I love my parents. Both of them. They have raised me beyond their means, loved me beyond my worth, and accepted me beyond all reason. I love them both. But I love my mother a little more. She needs that. She needs someone who loves her the most.
My father’s a great dad. He worked as a bureaucrat, his every move blocked by red tape, to raise his four children. He’s a man who appreciates the finer things in life,he has the best taste in music and poetry I have ever encountered, but he spent his life stuck in the quicksand of Pakistani offices for his children. He set us up in the biggest city in our province, put us through the best schools, sent us on extravagant holidays, and eventually sold every asset he had to send us abroad for university. Never once in my life has he denied me money, no matter how large the amount and how unnecessary the purchase. He literally sold the best years of his life to buy a few great years for us. And if that was not enough, for some unfathomable reason he loved us enough to travel for 5 hours after a long work day, on the bumpiest of roads, just to see his children. He would be gone by the time we woke up in the morning; he caught the 4 am bus to make it to work by 9. A man in his fifties, braving an uncomfortable journey to gaze on his sleeping children for a few hours. That’s love. He’s a great dad. Particularly because all his children grew up to be disappointments. Oh we’re intelligent, and well educated, and well settled (for the most part), but we are not the stuff of his dreams. And that is where his true greatness lies. He loves us, he lived for us, because we were his. In another life, if we crossed paths, he would probably not even turn his head to look at us, let alone cultivate a relationship with us. He knows that, surely, but he’s still stayed with it. He’s stayed with the programme. He’s a great dad.
I know that now at 22, and I knew it back when I was 10. I know I have an extraordinary father, because my mother made it a point to make sure I knew. She appreciated my father, out loud, all the time. He was never around, he was far too busy working to put food on the table, so my mother took it upon herself to extol him. Most children don’t realize the worth of their parents until they’re parents themselves, but not us. We may not have had a reciprocal relationship with him, but we have worshipped the ground our father walks on for years. And that’s mostly because our mother put him on a pedestal. No one extended her the same courtesy.
Of all the wonderful things that have come my way, my biggest blessing is this: I can see my mother. I see how she runs around at work, putting up with imbeciles to make a living. I see how she slips money into my bag every single day, never waiting for me to ask. I see how she looks down, seething, when my father berates her for not saving. I see how she never once tells him she’s essentially raising me on her own now. I see how her eyes fill up when he comments on how she has contributed nothing to this house. And I see that this house would be a bare skeleton without her touch. My father bought the building, and most of the furniture, but my mother saved and scrimped to get the pretty upholstery and pictures and flowers. I see the colour she’s brought into our lives, the music, the books, the food, the laughter. I see her.
He’s sarcastic about her fastidious nature, her impeccable jewellery, her clothes. He does not see that every outfit she owns now is a present from friends on her numerous promotions, her jewellery all relics from the time when her marriage was more than a living arrangement. He does not know that all the jewellery she bought in the last five years has been for her daughters, to be set aside for that inevitable time when their marriage too will turn sour like hers, and the only bright thing about their day will be their mother’s gifts. He does not see that his grumbling scares me, that I bought three outfits for all of winter so that he would not have a chance to comment on her saving skills, or lack thereof. He does not see that my attempts at frugality have broken her more than all his sarcasm could.
I see her when she hums around in the kitchen, making an average of 6 dishes a night because she wants every single person in her family to have a perfect meal. I see how she runs around to set the table at 8 so my father can have his perfect meal, at his favorite time. I see how she cautiously peeks into my room, breaking into her radiant smile when I look up. I see how she never eats without me.I see how she apologizes, obviously guilt ridden, when the food is not up to our exacting standards. I see how stunned she is every time someone actually deigns to praise her efforts.
I see how she sits on the prayer mat every evening, praying for her children. I see how she wants for us only what we want for ourselves, and how she is more fixated on our dreams than we are. I see how she gets blamed for all our shortcomings: she could not get us married, she could not guide us to the right career, she could not foresee our mistakes. And I see how she blames herself: she did not pray enough, she could not curry enough of God’s favor for her children. I see how she misses her mother at these moments. I see how being an only child did not prepare her for the fights between her children, and how desperately she wants to belong to a clan of her own. I see how crestfallen she is when my father distances her from his family, even though she is convinced it is either unintentional, or deserved. I see how she clings to us, her children, undeniably her own. I see her disbelief when she realizes she has raised her children to love their father, exclusively. I see how her heart breaks a little when all of her children believe him over her, taking his side, believing in his rationale, deserting her. And then I see her rationalize this loss, by reminding us, and herself, of what a great father he is.
I know my father is great, because my mother told me so. I know my mother is great, because my father told me otherwise.