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About a boy June 21, 2015

Posted by Sharath Rao in Uncategorized.

A while ago, a friend in response to a video I sent of my son Samar asked me to describe what it felt to be a parent. I wasn’t sure if that was a serious request. I did sit down to write then and there but never quite went through with it. Recently though I thought might as well, even if merely as a record of my thoughts that have come and gone many a times over the past year and half.

fathers day

Well, Samar is special. That is an understatement, I know.

I don’t think about this everyday but I do quite often. Firstly, there are a few mundane things that actually describe a reality that is very profound about being a parent. There is no other thing, person or entity that has occupied my mind so consistently for so long. I have slept under the same roof as he, every single day of his life so far but one. I have seen him, held him and played with him and let him play with me on each of those days. He has gotten on my nerve on almost every single one of those days. I may not think about him every waking moment but at any given time he is either with me or he is someplace with someone that I know and trust. (All of this is mostly true for my wife as well except for the occasional overnight shift.) Sure, many of these things will slowly change or cease to be technically true, but even so, it is amazing to me that these could be true for any extended length of time.

When we are with him, we observe him, we keep track of what he is doing, what he used to do, what new thing he has learnt. When he cries we attend, every single time. No exceptions. We attend to him until he is not crying any longer, even if sometimes that involves just pretending to ignore him, but never actually ignore him. Crying is mostly how he communicates and we cannot afford to miss it!

We have seen him grow each day, grow from the totally helpless person to a somewhat helpless person. Even an occasionally helpful person when he takes the spoons out of the dishwasher (even when it is being loaded!). We have seen possibilities and capabilities emerge with time out of no effort from us except for having keep him healthy and alive. Yes, when you see someone grow each day you miss certain things, a wonder in itself. Looking at his photos over time we do see several discrete changes in how he looked but we don’t remember noticing it then, only in retrospect. And everyday we have spent our time and energies thinking about his current and near future well-being. Every single day we have loosely kept track of what and when he ate, how much and when he slept and woke up, how often and when he pooped and peed, and just what else notable he did when he wasn’t sleeping, eating or pooping. So much that his life and these stories of him are a part of us.

I remember reading about that ‘parental bond’ a few weeks before Samar came along. Merely valuing something is not the same bonding with it. I read about how one could go from not knowing a stranger to even be ready to “throw ourselves under the bus” for that ‘stranger’. The bond apparently often starts to begin a few days after the birth for fathers, earlier for mothers. I remember that for me the first couple weeks were more about responsibility and learning to do things (efficiently) that just needed to be done. It was much easier to bond when they start smiling, until then it is the one-way street of wonder and puzzlement about what just happened to you!

Being a father also means that I just understand and viscerally appreciate a lot of things better, some because I am living those moments and others because of the shared context of being a father.

I understand better where the expression “his/her baby” comes from in reference to someone’s piece of work. I hesitantly understand better why parents can be controlling and curious about their kids – they basically cannot help it; it is a habit that refuses to go away. Obviously, I understand my parents better. I imagine what my years as a toddler must have been. I can imagine the pain they must have gone through, their sacrifices to raise me even better. Those can’t be paid back, only paid forward as parents ourselves. I am more forgiving of people who advance having kids a few years so that their aging parents can enjoy being grandparents. It is good for the kids and even more so for the grandparents. I understand better if some people feel that in the end their children will be their greatest personal accomplishment/contribution to the world. Given how much thought and energy goes into raising them, it is not unreasonable to think/hope so. They take years from your life but add a few decades to your life’s reach on this planet.

On the darker side, I understand better if people might literally beg/borrow/steal to feed their child; a child going hungry is unbearable. I always give something to a homeless person with a child without pausing to think whether I am being taken for a ride. I think children dying (which is by definition not knowing what is happening to them) is unacceptable. Finally and I say this with much trepidation and awareness that I might be entirely wrong about this: I understand only marginally slightly better the loss of a child. Indeed, the law of nature should be for the child to lose a parent (at an advanced age), never ever the other way around. It is scary to think that the pain of the loss of a child is worse the later in life it happens.

Of course, we haven’t even spoken about his side of things. We also love them because they love us. It is clear that my wife and I are the special constants in his life (even though technically he may have (or may not; I have not clocked!) have spent more time with his grandparents). At the same time it is ironic that if I were to die today, he would go through his life not remembering a thing about being with me. He may know a lot about me through what he hears and reads and the photos and the videos but surely that is not the same thing. In that weird kind of way, I am one of the two most important persons in his life. Besides, it is also a legally incontrovertible fact that we are his biological parents. Just knowing and acknowledging these to yourself appears to reinforces that bond somehow.

I am not sure how much we love our kids because they look like us or because they share our genes. I think we love them because we have thought about them, watched them, been with them day in and day out and taken care of them at their most vulnerable moments, which for the first years is every moment of theirs. We love them because they literally embody own thoughts and energies. Perhaps, as evolutionary instincts go, we love them because we love ourselves.

Finally, here is something that to me today captures very well why, to me, having a child is unlike anything any other relationship in its own way. A young man on the street doesn’t remind me of my brother or a friend. Running into a rather older lady doesn’t really remind me of grandma either. An aging couple on the subway do not remind me of my parents. Surely, passing by a beautiful young lady doesn’t remind me of my wife (this might be a relief or of concern to her). But any toddler anywhere, of any race, color, creed or gender, reminds me of Samar. Anyone younger than Samar reminds me of what he was at that age. I imagine this will happen for the rest of my life.

Happy Father’s Day !



1. preets05 - June 21, 2015

Straight from a dad’s heart..very well written ! Loved the last paragraph..made me realise that the people me & Harish talk about the most are our nephews & niece..Every kid we pass by remind us of them in some or the way.. Happy Fathers Day Sharath & Lots of Love to Samar 🙂

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