I cannot truly say that I do not know him. I have his blood running through my veins. I know from a couple of black and white, dog-eared photographs that I look like him. My eyes, I’ve inherited from Mother. Otherwise, I’m quite unlike her. I laugh a lot. Aloud. Drawing disapproval from Mother. She would be happier if I were more mellowed. I know that my raucousness is a paternal inheritance. At least, I like to think so.
Other than my flesh and bones and the genes, which are constant reminders of my connection with him, and the very few sepia-toned photographs, I have no memories of Father–none whatsoever. Not even of the affectionate kiss (which Mother told me about) he planted on my cheek, as he battled a rheumatic heart condition in a suburban hospital. Even in his condition, she said, he asked to see me and sat up to hold me in his arms. She wants to reassure me, I think, that in the two-month relationship we had as father and child, he did his bit. It makes me feel good to know that he loved me, short though our association was. I have had to visualise this description in my mind’s eye to create a memory, and I have done so umpteen times, all through these years. It has now assumed the character of actual recall and I can feel the warmth of his breath and the tender brushing of his lips on my cheeks.
I think of Father often, of what I have missed. When I see a young father walking with his little daughter, her tiny hand held firmly in his, I wonder what he is saying. And when she looks up at him, secure in his love, I mourn the lack of that security, in my early life. What is it to feel sheltered by a male parent or admonished by him? How different is a father-daughter conversation from a mother-daughter chat? I guess I shall never know. At least not firsthand.
So, I gather anecdotes about Father, from Mother, my uncles and aunts and my relatives who knew him closely, who breathed the same air as he did, who have heard his voice and laughter, and who have touched him. They have seen him live, and leave too. Prematurely. The snippets about him are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with one significant piece missing. That leaves the picture incomplete. I try to shape the missing link, to paint a portrait, but it eludes me. My quest, to get to know Father, continues. As I write this, I can’t but marvel at the fact that he lives on, through me.
Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago: