Critical

I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages.  Now, they don’t matter so much.  So I began to reflect on why that might be?  I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before.  Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences.  Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father.  Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc.  But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?

Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones.  Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently.  In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices.  However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous.  Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family.  Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything.  Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way.  Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways.  Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers.  He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway).  He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc.  He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine.  Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts.  I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.

A beautiful mind- rediscovering my father

Now things have changed and mental health is gradually being given a recognition. Sadly for us, this is a little too late- my father is towards the end of his life. He cannot write or paint or watch the skies anymore.

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I have to confess I didn’t know my father until last month.  He was always working when my sisters and I were young and seemed very strict (he did not like noise).  I did know that he was brilliant a maths teacher and he could do huge sums faster than a calculator.  Now he is blind and disabled and unable to look after himself.  He suffers from Parkinson’s disease as well.  I went home for about a month to sort out his financial matters and get my mother’s eyes operated because she is the sole carer for my father. Working my way through my father’s papers over a few weeks, I uncovered many beautiful and terrible secrets that he had kept quiet about.

Apart from the incongruous materials in the 21 plastic bags that I sifted through (for example, two pairs of shaving sets, someone’s cheque book, x-ray sheets, medical reports and other things), my mother handed me two ‘special’ bags, which she said, he always carried with him. But in those two bags, I found many diaries ( and our school reports of which he was proud). I was trying to find out why there were 24 bank accounts but I discovered other things.  My father kept meticulous short notes in the diaries- ‘X delivered papers to me at 7-30 pm’.  But amongst those mundane observations were also one liners, ‘Watched sunset’ or ‘Looked at the stars tonight’.  I remembered how we used to discuss the clouds, stars and skies- those were lovely memories. He also liked to take photos and draw with water colours.  He had a great interest in rural technology and always helped anyone who came from the village to the city- although as a child, I resented anyone sharing our tiny one bed roomed home. I found a notebook with his lovely flowing handwriting about his teacher’s training- ‘The aim of teaching mathematics is to increase the thinking power and reasoning abilities of the student.’

But there were also letters that spelt out how he had been bullied at work, his pay withheld and once even assaulted.  As a child, I remembered these incidents but had not understood them- like my father coming back from his school in not a very good mood, not having enough money (I found the well-thumbed ‘ration card’ which listed the broken rice riddled with weavils in particular that we used to eat). I remembered one incident when someone had come to apologise for something.  All those memories suddenly made sense to me.  My father was a proud and honest man, who had worked his way into the big city from an impoverished background in the village.  But to some bullies who were already established, this good looking and clever man was a threat.  So not only did they make fun of him but also got students to do this for them.  His family also inadvertently became victims of bullying. I remember hearing about a student coming with a knife to threaten him because my father had prevented him from cheating at the exams.  I remember us walking back after an evening celebration and being followed by some students from his school and my mother saying to us, ‘Don’t look back or answer’.  I didn’t know why she was saying this and I was petrified.

Now my mother tells me that the students were making fun of my father because he had bought a big piece of cloth, enough for two shirts (to save money) and they called him a miser for having two shirts made of the same cloth. I found counterfeit bank notes folded up in his diary that had been given to him as payment. I don’t know how we must have managed without as we were already so poor.  No wonder he was working so hard.  He kept quiet about this. I found some newspaper cuttings where his plight at not being paid had been highlighted in the press.

All this followed me when I went to the University. I was happy when I saw ex-students from that school had joined the same course but they gave me strange looks when I proudly mentioned that my father was that famous maths teacher from their school.  One of them was distinctly cold to me and I often wondered what I had done (and in fact, I was shamed that he did not think I was good enough to be his friend).  I tried so hard.  Now I know that their behaviour had nothing to do with me.  I don’t know when my father’s mental health deteriorated beyond repair and therapy.  He was a very sensitive man and the many years of abuse simply overwhelmed him.  There is only so much a person can take. I feel sad that I did not understand all this was happening and that my father, protected us by simply keeping quiet and venting his feelings in his diaries.  No wonder he carried his diaries with him all the time- he was ashamed and did not want anyone to know about his humiliation.

Now things have changed and mental health is gradually being given a recognition.  Sadly for us, this is a little too late- my father is towards the end of his life.  He cannot write or paint or watch the skies anymore.  If I should meet these people again, I have the confidence and self esteem to no longer want to be friends with them.  They may not understand my father or me yet but I hope one day they will have enough compassion and wisdom to recognise the beautiful mind which taught them and gave them the means to that wealth and power. I hope they will be able to express their gratitude to their teacher someday.  For me, I feel I have paid that debt of gratitude to my father now.  As Nichiren says, “The old fox never forgets the hillock where he was born; the white turtle repaid the kindness he had received from Mao Pao. If even lowly creatures know enough to do this, then how much more should human beings! …Surely they should not forget the debts of gratitude they owe to their parents, their teachers, and their country.”