The line in our book read “Man is a social animal” and we listened in rapt attention as our teacher deciphered it for us. Secondary school kids are quite sweet and receptive that way. Right from his living in caves and hunting days, man has felt the need to form groups; for familiarity, protection, and support. He trusted his people with his life, just as they put their faith in his leadership and vision. It was a neat arrangement and everyone had each other’s back.
Millions of years later, thanks to the internet and technology, some of it has stayed and a lot has changed. Social isn’t the best way to describe us anymore. We find excuses to get out of family gatherings and take offense at the silliest of things. The biggest side-effect of all this is losing out on our backbone, the emotional security that we took for granted. The result, we all suffer from some or the other mental health issue that goes undetected and untreated for years.
This personal post is both easy and difficult to write. Easy because I know who and what needs to be here, and difficult since no amount of words would possibly suffice. However, it also depicts how much the right people matter in our lives. I can certainly vouch for it since acceptance never came easily to me. Despite being an achiever in my studies, my weight and low self-confidence ensured that I desperately craved it.
Any random laugh in the class or any joke that I wasn’t a part of made me look over my shoulder nervously. Like giving a speech in front of a full auditorium and expecting rotten tomatoes to hit me anytime. I was always on edge and hid my hurt behind the veil of offense and anger. Marriage and expectations complicated things further. Things came to a head though after I lost my mother; my backbone and sounding board.
Incredible as it is, I had never been in a mourning home before. Not the same or the next day at least. Watching my mother being readied for her final journey put me through a shock that hit me after a few days. I cried a lot that day but reality struck later. The grief engulfed and crippled me although I tried my best to collect myself for my kids’ sake. I was struggling on my part but what Dad was going through scared me. Losing your partner in your sunset years cannot be easy.
Mom had endured a lot of pain during her final days. She was in and out of hospitals, had lost her appetite, and was on dialysis. Dad had been with her throughout, caring for her. He had drained himself physically, mentally, and emotionally. She had been the backbone of his life and seeing her bright personality slowly wither away must’ve been extremely difficult for him. He bravely faced everything though and never let us lose hope. Even after she left he assured us that she was in a better place. I wonder if he believed it himself or was just trying to protect us. Instead of us being his backbone, it happened the other way around.
Dad chose to stay alone and refused to move in with me or my brother. He wanted the freedom to make his decisions and we welcomed it, albeit grudgingly. He visited us often though and convinced us that we weren’t shrugging our responsibilities. If all this wasn’t challenging enough, the Covid monster consumed the world and he was left all alone at home, again. Months went by in lockdown with no house help and no tiffin services. How he managed his life back then, I still shudder to think. We talked every day, and surprisingly enough, it was him I derived any hope from.
The world was going through a severe crisis and closer home, many near and dear ones were leaving us. He lost his best friend, we lost my father-in-law and many of us survived after being hit by the deadly virus. Every time any such news came, I silently said a prayer for them and my family’s safety. The future wasn’t even a concern, surviving the next day, the next week needed our immediate attention. Talking to Dad was the only bright spot in my life at that time. “It’s ok, beta. What can we do? You be strong and don’t watch too much news. Be vigilant and take care of the kids. Don’t let them spend time on the laptop after online classes.” He would say. The backbone of my life was teaching me how to be one for my family!
Whether it is my transformation, cooking, or writing, Dad has always taken pride in me. My choice to take a career break for my kids still invites ridicule but he has always been on my side. He cheers my smallest achievements and likes to boast to family and friends. I was a Daddy’s girl but wasn’t as close to him earlier as I am now. I wish him on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and he smiles and accepts them. He’s a wonderful grandfather to my kids and they always wait for him to come over.
Looking at him I sometimes wonder if the problems in my life are real or imaginary. Loneliness can give rise to umpteen mental health issues but he has managed to stay positive after all these years. He has a thriving social life, visits temples regularly, and takes off anywhere on a whim. Staying in touch with everyone and keeping us updated is his job. He makes SOS calls to rescue a recipe and has a childlike curiosity about Facebook and Instagram. It’s so cute!
Those counselling sessions years ago couldn’t do what observing my Dad has done for me. Whenever I have a tiff with anyone, he advises me to let it cool off and then makeup. “Life is too short to keep regrets, beta.” He says. He finally trusted me to get behind the wheel of his car and that’s something. Thanks to him, I make those courtesy calls I absolutely abhor. Have to grant him though, it feels good to be in touch with people who have a history with us. Making new friendships isn’t easy for me anyway, why give away old bonds? After all, man was indeed born a social animal. Why do we try to fight it? It is good to have a backbone in our life, no?
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