I read an article yesterday about life of women after loss of a father. My first friend in life and BFF lost her father when she was in third class. Her stay-at-home-mom raised her and her brother, with a lot of difficulty. My friend is now a very successful person, juggles a wonderful family and job with élan, and handles her life’s stresses beautifully (with a little hearing help from first friends, ahem). Until now, she misses her father.
Another dear friend, whom I befriended later in life, had lost her father early in life as well, and her single mom raised her and her brother. This woman is also a successful professional, a great wife, an exceptional mom of three and a wonderful friend. I am not sure if this friend misses her father as much my childhood best friend does, but I know that loss of a father during formative years has played a vital role in what she has become today.
I know at least three more women who lost their fathers when they were young. All of them are confident, self-sufficient people, who know what they want and strive to get them.
Given that the life expectancy of men is lower than that of women, there are more people who have lost fathers than those that have lost mothers at an early age. There has, arguably, been more support available to them, at least in the pre- internet era. Now, the Internet does contain many sites that support grieving children of all types, but back in those days, a child losing a mother was a relative rarity. In many cases, when the child is young enough, widowers are more likely to remarry than widows and thus, usually the child ends up with a step-mom, for better or for worse. A few years back, I had a neighbour, whose daughter turned out to be her step daughter – they had the most natural mom-daughter relationship possible. Of course, we all know stories of evil step moms too.
But even rarer are cases of daughters raised by a widower. I was one of those. My mother died when I was stepping into my teens. Yes, that is not as bad as losing a mother at an even younger age, but as I see my daughter entering her teens, I am realising what my mother lost – the joy of seeing the child sprouting wings. Instead, what happened was that she died, and my father, in his anxiety to do a good job raising a daughter, clipped my wings more than let it sprout, and three decades hence, I am still reeling from the effects of a curtailed adolescence.
No, this is not a pity party, seeking sympathy. Nor a generalisation of all widower-raised children. It is merely thoughts that traverse my head as I read the article. How a child responds to and survives the loss of a parent depends on a lot of factors – the relationship the child had with the parent, the age at which he/she lost the parent, the gender of the parent vis-à-vis the gender of the child, the child’s temperament, the surviving parent’s coping strategy etc. In my case, my adolescence became a nightmare period because my father, until then having been a passive parent (my mom was a dynamic, hyper-efficient woman who did 99% of the parenting), suddenly found himself solely responsible for me, and took his responsibilities more seriously than was necessary. As a result, I was subjected to constant scrutiny and was under curfew all the time, lest he gets blamed for bad parenting and a spoilt motherless child. So much so that three decades later, I still feel uncomfortable being out of the house after six in the evening or not telling my close ones where I am going or what I am doing or when I will be back. I know that my father’s hovering was a result of love, but the difference between caring and smothering is very important in parenting.
The obsessive control and hovering is, I find a stark contrast between a widow-upbringing and widower upbringing. My first friend’s mom never controlled her and she grew up with a lot more freedom than I did, as did other people I know, who lost their fathers young. I know I am not wrong because another acquaintance of mine lost her mother when she was in college (yeah, later than me..still…), and she was smothered by her father as well after that, so much so that she escaped from the country at the first available opportunity, never to set foot in the home country since. I had another acquaintance, who lost her mother at 15 too, but it was the time that I was struggling with my own derailed life that I was terrified to even talk to her. I wish I had interacted more with her then, we could have learned to cope together. Nevertheless, I wonder how her father raised her after that. She lives elsewhere too, and I don’t see her visiting her father too often.
I don’t know of any guy who lost his mother at an early age. So, I don’t know if fathers are different towards their sons after the loss of the mother. Also, I wonder if there is a cultural thing here too, although I doubt it. Coincidentally, this morning, I read an except from a book in The Guardian where child artist Mara Wilson says this:
Soon after Matilda wrapped, I lost my mother to cancer, 13 months after she was diagnosed. My father became so overprotective he wouldn’t even let me cross the street by myself.
As I travel through my fourth decade of existence, I am still plagued by the loss. Not directly, I don’t “miss” my mother – I don’t even remember her too well anymore, but the indirect effects are aplenty. First, I am guilty that I don’t remember her. And it really freaks me out that if I were to die now, my daughter would not remember me like I don’t remember my mother. I also feel guilty that I have lived a whole three years (four in a fortnight) more than my mother lived. I am also worried about my father – I want to take care of him as he ages, but one part of me continues to be angry about my loss of adolescence thanks to his obsessive parenting. And I feel bad for that.
Sometimes when thoughts become overwhelming, such as now as I type this out, I take a deep breath, and tell myself that what has happened has happened. Might as well live in this moment. But as I say that, I release that I am unable to remove the traces of my past from this moment. But this much is true – every day, I look at my daughter and pray that no matter what, I should be around to see my daughter’s wings spread wide as she soars into her life with the confidence and freedom that I was not fortunate enough to experience.