Yesterday I posted an article about my dysfunctional childhood with my father. So to continue the Father’s Day theme, today I am writing a piece on my husband’s very loving father and positive childhood.
When I started dating my husband I revealed my family’s story a little bit at a time. He is from a country where divorce is still very taboo, and my families issues with mental health, drug addiction, jail time, and kids from different fathers was a little too shocking to be shown all at one time. When I met my husband my family was doing great, but the history was still there. I had to ease him into it so to speak. I never suffered from those issues myself. I had never smoked, didn’t do drugs, was not mentally ill, and I was a college student trying to make my life better for the future. Amazingly my husband was not scared off of my family dramas and embraced me and my family for what we were.
My husband grew up in a wonderfully normal family in India. He had two older sisters. His mom was a government school teacher, his dad worked for the government in the education department, giving accreditation’s to schools. In India Government jobs are highly sought after for their awesome pension. So his parents were lucky to both have government job. As a kid my husband was the cherished only son with two doting older sisters. His family was middle class and comfortable. They lived in housing specialized for government workers that was provided by their jobs. He went to private school. My husband would argue that he wished they had more. In my eyes he lived the ideal life. My whole childhood was spent living at the charity of others. Yes as a kid my husband’s family didn’t have car. A car was a huge luxury in India at the time and even now it still is. When his parents retired their flat was built. They have a beautiful three bedroom flat in Chandigarh. It’s not fancy but it is nice. He went to a University nearby and commuted so he could stay at home. He had a wonderful loving totally normal childhood. He decided he wanted to get his masters in the USA , and his parents were so sad to see him go, but they supported his choice. My husband always wanted to provide his parents with the luxuries in life they didn’t have.
My father in law was a wonderful man. When my husband and I first started dating I was worried what my inlaws would think of me. I was so scared that they would not like me and not approve of my husband and I together. I knew my husband very much respected and loved his parents, so I knew it was important that his parents like me. I saw pictures of my husband’s parents before I talked to them. They seemed so sweet and so nice. The first time we talked I remember being so nervous. Sitting in front of the computer, hoping that I looked Ok. Skype indicated that they were online. My husband looked at me and said “are you ready” I smiled and said “yes”. He clicked on the “ video call” button. After a few tones their picture showed on the screen. All I could do was just smile. His parents were so nice.
My husband’s mom does not speak much English but his father was well versed in English and had a wonderful vocabulary. I instantly felt a connection to my father in law unlike any I had ever felt before. I remember wondering what I should call him. The word Dad had such a mixed meaning to me , and I did not want to bring those mixed emotions to my relationship with my father in law. So I called him Papa Ji ( Ji is a Punjabi word of respect). My Papa Ji was so sweet to me, he called me his youngest daughter.
My husband and I got married in May and then had our Sikh ceremony in June. I wish our familes would have been there. I turned twenty three that following August. On my birthday I opened my email to find pictures and a video. My wonderful in-laws in India had thrown me a birthday party there. They had a cake with my name on it, and sweets, and yummy food. They had a video of them singing me happy birthday and cutting the cake. I started to cry because I felt so loved and so welcomed!
The connection to my papa ji grew when I visited India on my one year wedding anniversary. He met us at the airport, even though he was in great pain from an injury to his leg. He glowed with love for us all. He was not afraid to show his love, and tears came to his eyes when we all hugged. My papa ji was a very scholarly and wise. He did not speak much, but it was as if every word was significant and wise. My father in law was a devout Sikh and truly lived the teachings of his religion. He never spoke unkindly of people, and did not allow others in the house to do it either. He gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I remember once I was sitting down at the table gossiping about another girl to my sister in law. Sadly it was a very stereotypically girl thing to do. My father in law suddenly interjected and said “ bachi ( daughter), no one is bad, we are all just humans. Everyone is good”. That is all he said, but it stuck with me. I became very aware of the negative effects of gossip and I refrained from it.
When I was staying in India every morning my papa ji loved to take our baby daughter Nasreen and play with her, so that I could get ready and shower. I loved to peek into the room and watch them play together. He was the most patient person I have ever known. He loved Nasreen so fiercely and never wanted any harm to come to her.
I never saw my Papa Ji ever get mad, except one time. I was hot and I wanted to shower. I told my husband to watch the baby. He said Ok. I started the water and a couple of minutes later I heard a thud and a cry. I ran out of the shower naked, and there was my poor baby on the hard marble floor screaming. My husband had gone in the other room leaving her on the bed with pillows around her, thinking that was enough. She had just learned to crawl. Everyone rushed in to see what happened. I was so angry at my husband; I put on some clothes as they calmed Nasreen. She was fine, just scared. My husband felt terrible, he really thought the pillows were enough to keep her from falling. My papa ji collected Nasreen in his arm and looked at my husband and I with anger. He spoke the words with such seriousness it scared me “such immaturity and negligence!” . He took the baby away to play with her and I felt like the worse parent alive! He forgave us but we never made that mistake again.
I have always felt a strong thirst for knowledge, especially in political and social issues. Every morning after I showered and got ready I would sit and read the Indian Newspaper. It was great because it was in English. I would talk to my father in law about the stories, discussing possible solutions to all the different problems the world faced. We talked about everything from religion to poverty, women’s rights, corruption and anything else you can imagine. It was so wonderful. I felt that we were kindred spirits.
One day I started to tell my Papa ji a little about my family. I told him my family was not perfect. He laughed and said my family is not perfect either. He started to tell me the story of his childhood.
His mother married his father in an arranged marriage, typical of the times. She became pregnant with their first child. His father died. My Papa Ji did not tell me how, and I was too absorbed in the story to interrupt and ask. In some places it is common for the widow to marry a younger brother in the family. She was wed to her brother in law. She gave birth to my papa ji, and then had several other children from her new husband. My papa ji’s Uncle/step dad never treated him like a son.
He never felt welcome in the home that he lived in. He was even afraid to ask for an extra Roti when hungry. As an adult he was supposed to inherit his father’s share of the property. His step father/uncle told him to sign it over to him. My Papa ji has always been an agreeable person. He wanted peace. He put himself through college and studied law. When he married he decided he was going to just start his own family and moved to the city of Chandigarh. His step dad/uncle was not cared for well for by his own children and was actually kicked out of the home. He went and lived with my papa ji when my husband was a kid. Despite the fact that my papa ji was mistreated, he never had anger or hatred for his step dad/uncle . He took care of him for years. When he passed away. His half-brothers blocked him from the home and threatened him and his family if he ever tried to collect his inheritance. My papa ji just let it go.
He only cared about his little family. He never focused his life on achieving wealth. He worked in a government job but he never fell into being brided or corrupted, which was very common. He lost friends who were coworkers because he refused to take brides that they were taking. They thought he was a threat to them. He was so content in life. He mainly cared about educating and taking care of his family. All three of his children have master’s degree. He was very democratic with his children and cared about how they felt and what they had to say.
I love my Papa Ji dearly. He was a wonderful man. So patient, kind, and Godly. He made me feel so loved and heard and respected. He was the father I wish I grew up with. When we left India we all said our goodbyes in the house. We all cried. My Papa Ji tried to hold it back but he sobbed as well. That was the last time that we saw my Papa Ji alive. Three months later my Papa ji started feeling sick. He turned yellow. He went in a for a scan and they detected liver cancer. Within a week he was in the hospital. My husband got on the first plane he could. I received an email from one of his friends in India that same day, saying that he was so sorry that my Papa ji had passed away. I cried knowing that my husband had not made it in time. He was still in the air. He never saw his dad alive again. Our life has never been the same again since his death. He was such a wonderful beautiful person. Without him our family felt empty. We hold tight to his memory and try to move on. We will never forget my Papa Ji. So as Father’s day approaches I am taking this time to recognize this wonderful man who changed my life forever.