By Jagdesh Singh | OPINION |
Over dinner with close friends of ours, I witnessed, with amusement, a debate between a father and his son. It amused me because it reminded me of the heated arguments I’ve had with my beloved father.
Like most boys growing up, I had hero worshipped my father. I looked up to him as the hardworking boy of a very poor laborer, who worked his way through his tertiary and college education while the country was building itself from the ashes of World War II. And to be fair, I knew of his trails and tribulations because the man loved to yarn tales while nursing a glass of whiskey at the dinner table.
From the time I could feed myself at the dining table, it was compulsory for the whole family to have dinner together. Nothing could break this habit he forced upon us. Not preparing examinations, watching World Cup games, not even entertaining guests. Nothing.
And so, typically after our first roti (chapati) that Mom had slaved away in the kitchen minutes before dinner, he would be relaxed after a stressful day working as a government servant, and would relay stories of how he and his brothers worked hard to escape the poverty they inherited. The typical immigrant stories that many third generations like me all around the world would hear. Which kid wouldn’t be entranced to hear about the simple principles of hard work and determination, of from rags to middle class comforts, of simple happiness from their blood brotherhood, of mischief from very poor disciplining parents?
But as I reached young adulthood, the rebel in me viewed these stories as nothing more than tiresome scripted anecdotes. Like most young adults, we seemed to have been more distracted with our own identities. We, too, were developing milestones that would soon be our version of hardship that we would relay to our kids. This, in essence, is the generational gap that slowly widens between both generations as the our own circle of influence grows. And then, when we’ve finally assumed adulthood, and are ready to call ourselves the men that we are, this gap is at its widest.
I became the alpha male in the image of my father. I, too, developed characteristics of stubbornness as the hero image of my father diminished to a glowing ember rather than the fiery fire of my younger days. At this point, our arguments were ugly, and quarrelsome. They broke my mother’s heart multiple times.
As I watched this conversation between my friend and his son unfold yesterday, I day dreamt of the arguments I had with my father when I was about the boy’s age. I now understand what my dad was trying to convey to the younger me. At that time, I believed to my core that he wanted to quash my idealistic opinions simply because I was more liberal. His arguments were in conflict with the liberal thoughts that he had planted in my head when I was younger. I arrogantly viewed this as hypocritical. But now, as a father of very strong willed girls, I’m beginning to understand what my dad was trying to tell me.
He was trying to temper with my foolhardy, know-it-all arrogance. My ideals were academic. I hadn’t been put out in the world at all to understand how selfish and dishonest people can be. I hadn’t nursed any battle scars that you get from life as we navigate through complex relationships in love, life and death. I wasn’t being realistic. He was preparing me for reality while trying his best to not kill my noble idealistic thoughts.
As I chewed on a morsel of fish at dinner, my friend was tempering with his son’s passionate liberal opinions with conservative realism. There are no right answers between the two and I couldn’t nor did I want to involve myself in their debate. It was more of a relationship building test between father and son than an actual debate between liberals and conservatives. Very much the same I had with my father.
I appreciate them now. These arguments have made me who I am today. No more in the shadow of my father, my childhood hero, but of myself. My thoughts and opinions still differ from my father, but we now agree to disagree light-heartedly because we see each other as men with their own battle scars that demand respect from each other.
Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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