The Different Fathers I Know

Trigger warning: Please note that the following article contains content about assault, harassment and dysfunctional families.

Father’s day is a perfect excuse to celebrate the patriarchal figure in most families: the ‘breadwinner’, the decision-maker, the curfew enforcer.

But for me, it’s more hollow than that – it’s the day of the abandoner.

My parents got a divorce when I was five. When I was 13, my biological father chose to dunk me in the middle of a series of family court sessions. He wanted my mother to revoke her parental custody, beginning a long tug-of-war for me.

On most days, I blame my mother for the unremovable stains of the trauma of the days in court; pointing fingers at my father would mean acknowledging his existence.

My maternal family has always tried to fill this cavity of a father figure, and the home of a Muslim NRI joint family had a reasonable amount of amalgam, but they’re no dentists. Once, my aunt told me I could call my uncle-in-law ‘papa’ – a word so foreign in my mouth, I cannot enunciate it without cringing. Other times, my childless uncle and aunt say, ‘You’re like a daughter to us,’ and my mind will act like a malfunctioning CD player, with the phrase ‘like a’ on a loop.

It would be a lie to write that I don’t know what a father is like. I’ve seen, read about and known too many fathers. I know a father who asks his daughter to lie about her divorce, weave a story of a marriage she doesn’t have. He wants to hide the shame of not being able to find a second groom. Sometimes he asks himself: “Why did I make her sign those divorce papers?”

There’s another father who wonders why his daughter signed the marriage certificate in the first place. He raised a Muslim daughter who sleeps with a Hindu man. Will they burn her corpse or bury her body? The Hindu man is also a father, the father of two children caught in a face-off between two religions. What kind of a father will one of his sons be?

His son’s older cousin has a father who accepts money slipped under the table. He stifles his daughter’s sexuality: who will bring the heir for whom he yearns? His daughter loves the girl next door, the one with a father who knows that his daughter likes kissing girls. It’s the only thing they had in common, so why should he not embrace her?

Another father has a son whose wife left him with a 10-year-old girl, and when she turned 13, he taught her how to use a sanitary pad, and took her to a shooting range the week after. His wife has a father too, who forced her to marry someone at the brink of 18. Why do people still ask her father why she ran away? Maybe he should’ve let her go to that college in the city instead. His daughter wouldn’t be so far away then.

She knows a father who isn’t a man: a fairy godmother who makes her wait tables at nights and listen to lectures in the mornings. Where’s the father who doesn’t only wince, but changes the soiled diaper of his baby?

Find my cousin a father who doesn’t have to go to a PTA meeting to realise his son is in Class 5.

A boy in his class will grow to wish he had a childhood free from the screams of his abused mother. In my nightmares, I feel like a lot like this boy, sipping on a glass of strawberry milkshake, listening to what ‘Dennis the Menace’ called ‘wrestling’ (read: sex). But if it was a boxing match, why didn’t they give my mother a mouth guard to cushion the pain?

At the start of each day, when my body jolts me awake, I’m disgusted that my father helped make it.

Isa Ayidh is a student at Ashoka University, Sonepat who finds herself fiddling with words, and never abiding to a word limit. You can find her in places where they write long, over-punctuated sentences.