There’s a scene in Marnie, a classic Hitchcock flick I used to stream back home, snuggled in my bed, wallowing in self pity at being born in the wrong decade, feeling cheated out of the life I best identified with. Not much has changed. Anywho, Sean Connery brings a girl home to see his house and horses, and his father is quick to insist he’s actually brought her over to show off his father, not the estate. ‘I’m quite a presentable old party, you know,’ he smiles, swilling his Earl Gray around in a fine china cup, pinky appropriately sticking out.
My own father is far less likely to be found at home, sipping milk-less tea, but I confess to using him for the exact same purpose: showing off. My parents are, quite simply, my most magnificent possession, and rather like an Hermes bag, I flaunt them whenever I can. Every time a friend would come drop me home, I would insist they step in for a minute or two to meet my parents. I would make my mother come pick me up from school, twirling sunglasses in her hand as she waited. (She’s not a twirl-er or a wait-er by nature, so I guess its a testament to how good a bully I was at four.) I even made my father come and pick me up from my O Levels exams just so everyone could see him in his work suit. I imagine its how art collectors behave; you arrange a seemingly innocuous run in with your Renoir (Let’s just take this staircase, shall we?’), and then having positioned your prey perfectly, you join them in basking in the glory of your masterpiece.
I know this sort of behavior is normally expected from the parents, not the children, but you haven’t met my parents. My mother is one of those quintessential fifties housewives; she picked me up at school everyday, she had a five course dinner on the table at eight, perfect hair at every hour of the day, and a wardrobe that puts, well, me to shame. Almost the quintessential fifties housewife. The only caveat is she has an incredibly demanding job, which she is incredibly good at. Everyone I meet who has worked with her, or near her, is overwhelmed by her. She is, I hear, the most professional and cool-headed creature at work. She ain’t at home, but I guess that’s what makes it even more commendable. She’s had to raise four children when she herself was never brought up around any children. She had cousins, and school mates, but the whole concept of brothers and sisters living in the same house, all the time, was completely alien to her. So every time we fought, and swore to never, ever, ever talk to each other, she took our Taylor Swift-ness seriously. We are single handedly (or eight handedly), the reason she pops blood pressure pills. Which clearly work, because she is the most level-headed mother and colleague.
My father has the same rating on WorkAdvisor. He’s just as well-kept, if not more, than my mother, slightly more, if not more well, read, and always at the table at eight. Except when he’s away for work. He too had an incredibly demanding job as a bureaucrat, and was often transferred to different cities. We never budged from Lahore, our education apparently was far too important, but he would manage to be there more than most fathers are. Every weekend, he would travel 4 hours by car to get home after work. Every Monday at 5am, he would be back on the road and be in work at 9am. And if that was not enough, he would also make the same trip on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, to spend a few hours with his children. Hours I don’t remember, and didn’t realize the importance of except in retrospect, but he clearly valued them enough to brave the roads. This for a man who now refuses to even get in the car for an hour to get to dinner. That being said, he did get in the car,and then a plane, for eight hours to come see my sister this year, so I guess he’s always been that way. Will travel for offspring.
Those aren’t things you can ever show off to your friends. Those aren’t things you can really show off to anyone. Its like trying to explain a piece of art you love to anyone who doesn’t; it’s never quite enough of an explanation, or ever enough of a reaction. So you just stand quietly, let them admire what you have, and take what they will from it. Maybe its the fact that my parents are distressingly good looking, maybe its that my mother makes biryani while quoting Byron, and that my father is a better source of history than Google. Maybe its my mother’s perfect skin, or my father’s yellow trousers and waistcoat. Maybe its the fact that we are all completely besotted with each other.
They’re my Monet and Renoir and Rembrandt. And every so often, when I feel like I am not even a Manet to them, I remind myself of all the times they have shown me how much they loved me. And I hope to God one day they’ll have a non-genetic reason for that impulse.