And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
If you’ve got no one to tell them to,
it’s true I was made for you . . .
The Story, Brandi Carlile
The lines above are from one of my all time favorite songs by singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Brandi Carlile. Despite the wisdom of her words and the lines she speaks of, I think she is only about 27 years old with no visible lines that I see.
But I get it Brandi. I really get it. And thank you for one of the most moving songs that brings me near to tears every time I hear it.
I think about this song when I think about my father.
My father has a lot of lines on his face. And each line is a beautiful line. My father has a lot of stories to tell, and over the years, I wish I had listened more closely.
I wish I had paid more attention to the stories he has of growing up in a poor village in India, the eldest of ten siblings. I wish I had listened to the many stories he had about each of his siblings, my aunts and uncles, some of whom have passed away, and others whom I have not seen in years.
I wish I had paid more attention to his own stories of growing up in poverty but having the love of an amazing mother and father, whom he still speaks of with emotion in his voice, pushing them through.
I wish I had stopped being distracted by my latest “issue of the day” to maybe listen to the inflection in his voice when he talked about what it was like to be so malnourished that he did not walk until he was four years old. Or stop to think about how some of the health issues he experienced later in life, like premature blindness, may have been related to that rocky start in life.
Of how he made it out of the village to earn scholarships to get an education at some of the better schools in India. So that he could help be a provider for his family, as the eldest of so many children.
Sometimes I want to go back and ask him to tell me in more detail about how he came to this country with no money but with the support of a strong band of friends who were like brothers, many of whom I call Uncle today. How these men came with nothing to this country except some petty cash and their hard earned degrees, and stayed at a YMCA in NYC until they were able to get jobs, rent places and set up shop in a country that was so new and foreign to them. How they supported each other till each was able to stand on his own feet.
Where was that YMCA? Did I ever even think to ask? Queens? Brooklyn?
What did he feel like, leaving everything he knew behind in India?
Leaving his first wife and children behind in India, while he tried to start a life for them. Was that scary?
Being in the United States when his first wife got sick and passed away and returning to India to four grieving children, my brothers and sisters.
Of being arranged to marry my mother and returning to the United States with her and his four kids. And carrying not just their luggage, but what must have felt like the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Of what it was like to have me years later, years after he thought he was probably done, to welcome a fifth child into the world. Of the relief he felt the day his last child was married, long after he had given hope that anyone would have me.
And his undying gratitude to John for taking me off his hands. (see that smile below. priceless). **
Of the pressure he may have felt as a young man, knowing so many people in India still were counting on him for money while trying to build his own family in a new country.
Of the mistakes that he made – maybe in his career, maybe in his marriage, and even sometimes in raising us. Because while he is a wonderful man, everybody does make mistakes.
Of the happiest moments in his life.
And the saddest.
I have a great life today. I have had opportunity. I have had food. I have had education. I have never gone hungry. I have been loved always.
I have two wonderful sisters and two equally wonderful brothers. We don’t always get along as well as we probably should but I love each of them dearly. I love their children and am proud to be an aunt to all nine of them.
I have an amazing extended family that was able to come to the United States with help from my mother and father. I am lucky to have grown up with cousins who are more like siblings to me than anything else.
I have a husband and two wonderful children.
We are healthy.
Life is not perfect, but at this point in my story, it is my responsibility to make it as close to perfect as I can get (without being too perfect that I want to gag).
My own story is intrinsically tied to my father’s story, and all the subplots that unfolded within it.
It’s not too late for me to ask my father to tell me these stories again, and for me to really listen this time.
So that one day, I can tell my own children these stories that need to be retold so they never forget where they came from.
Love you, Papa.
** (Also note, my mother looks like the cat that ate the canary. I bet she is thinking, “Oh, John! You sucker!”)
In Hindi, of course.