Our family has always been a sort of military experiment conducted by my Father. He gave the orders and we followed. All our decisions were made for us, in our best interest, of course. We coped by inventing conspiracies, imaginary friends, and fantasy-worlds.
Father didn’t have a military past. No, he was a civil engineer. Over the years we’ve attributed his behaviour as result of living through a war. Again something we never spoke about. Father didn’t like talking about it. He didn’t like talking about anything actually. Whatever we knew was from the few times Mother let a thing or two slip. We’d of course try to ambush her in all sorts of ways. To gather any bit of information. We made it a game: we were spies and Mother was our contact. It didn’t work out too well for us though. She caught on and became even more tight-lipped on the subject. Espionage, clearly, was not a calling for either of us. The only bit Mother (voluntarily) offered was, “war makes a different person out of you.” Personally I thought Father was just barking mad.
Father believed boys should be strong, and so my brothers were never allowed to have any feelings. He also thought fairy tales were a waste of time. So we never read them, not at home at least. We read newspapers and magazines. When the rest of our friends (not that we had many) were watching Tom and Jerry we were watching the NEWS. We didn’t know Bugs Bunny. Or He-man. Or the Ninja Turtles. In the world of child politics we fit perfectly into the role of outcasts.
You’d think we’d grow up to be dysfunctional, emotionally vacant adults; it would have made Father proud. Thankfully though, Mother kept us human. Mother was strong, and came with her own parenting rules. She would come to our rooms at night and tell us bed-time stories (in a hushed voice albeit). She taught us tricks and made us laugh. She sang to us. She hugged us when we made her proud; it was something we worked very hard for. But those moments were far and few. If Father heard or saw any of this, he’d accuse her of making us soft. Mother never got into a shouting match with Father. Not in front of us at least. But sometimes, after a particularly Father Like day, we could hear a rush of harsh, quiet voices from my parents’ bedroom. We knew she was on our side. We loved her even more for that.
Despite Mother’s sane influence, Father never changed his ways. Or maybe he did. I can’t begin to imagine what he would have been like without Mother to rein in some of his madness. I think that is why she never left him. She always said he needed her. Mother was possibly the only one who saw the human side of him through those days.
When it was time to go to college, we all picked the ones furthest from home. We spent long hours studying to get scholarships: our tickets to freedom. But even when we got to college, it wasn’t easy to break away from Father’s iron grip. We still studied the subjects he picked out for us. We marched up towards careers he deemed best. But we were getting braver: we began taking short courses on the side. Subjects that interested us. Creative writing, music and history – the useless subjects, as Father would call them. Mother knew of course. I don’t think she ever told him. Till date Father doesn’t know his eldest son plays the Violin. He doesn’t know his banker daughter quit the bank to write full time three years ago. And he doesn’t know his youngest son makes an impressive Hamlet.
Mother always said he was proud of us, of what we’d grown into. I think that was just Mother being nice. She died eight months ago battling cancer. I think in the end she just got tired of constantly fighting against the tide. Before she died, she wrote to us, asking us not to abandon him. It was a huge ask. But it was Mother asking. And we did try, but with Father nothing was easy.
Father hadn’t realised his children had grown up, and grown away. He hadn’t realised the rules had changed; he couldn’t decide for us anymore. I don’t think he ever got around to that. We tried to make it as easy as we could. He tried to make it as hard as he could. Life-long habits are hard to break.
And now he is dead. Like Mother, gone. He was always a stubborn man, and he went on his own terms. One morning he simply refused to wake up. And that was that.
I am standing here, smiling politely at all who have come to pay their respects. My brothers are doing the same. I remember Mother’s funeral. The same people, the same place and yet nothing is the same. Today no one is upset or emotional; no one is making a big fuss. Father would have been pleased.