The year I was twelve and my father turned forty, I made him a greeting card. I drew a balding man with a paunch beginning to show through his shirt, a man who stooped slightly while walking because he was taller than average. I wrote “Happy birthday old man!” in my fanciest handwriting (with sketch pens). I hid it in his wardrobe, in a crack where he’d never find it unless we were vacating the house and leaving the country (which I didn’t foresee happening back then). I understand you may want to know why I had to hide it. We smile shyly even when wishing family members for their birthdays and anniversaries (as though we picked up this habit from watching TV), I couldn’t possibly give him a card I made. It was too emotional, too embarrassing, it felt right but it wasn’t wholly me. I wanted him to see it, and I didn’t want him to see it. Would he think it sweet? Or would he think I was pretending to be someone else? I still do not know the answer. And so it lay there for many years until he found it. We haven’t spoken about it (of course).
Everyone thinks I’m like my mother. You are so much like her, they tell me in their gay voices, happy to compliment me. I don’t mind. She’s beautiful and loved, quick to forgive, her heart is soft and not at all prickly. We sound just the same and I do resemble her in some of the less important ways, but we know I’m like my father on the inside.
I share with him the scorn he reserves for relatives, and the willingness to go all the extra miles for friends. I learnt from him to be kind to those who do the jobs for us we don’t want to do ourselves, he taught me no work is too small, to say thank you, and to carry my own bag when I went shopping. He gave me the moody silences and the biting of the lower lip when thinking, the commitment to the environment and the disregard for convention. He told me to believe in myself, to never back down, and to not be apologetic.
But now we are so alike, we don’t know what to say to each other anymore.
Editor’s pick! This is what Christine had to say:
Anusha’s essay may be short, but it does everything right. She starts in the right place, without unnecessary preamble; she uses one small, personal story to illustrate the larger relationship; she doesn’t get sentimental – which in and of itself is kind of an illustration of her point – and she stops when she’s done. Instead of a potentially cloying description of how well she resembles her mother, we get a stark, honest look at how she takes after her father, for better or for worse.