal world like a bleeding soldier on the battlefield. It was then, perhaps, that my father realised what women could truly do.

To help his mother, he took on responsibilities early. He started working young, gathering whatever he could to bring to the table. Soon, he paid off the debts and financially supported his siblings' education. These struggles turned him into a man who swore not to rely on anyone, even for the tiniest of things.

Cut to now, when he has two daughters to raise in a still very patriarchal world. It’s the value of self-reliance he made sure to pass down to us. "We won’t let our kids get married until they have at least a couple of zeros on their paychecks," is what he told my mother. So in my Maharashtrian household, my mother taught us the recipe for empathy, kindness, and even the delicious chicken curry, while my father took us to banks, ATMs, and government offices to expose us to the outside world that requires us to earn our bread and cook it ourselves.

Being 22 years old now, my idea of feminism has only broadened. Meanwhile, my 51-year-old father remains at the breakfast table, persistently asking if I've finally opened the PPF account he's been urging me to start for months. "You still haven’t done it? You're too lazy," he quips. Yes, criticism isn’t leaving me in my young adulthood either. 

To be fair, my relationship with him hasn’t been a bed of roses either. We have starkly different opinions on most things— it’s one aspect of raising an individualistic daughter who doesn’t easily compromise, a trait she happens to have inherited from her father. So, as one can imagine, the debates in the household are heated. My mother says it’s like the collision of two meteorites, which causes an even bigger explosion. While his lingering conservativeness still drives his somewhat orthodox ways of life, my unprejudiced Gen-Z bearings clash to cause an immediate conflict. But in spite of the differences now, the life that my father led taught him better. He knew better than to pass on the curse of generational trauma, so to break free from it, he raised two feminists. 

Lead image is credited to Netflix. 

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