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Growing up and growing old

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“Will you discuss with your manager, the dates of your visit?”, Dad messaged me one Friday morning, while I was in office. “Haven’t yet. Probably, tomorrow,” I replied. “I think it’s better you complete your probation period and then plan a visit. Don’t get careless with work,” he said. “I will manage, Papa,” I replied. This is Dad, who is the biggest emotional cushion of our family. While dropping any of his kids at the railway station, he will wait until the train begins to move. Or, wait at the departures, until he receives a call from us, saying, “check in done.” As much as he wants his kids to go get out in the world, he wants to hold onto them up until the last minute. So, it wasn’t a surprise for me when he did the same as he dropped me at the airport when I was leaving for Hong Kong.

But, at the same time, he will deter you from coming home when worldly responsibilities take over. He doesn’t want to come between you and your life. He hides his emotions and encourages you to charge forward with full vigour. He is a parent, learning the way to deal with empty nest syndrome. Boldly and softly. But what does he do when he is dealing with an even more emotional kid?

Somewhere, we all miss our families when we move out. Even if those homes often turn into harbours of miscommunications and judgements. We miss them. Because they are also our chest of memories. Wafting smells of bhindi-gosht (mutton gravy with okra) for lunch, or the sumptuous portions of shahi tukre (sweetened bread). The summer mornings where we water the plants, the rainy afternoons with everyone seated in the verandah enjoying the splash, and the winter evenings with warm tea cups and tonnes of peanuts to crack on. There is no way, one will not be reminded of home at different occasions.

But what I miss, is more than being away from home. I miss being away from taking care of Dad. The routine I had set up to ensure his needs are met, is now governed by other members in the family. I no longer check his meal portions, medications, exercise routine, his sleep, his chemo sessions. I suddenly have a whole new routine, one that involves mostly my necessities and my life. And that is weird. I spent so much time being home with him, that living my own life does not feel enough. It feels quite disconcerting to have time, all for myself. There is a knack to constantly ensure that Dad is doing okay, and if I can be of any assistance.

What is this syndrome called? Is this some form of role reversal in the parent-child relationship?

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Perhaps, this is the part which I need to learn. To remember. To encase in my mind as a reason. That part of growing up, is seeing your parents grow old.

You have to accept that there will be times when you cannot be there for them. Despite living with them. And you can always be for them, despite being away.

Physical proximity always helps, but more than that, emotional understanding does. You can be living in the same house, but if you don’t understand each other, then you’re practically strangers. So, I know that being away from Dad hurts, but I also know that being independent, working through new avenues in my life, pleases Dad. It comforts him. And that matters.

So, I make a deal with myself. I give it to all to make my life, but I also make sure I’m there for Dad when he needs me. When it matters. I develop the confidence to accept my reality and live with it. One day at a time.

That also means, that I work in a setting, where my team understands my personal commitments. And I commit myself completely, when in work space. That development between the two parties is essential to balance a difficult phase in life. But that balance is what enables peace of mind.

I’m away from home now, but I’ll also be home for Eid. And that thought, fuels me to work and live my life. Keep my goals, but keep them gentle.

They deserve my labour but also my love.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love.

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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