For a face in that empty space

Shahana Siddiqui

Published in the Daily Star on 19 June 2010.

This piece calls for a debate on the responsibility of fatherhood.

DEAR Father: Today is father’s day and it would have been nice if I had actually known you. Today is the day we celebrate your existence, love and support, of which I am yet to experience. I wish I could have painted a picture of us holding hands at school today. But how to paint a picture of a person I have never seen? Today is father’s day, a joyous day, but there are only tears and anger flooding through my mind.

Do you know who I am? I am the thousands of children you bore without any sense of responsibility. I am a statistic, the brown dirty face that sells the flowers, fruits and newspapers to the educated, the wealthy.

I sometimes look through the windows of the hundreds of cars that pass me by and see a father playing with his child. I stop to wonder if that man in all his morals and white shirt and suit is my father. At the same time, I wonder if my mother’s story is right about my father being a rickshaw-puller who just left us one fine day to go back to his first wife in the village.

If you have not left me in dire poverty, you have left me in dire shame. I have no identity because you never gave me one. I don’t know your name. I don’t know where to find you. I can’t even sit for my board examination or pay bills or have a medical certificate without your name. Where am I to get a name that I don’t know? I am not sure why, but for some reason I am the fault of your inabilities and cruelties. I am the bastard, I am the nameless, origin-less being.

I sometimes wonder if leaving me for good was the best you did for me.

There are those of you with all your class, your money and education who will have me as a decoration piece, as your perfect additions to your perfect life. I am raised by ayahs who are more of a parent to me than either you or my mother.

You are content at having all the women in your life take care of me, raise me, fend for me. You will allow your mother to demean my mother’s ability to be a parent. You will allow her to torment, dictate and in many cases, torture my mother and never stand up for the woman who is your wife and the mother of your children. If you aren’t striking my mother, I am bound to get the belt or the shoe at some point from you.

I am your legitimate heir. I am more of a testament to your manhood, to your ability to procreate.

If I am a boy, I may be ensured some basic nutrition and care. Maybe even an education. I will be encouraged to take up a trade or profession. If I am a girl, there is no guarantee if you and your family will let me live long enough after birth to open my eyes for the first time. If I am not dumped in a garbage truck or left at an orphanage, I will always be a burden to you — one day my marriage will overshadow all my interests, desires, wishes and hopes.

And this is of fathers who own me, who want me.

While the society is obsessed with how mothers care for their children, the role of fathers in our lives is brought down to a minimum. If I am of a poor family, I should be content and happy with the fact that you, my father, do not abandon me, bring home some income (even if the majority of it is spent on bangla mod and gambling), and allow me to go to the local non-formal school.

If I am from a middle/upper-class family, there should be no complaints against you — the father who feeds me, educates me, shelters me. The few slaps and overall distance should be overlooked. Confining me in your “safe” bhadralok aspirations to be a doctor or engineer should not be challenged because you are looking out for my interest.

Then there are those of you who truly wanted me. You wanted to have me and in many a case, it did not matter to you if you gave birth to me or not. You are the type of father who loves being a baba. You are my protector and provider till I am 12, my antagoniser during adolescence, and my best friend during the difficult adulthood.

You teach me to love, to cry, to read poetry, to play football, to sing, to love the first rain of monsoon, read me stories, encouraged my mischief but are stern when I go out of bounds. Rich or poor, you sacrifice whatever you can for my happiness.

You teach me to respect my elders and love those younger. You teach me to never judge by people’s class, race, gender, creed, but by their deeds. You are the man I run to when my heart is broken and my dreams are shattered. Those of us who are fortunate to have a father like you, sometimes forget that you truly are one in a million.

While we promulgate how mothers should breast-feed, we should demand for our fathers to give birth to us only if they are willing to be responsible for us. We should have sign-boards and posters of why a father is needed in my life. We should have discussions and debates on why fathers are allowed to get away with ruining my life and livelihood. We should have seminars and conferences on why there is an empty space in my art work today, a space that should be for the face of my father.

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