By PJ Temple
“Dad, I think it’s a good time for me to start looking for an apartment. I’m almost twenty. I need to be more independent.”
“Oh no. Vy move? You vill stay here until you get married. We don’t believe in moving, boving.”
He’s over-rhyming. The topic must have struck a chord for him. He might as well have said moving out is hocus pocus, a mythical idea reserved for spooky nights around campfires. He made the idea sound outlandish and revolutionary. I suppose it was, in his mind. Girls do not leave home alone and live somewhere away from family. For what? It’s not sensible. That’s how Dad sees it. I get that. But he doesn’t get how restrained I feel, how much control is being exerted onto me. He thinks it’s just fine that a twenty year old be treated like a ten year old, that they tell me who to marry, what career to choose. I must study medicine. It’s the best field. No one gets into the field of psychology. Surely it will lead to poverty and angst. And writing, it’s just a frivolous waste of time for those political types. They even made specific suggestions about which friends I should spend time with. But none of this was a problem for them. They believed it was what they were supposed to do. After all, they didn’t have the luxury of casually choosing the careers of their hearts’ desire. They came to America, worked hard and made money to provide us with opportunities they dictated to ensure their work would not go uncultivated. Maybe a different angle will work.
“You know things have been hard. Me, you and Mom are having a hard time getting along these days. Moving out can change that.”
“No, no, no.”, he insisted.
That means no more discussion. It’s final. And this is exactly why I had to be persistent.
“But Dad, I’m gonna move out eventually. And you guys didn’t let me move out for college, not even to live in a dorm fifteen minutes away. How long do you think I’m supposed to stay here?”
“Vokay, vokay, I vill help you look for an apartment, vokay? Ve vill look for apartments and find out the cost and I vill help pay your rent.”
Wow, better than I expected. I think he figured it was a wiser trade off than leaving for college and moving even further away.
But it was too good to be true. The day never came. We never discussed moving out again. The few times I asked about it, he responded with his often heard response, “Next time,” which really meant “Never gonna happen,” but he didn’t have the emotional energy to say what he really meant.
And what did he really want to say? That tradition doesn’t allow for my request, at least not in this family? That if I went off to live on my own, I would become even more Americanized than I am and make a complete mess of my already disoriented life? That I might run off and become a heathen who abandons the love and protection of God and morals, and all the righteous ways of good Indian culture?
He’d have an endless list of criticisms, I’m sure. Was he being controlling, unreasonable and maybe even emotionally stunting my young adult growth? Most definitely. Would he be willing to face these facts and talk them through with me? Absolutely not. Talking is frivolous, it accomplishes nothing. Processing emotions is a waste of time. Expressing yourself is for Westerners.
Instead, his way was to quietly pretend nothing difficult was happening and hope that if he ignored the problem, it would disappear. So it was often that the elephant just hung out in the room while we skirted around it. He once told me that in Indian culture, many things are unspoken and rather assumed. I get that. At times, we’re an outwardly verbose, emotionally quiet culture. Yet, pretending only works for so long. Dad’s ability to walk away silently was quickly deteriorating, and would inevitably reveal long concealed rage.
But for now, he simply went to his fall back, “Next time.” It was frustrating to know that “next time” was not only his default stance for all undesirable, flighty suggestions, but that next time wouldn’t come and that there wouldn’t even be any true consideration or mention of the idea again. “Next time,” was the classier and more evasive version of, “Shut up talking about it or I’ll kick your ass.”
It’s hard to say why my dad has usually been so superficial in his discussions. I think about how he worked so hard to maintain a decent life here and the sense of isolation he must’ve felt because his family was still in India. It seemed he became accustomed to deferring his feelings, deferring his thoughts, deferring conversation or just about anything he possibly could so that he didn’t have to face it. “What’s talking going to do?” he said a million times. Who has time to face whiny adult children when all you know is to push forward so you can stay above water? Instead, he jokes. He jokes a lot, about small things, about big things. He jokes. He laughs. He appears happy and jolly and carefree.
For him, humor is like a whip he uses to perpetually brandish away the bad feelings, keep away the confusion of why he works so hard for an ungrateful family who has no idea how little he had in India. He used it to keep away the disappointment of what the Promised Land really had waiting for him. Where was the milk and honey? With his whip he thrashed at the paradox that was The Land, and how rather than fulfilling its promise, it took from him, demanding he offer a sacrifice of his three children if he wanted to continue to remain in it. So he wears his jester’s mask and wields his weapon for the next time he must ward off the many disappointments that plague him.
But his deferral of all things even mildly stressful had birthed a large, looming monster that was nurtured by long-suffering and grew strong on milk and honey. This monster, it was well cared for, and its power could be seen only in those magnificently scary moments when he felt he couldn’t bare much more. It came out baring teeth, screaming for some consolation to the madness he had endured since coming to this cold country. Coming here changed everything.
Why wouldn’t he want to snugly place a facade over his tired eyes, his hoarse voice, his defeated will, and return to the protection of his shield and weapon? Once us kids grew up and moved away, what did he really have? He came here only to lose the family he so carefully created.
About the Author
PJ Temple is a health psychologist who enjoys writing about spirituality, culture, justice and other bizarre and beautiful intricacies of life. Patty recently completed a memoir about her secret American boyfriend, her two very angry Indians parents who eventually find out, and the unraveling of the whole hot mess. This story has cultivated over years and has surely been one of Patty’s babies, minus the teenage drama. Speaking of teenage drama, Patty has two lovely daughters. Her husband is a patient guy and thankful the dogs are both boys.