After a long time, I went home — the place where I grew up. I flew for 18 hours to see my dying father. I had learned only a few weeks ago that he had a special type of brain cancer. Five months to live. Six with luck.
I traveled similarly about 16 years ago.
I snored on a mat in my aunt’s living room when the phone rang at midnight.
Those calls are never good.
My mother said, “Come home as soon as you can. Your father met with an accident. He is in the hospital.”
I boarded the earliest train from Mumbai and reached Nagpur after 18 hours.
A few months later. While I, in my dorky sweater typed away on my computer, my slightly hunched father labored snail like steps into my room.
With an envelope in his hand, he said, “Don’t be sad, son, but I’ve a bad news to share.”
That my father said something like that was a huge deal.
After all, he had barely recovered from his near fatal injuries. It poured when he was found lying for more than three hours on a street with his skull cut open like the first cut on a watermelon.
Passerby mistook him for a drunk, while he lost buckets of blood. Finally, the police rushed him to the ICU, where he laid in a coma for three days. After he woke up and began his recovery, he, for a long time, lost the ability to name things correctly.
He chuckled when he called the telephone a toilet. I am sure he smiled when he couldn’t say “wife.” But I know he cried when he couldn’t say our names right.
Back in my room, he handed me an opened letter. To my dismay, it was a yet another rejection letter from a graduate school in the US.
This was my last rejection letter. 100% rejections. Even from my safety schools. By then, I even got used to the American way of saying “No” without insulting anyone.
I slouched in my chair as my heart sank, but what my father said after that has changed everything.
Although he had undergone such trauma and was unsure of his income and job, he said, “Don’t worry about the money, son. Go take the best prep classes that will prepare you for a successful admissions application.”
I didn’t know whether to cry or to smile.
I didn’t know whether it would be right for me to accept such a generous gift and think of myself while he still was recovering.
I didn’t know whether he could afford expensive classes along with his medical expenses.
I did know one thing, however. While others would ridicule me, he gave me another opportunity, another chance at getting a good education.
I tasted success and a better life because of that opportunity.
Yet, it was because of this opportunity that I wasn’t with him when he needed me the most.
Although I spent a week with him, the monster in his head had already encroached and restructured him into a helpless object.
And although I was in India, I was at the US Consulate, in Kolkata, interviewing for my visa, the day he died.
To the US I returned broken, yet grateful.
Later, my 7-year old son spotted, “Dad, grandpa is still alive. Do you know where? In your heart.”
And that is true. My parents provided me with plenty of opportunities for a better life. And that is one of the many reasons for me to remember my father not only on father’s day, but every other day.
To every important person in your life, express your love and gratitude whenever you can. I so badly wish that I had received an opportunity to have a sensible conversation with my father before his decline.