In the’70s, the transition from a sheltered school life to an ocean of freedom and friendship in college was indeed exhilarating. Bunking classes to catch the first day first show at KC, Jagat or Neelam theatres in Sector 17, Chandigarh, was a thrilling escape.
One such plan, I recollect, to not miss the opener of the much-awaited blockbuster, Sholay, was docked by our newly acquired friend who acted a wet blanket but not without a reason. “Nahin yaar, my father saab’s office is next to Jagat. I can’t take the risk of getting caught,” he said. We were perplexed since his old man surely would be engrossed in his job indoors but none of our persuasive efforts worked to diminish the feeling of omnipresence of the oblivious father saab.
This was the beginning of an often-used term for fathers of our generation.
Advertisements on electronic media offer a realistic insight into the home environment. On one hand the head of the family is projected as a stern and enigmatic father saab, while on the other he is a friendly and hands-on family man, a dad.
The aura of the father holds the household in a slotted existence: Father saab at the self-created higher pedestal, mother and children in the periphery with the mother acting as the family’s binding glue. Any demand, however insignificant, is routed through the mother, who because of her dual proximity, acts as a conduit.
The aura around this gentleman is not misplaced. His preoccupation with the responsibility of material sustenance does not allow him to get into the nitty-gritty of bringing up children. Even the parent-teacher meetings at school are invariably the mother’s cup of tea.
Things have changed over years. Slowly, dads are emerging as a prominent parent in the family.
The equation between my father and me was no different to start with. In due course, I observed, despite his stiff demeanor, he was fun to be with especially during his loud laughter sessions which thankfully became frequent once I started interacting more with him. A relationship based on comity transgressed to liberal sprinklings of puckish natter.
As he gained in age and I attained a stature of a father myself, we became the thickest of friends. I realised that this bonding was the result of an incessant effort from his side to obviate frost formation between father and son. By the time he was to leave us for good, I was paranoid, quite contrary to our days of raw youth when escape from father saab even for a little while was a luxurious desire. I was fortunate indeed to have the pleasure of enjoying the company of both a father saab and a dad.
Life in the army kept me busy and prevented me from pampering my children. But with the help of my wife, we ensured that there remained a negligible communication gap. My daughter, Mohini, said: “Papa, your presence at home during our growing up years was cosmetic. We knew ‘father’ existed but we could never fathom what his role was.” I was crestfallen till she added, “But now I realise that you were the fulcrum of our lives!”
It brought tears to my eyes and warmth in my heart.
My son, Raghav, a shippie, is amused by the term father saab. I wonder how he construes it but he often acknowledges the wonderful bond I shared with his grandfather.
One possibly can’t separate a father saab of yesteryear from a dad of today. All fathers deserve a smart salute today. Happy Father’s Day, my fellow fathers. Yes, all of us rock.
The writer is a Chandigarh-based retired army officer