Sunday, June 18, 2017

Life Lessons from my Father: The Accidental Feminist

By Vandita Morarka  
Vandita with her dad
Some of my haziest memories of my childhood are of my father being a complete boss. I don’t think my father meant to be a feminist, I don’t think he even knows he is one today, but his actions make him one. And in being who he is, he taught me my greatest life lesson: that it is the doing and not just the saying that is important. My parents have raised me to be the person I am today and it is through their lived examples that I strive to be a better person, everyday. Today is for my father and the innumerable lessons he has left me with:
  1. Even before I was born, my father prioritised the health of my mother before that of their unborn children, he did not interfere in her agency to decide to have or not have children, for that I am grateful till today. Lesson: He taught me to always value the agency of the woman in making her own choices regarding her body and self, in doing so, he taught me how to value that agency in myself.
  2. I had zero pressure at home to do well in academics, sports or school life in general. I wasn’t told by my father what I should be studying, it was I that told him what I wanted to pursue. He only ever placed value on my health, well being and happiness (and his outbursts were only ever about me not getting enough sleep). Lesson: When my father can understand the importance of mental health over everything else in life, so can everyone else.
  3. While growing up, my father’s friends belonged to every socio-economic background. Even today, I always see my father give respect to a person on the basis of his measure of the person, never their socio-economic standing. Coming from the Marwadi business family set up that I do, such behaviour was oft looked at with surprise by others - I couldn’t be more grateful for him being this way though! He has taught me to value people for their innate goodness, never for their money. Lesson: There is no substitute for the lessons of the importance of dignity of labour and of the common thread of humanity that parents inculcate in their children.  
  4. I have always seen him divide the household chores with mom (my brother and I are lazy, hence no mention of us helping) when our staff isn’t around. Lesson: Domestic labour is not the price you pay for being a woman.
  5. I grew up watching my friends lie about where we were each night when we were at a party, I never had to do that. My father, both my parents actually, placed great stock in teaching me to be honest with them about everything I did. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t led to flare ups or a difference of opinion between us, it just means that there has always been honesty and an attempt to understand in our relationship. Lesson: Trust and honesty are the greatest gifts you can give in any relationship.
  6. My father taught me that he and my mother would always hear my side of the story. Even when they have been called to school because of something I did, my parents have never even raised their voice at me without hearing my side of the story, actually maybe not even after hearing it. Lesson: You cannot make a decision without hearing every side of the argument. Valuable also to note that it is imperative to give the word of children equal importance as that of the words of adults.
  7. This is a incident I remember clearly. It was around 3 am and I was driving back with my girlfriends when the police stopped us for random checking. It was an all male police unit and I refused to step out of the car or let my friends step out. When they threatened us with taking this up with our parents, I was the only one in that car who knew without doubt that them calling my father would only give the police unit misery, unlike the very real fear of negative parental action I saw in my friends. My father knew exactly where I was and with whom, I was driving his car, with his full permission and only these words from his end, ‘If you need anything or are in any trouble, call me, always’. Lesson: When people love you, they do not stop you from doing things, even if they say it is to protect you, they devise other ways to ensure your safety. This has been such a key indicator of the relationships I have gotten into later in life, both friendships and romantic relations, and how I look at abuse and control in such relationships.
  8. My father does not understand my job, for most part he doesn’t understand why I would leave lucrative corporate options to choose to work in the social sector at a fraction of the pay. But what does he do? He continues to support me. He continues to tell me that he has my back. I realise the money aspect of it is a matter of privilege, but I also know that he has been immensely supportive in letting me make my life choices and mistakes (oh, so many of them!) throughout, even when it did not involve monetary decisions. Lesson: You don’t have to understand something completely to be supportive of the people you love while they do it.
  9. My father has shown no iota in difference in how he treats my brother and I, we were always entitled to equal privileges. When I was born, the hospital waiting room cleared out because a girl was born to my mother and my deeply patriarchal extended family thought it wasn’t worth their time no more, leave a handful of persons. This handful included my father, who danced around the hospital because he had been given a child, gender immaterial. Today my brother is a champion of gender equality, as am I (I am still the family favourite though), and this is because of what we have seen at home all our lives. Lesson: Gender equality is always a thing we start learning at home.

As you can see, many parts of it are interwoven with how my mother has been invaluable too, but she gets a post on another day! I could go on about life lessons from my father for days, they have been such a strong part of shaping me as I am today. I call these lessons feminist because they have shaped my beliefs in how all relations should play out and in how people of all genders should treat each other, these are the lessons and practices that made me a feminist. Thank you, Dad! Thank you for being an accidental, fabulous feminist, and for teaching me how to be a better person, everyday. Happy Fathers Day!