Father's Day


Nobody knows his actual birthday. His widowed mother had told his wife he was born sometime in March 1936. But the official date in his certificates was 31st December. He thus retired on that day, on his 60th year, after 36 years of teaching Physics in an undergraduate college.

His wife's birthday was on 13th March. In her middle school, his younger daughter took it in her head to start celebrating that, dragging her elder sister along into making it an annual ritual. He had no choice but to join in, offering a pen as a routine gift to her. The daughters decided that they would wish him on the same day as their mother, because they didn't know the exact date of his birth; he agreed to that, too, shyly accepting their hugs and kisses on that day.


This continued till their University years. Then they both left, to seek/live new lives -- first in different cities, then in different continents. The family of four couldn't be together ever again on 13th March. A decade and a half later, on 31st Dec 2015, rules were changed. This time, by his elder daughter. Since they were having a proper family reunion after a long time, with a little one in their midst, she thought it was a good enough excuse to celebrate his birthday according to the official date. He was embarking on his 80th year, after all - this was special!

It was. But it became even more so because his wife passed away next August. A year after that, his younger daughter returned to him. With her child. For four Decembers thereafter, on the last day of the year, a cake was cut at home, he was fed pieces from it by his granddaughter, and the moment shared with and accessed by his elder daughter in the US through a video-call. By 2020, the ritual had lost almost all its joy - with his health, already failing from 2018, having deteriorated beyond measure. There was something very forced about it, particularly that year, which even his lifelong caving in to the wishes of his daughters could not cover up.

Six months later, he would leave home for a dementia care facility. His younger daughter will carry the memory of that day to her grave. She had never imagined such a day would come in her life; in his life.

His granddaughter had seen him go... a frail, bony body carried in a stretcher from his room to an ambulance waiting below. She was in the midst of a zoom class when he left. And quietly carried on with her day just as she otherwise would.

She would later ask her mother whether her dadu would return; just as she would ask four years back whether they themselves would return to their 'home' in Amsterdam. Every time her world fell apart, she thought, she hoped, it was temporary.

In her initial years in Kolkata, her dadu was a constant companion in her life; the person with whom - and in whose presence - she spent the maximum time at home. He didn't have the gift of engaging with children, but he loved her in his own way... which was basically by taking charge of her food. What she ate, how much, and when. Though an array of hired help was engaged in the process, it was he who supervised them. His granddaughter would remember that, with great fondness.

Two years have elapsed since he left home. His younger daughter has realized that the day he left home, with only her in an ambulance, is truly HIS DAY. The March and December forced birthdays are not. And certainly not an internationally determined 'Father's Day'.

There's another thing she has discovered. A phrase. "Ambiguous loss". She chanced upon it quite accidentally only recently, and is pretty sure the rest of the world knows all about it... but it has been such a relief... to know that there is actually a phrase that can describe what she, and her sister, and those who love and respect their father, have felt, have experienced, in the last two years.

Language can somehow never measure up to experience. But the articulation of this one has made a world of difference to her.