Often the phrases, ‘A father’s son’ or ‘like father, like son’ have been heard, each defining how a son grows up to emulate and be like his father. In the world of conventionalities, this is a conventional virtue – ‘being like your father’. We will meet many who are their father’s son’, but today on the occasion of Father’s Day, I take the road less travelled and introduce you to – ‘A son’s father’. Sounds quite odd right, but in this oddity we come across a Father who let his kids be rebels, who instead of thinking on behalf of them, provided them with the ability to think for themselves, who taught them to explore and then choose, who fashioned himself to be a Father that a Son truly needs!
The father I talk about was a sportsman; football and hockey player. He has five sons, who turned out to be diagonally opposite to him. Often just to ignite the interest in sports amongst his sons he would fill the house with varied sports gears, but the only time his sons would touch them would be when their friends wanted to play. He also used to take his sons for practice matches of football and hockey thinking may be this could work, but his sons would join in only for the goodies and mouth-watering street food they would get after the matches are over. All this while he had a secret longing that his sons embrace sports but this longing never morphed into a vocal expectation or pressure. Even though he had to retire from his own sports career prematurely owing to a severe injury where he lost his collar bone while playing hockey, he still did not force his dreams onto his sons. His five sons would often hear their father’s friends advising, cajoling and reasoning with them to join sports, ‘Now that your father can’t play, you should take up sports and in 5-6 years you can play for national teams and you father can be your manager.’ They would say. But his sons never took these nudges seriously, neither did he make it a compulsion of any kind. He just wished but never insisted, all he did was just introduce the five brothers to the possibility of sports as a career. What his sons embraced were different form of arts! Painting, acting, dancing and when they made a choice he enthusiastically gave each of them a push. And it is because of this ‘let them be, what they want to be’ fatherhood, his five sons are what they are today!
The five sons, being my four brothers and me and the father being – Goli Venkateshwara Rao (Goli is his nick name as he was a goal keeper and his real name is K Venkateshwara Rao). Our father, ‘A son’s father’. I vividly remember the day when I decided I want to Paint, my father who knew nothing about Painting as a career, consulted one of his office colleagues. His colleague approached their government office union, who in those days for educational and awareness purposes used to put up huge posters and boards which were painted and from their he got half a dozen chart-papers, colours, brushes and gave them to my father. And my father brought this task back home to me and said I have to paint these awareness campaigns on the huge chart-papers. As a small kid I was a bit overwhelmed looking at this herculean task, because back then we were just used to small drawing books and colour pencils. This task contributed to my being as an artist, it made me a bolder artist. As a kid I was very timid, but when I used to paint my work was really bold. This little act of my dad with the spirit to encourage me liberated me from the typical start to a drawing/painting career. A little later in life my father got me yet another amusing painting job. He had a friend who owned a film distribution company and advertising billboard company, he went and spoke to him about me. His friend asked him to get me to him, so we went and my father and me initially both were a bit shocked looking at the status-quo of this job. Drunken painters, painting huge billboards mounted on crazy heights, the mess and it was an overnight job. My father gave me a simple advice, if you think you can learn something from this job then stay and if you think there is nothing to learn then come back. The choice was mine! In a confused state of mind, I somehow stayed back and what I earned was my second instalment of boldness.
Such was his modus-operandi hurl us into a situation and see if we like it, adapt to it, and how do we find our way. In our childhood when we were clueless about our lives he simply used to force us to explore. For instance, one day he took all five of us to a huge well in which people used to actually swim. With a life vest he just threw all five of us into the water! Out of us five two started to swim and enjoy like a fish in water. And the other three were scared to death, I being one of them. Ever since he never forced us three to swim he simply gave us an environment to explore what we want or don’t want. The only thing he has ever insisted in his entire life was for us is to get a college degree. He never stressed on scoring great marks, he simply said pursue what you want to but also go to college and get a degree. Because college would expose us to a whole new real world experience. It will make us meet different people, different experiences like politics, elections in college, sports. This experience would make us ready for life, because it would dole out life skills. And we adhered to this insistence.
Yet! Another interesting quality of ‘a son’s father’ is that he is always your friend. To us he was never a father, a figure of authority, he was a friend with whom we shared a candid, honest relationship. When we were 13-14 he encouraged us to ogle at good looking girls, he used to say, ‘It’s natural you should get attracted’. He once caught me smoking and out of fear I threw the cigarette, all he said was ‘you just wasted 20 paise’. I was even more petrified because he did not react and shared the incidence with my Mother, who simply said you were smoking not from your money but his and he just wants to teach you the value of someone else’s money. He wants you to know that you have no right to burn away someone else’s money like this. He used to treat us like adults, if someone came and complained about us, he would first take us aside and ask us if it was our fault. If we denied being defaulters he would in fact support us and if we accepted it was our fault, then he would reprimand us.
He never preached, he had his unique ways to teach us varied values. To teach us the value of money he had constructed an interesting practice. Every month when he got his salary he would give the entire amount to us five brothers and ask us to segregate it in varied envelopes, each envelope would be a fixed monthly expense, like the milkman’s bill, kirana bill and so on. This way we became aware of the expenses a household went through. Then whatever was left would go into a savings box, which had a book placed next to it. Whenever anybody makes a withdrawal from the box he/she has to write why, when and how much money was taken. Every month this book was read out loudly just so that everyone knows, when this happened we used to realize the pointless withdrawals we had made. With this practice we learnt, value of money, honesty, integrity and transparency.
One of the most valuable lesson he has taught us is to respect Women, we had no sisters and thus he insisted each one of us learn at least two skills that a girl is expected to know. So I learnt cooking and making rangoli, similarly my brothers learnt what they wanted. Thus when my mother wasn’t well each one of us was equipped to run the house and help her get better. He taught us through experience!
And this experience he has lived it all through. 27 years back when I got my first credit card, out of the sense of pride and the sense of giving something back to my father, I got an add on credit card for him as a gift. I gifted him but he politely denied it. After some months I insisted he keeps the card, because now I was capable enough to do something for him. He took it, but ever since he hasn’t used the card. Every year I renew it but he never uses it, once my mother told me, ‘He accepted the card to honour your pride and feelings but he will never use it!’
Although he was never a father, he was more like a sixth brother! I still attempt to be ‘a father’s son’ by trying to be ‘a daughter’s/son’s father’. I also thank him for being him, because that is the sole reason why I am what I am today!
Happy Father’s day!