Of Fathers and Gay Sons

I always believe that talking about one’s issues detracts much of the power they seem to instill within them. Without portraying myself as a victim, I must talk about what I faced with my father.

I don’t know why the abuse happened. Maybe because while I grew my father realized that I wasn’t what he would term ‘a normal son’. I was effeminate. I loved dressing up in girls’ clothes. I identified as homosexual by the age of thirteen.

I don’t know why the abuse started. I was raised amongst the strongest women I know. My grandmother, my mother and my aunts, paternal and maternal, my sisters – all immensely strong women. I had no great male role models. My father was an alcoholic and jobless, since a couple of years after I was born. So, I never really had a healthy relationship with him. I do remember hoping he would be a good father. Having ideas of him taking care of me and my sister and being there for us. I looked up to him, but my real, first memory of him was punching fists into a wall.

That kind of physical stress was mandatory and I guess he must have had his own frustrations. That being said, I have a very low opinion of people who do not take care of their own responsibilities. He had a family. He had a wife whom he had pursued and won over in college. She was responsible and hard working. He had two children. He had a brave mother and wonderful sisters. But these things were irrelevant.

Now, we know that addiction is a disease. And he may have suffered, too. There was not many a time when he would be sober enough to have even a modicum of a civil conversation. By nature, I suppose he was a bully and the drinking exacerbated that trait within him.

When we lived in a joint family, I was sheltered. My grandmother and nanny would shield me from any outburst. At the point in time, his attacks would be generic. Onto a wall, a yelling match, beating the floor. When my mom took us away from the joint family and into the home she built for herself, he followed us there.

She decided to give the marriage another go. However, that time proved the worst for me. I was reeling under the pain of the separation from a grandparent I loved dearly, the house I grew up and the school I was familiar with. I went into a locality that was not populated, a school where I was bullied mercilessly and a home that felt alien.

My mom and sister would leave in the morning with me. School, for me, ended at one pm. But my sister’s convent had the timing of 9-4pm, so my mom would finish work and come back with her. That generally meant that I was home alone, from one to around five. That also meant I was the only one left to deal with my father.

He would be at home, inevitably drunk, and to a thirteen year old, he appeared terrifying. At school, because of my being effeminate, I would get picked on by the boys. Anyone who has been bullied at school would understand this. I got picked on during recess. It got bad and so I would go and either be by myself in the playground or go and lock myself in the toilet, until recess would end. Two boys, Shakeel and Shoaib, brothers, finally decided to become friends with me and included me in their group.

When I would leave from school, I would get back home, hoping that my father would be passed out on the divan in the hall, so I wouldn’t have to deal with him. I would open the door, praying that he would not be at home. On one of these days, when I got home, I chanced upon my first porn. He had passed out with the porn playing on the television. It was 1988 and I was thirteen.

Dad would bang open doors. That is how he declared he was awake. To this date, if someone slams a door, my heart sinks. He would pick a fight with me, on any pretext. It could be something as simple as getting him a glass of water. He wouldn’t want to do these chores himself. He would want to be served. Most times, I would give him lip. And that would end up with me being shoved around.

The beatings ranged from mild to severe. However, most of the trauma was psychological. His approach. What he would ask for. What he would do. If I wouldn’t listen, he would beat the cupboard or the wall. It reminded me of how a male gorilla throws a tantrum and beats his chest. If I would not acquiesce to his demands, I would get a slap. Or he would catch hold of the flesh of my trapezius muscle and squeeze. Hard. Or he would hold my neck and throw me down on the bed.

This carried on for a few years. I grew up but I was gangly and thin. The fear he had ingrained set in deep. Outwardly, I wouldn’t let it show. I stood up to him, got beat and stood up again. The day he choked me until I blacked out was the day it all changed. You see, my maternal grandparents witnessed this happening and they couldn’t stop him either. So, my mom was told and she took the necessary steps to get him out of our lives.

Years later, I hold no grudges against him. He was not meant to be a father. He was not meant to be much at all. He had his own demons, I would guess. I remember also the time he had hugged me and he had apologized. I had cried in his arms. But he was drunk then, too, so I wonder if he remembered that episode, ever. A few years ago, he said, “I knew you were that way (gay), since you were two.” By that, I assume he remembered a lot.

When he passed away in July 2018, I felt no acrimony, or anger. I cried as I set fire to his pyre, because of all the things that could have been but were not. I cried because like society, or like life itself, he personified all that could go wrong, and despite him, I became who I am today. I prevailed.

I remember all of it. I express it to share my experience. I write this not just as a mere catharsis, but as a testimony to the fact that life does get better. You realise that there are reserves of strength deep within you that can see you through anything – and if I didn’t have a father worth the name, I had a mother who was better than most (of course, it is a whole different issue that she wanted me to join the army).

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