A man growing old becomes a child again- SOPHOCLES
There’s an old advertisement of a cooking oil that ends with a child shouting into the camera – “My Daddy Strongest”. The fact is, even without the advertisement, to all of us at that age, our parents were strong, multi-tasking machines who were invincible. In one word – strongest. According to us kids, they were capable of doing it all. And that’s because they did it all with utmost ease. Whether it was managing household chores, helping us out with our homework and projects while maintaining their professional lives. They were in real sense – our first
heroes (while we struggle our way into adulthood and rely on memes to get through the day).
They’ve always been there while we grew up, became adults and started living our own lives. We could do all that because we knew they were there to pick us up, feed us and motivate us to try once again.
And then one day, suddenly, we realize that they now need spectacles to read the newspaper, or their joints are paining, or they can’t do certain tasks with the same ease with which we’ve seen them doing it all our lives. It dawns on us that they’re getting old.
We are always aware of their age. We all understand lifecycle, but nothing prepares us for this feeling we get when we finally realize that our parents are now old.
I remember exactly when it struck me. It was when I went back home for the first time after I moved to the US. I was surprised to see the wrinkles on my Mom’s face and my Dad’s greying hair. It’s not that I hadn’t noticed this earlier. I had. But it somehow felt more prominent this time round. I can’t point it out clearly, but there was something different about them.
I’ve always shared a very friendly and close relationship with my parents. I used to call my Dad, Kaka (an endearing word for an old Gujarati uncle) and my Mom Buddhi (it means old. But I started calling her that because she would sometimes start behaving like a 60-year-old even in her 40s). It was our way of teasing each other. My mother used to tell me then that I’ll realize when she gets old. (You have no idea how it hits me now).
So naturally, I was a little skeptical of leaving them and moving to a different country. Not because they were getting old, and it is my responsibility to take care of them. Well, it is my responsibility to take care of them, but unlike most Indian families where kids are raised in a way that they can become their parents’ “Budhape Ki Lathi”, I was never under that pressure.
One particular reason I could leave them and come to the US was because I didn’t consider them old. So, when I met them just 8 months later (even though we spoke to each other almost every day on a video call) and realized that they were getting old, it was difficult to cope with.
They pretended that they’re all fine and that they weren’t facing any issues. But I knew they were just saying all that to allay my fears. The child in me felt the anxiety, but the adult in me needed to understand how to deal with it because they’ve been my support system all my life and now it is my turn to make sure I’m there for them.
The world works in truly mysterious ways.
3 months after I returned back to the US, the world as we know it changed. The world was under a lock down and I can say this with confidence, millions of children staying away from their parents received a rude shock when they realized that their parents may by susceptible to this deadly virus because they’re 60 and above and have certain pre-conditions.
Suddenly, over the past 1 year, the roles reversed. The kids became parents and the parents, kids.
I no longer get calls from them. In fact, I should say that I no longer give them an opportunity to call me. That’s because I call them the first thing every morning. Our conversations are short and sweet. We ask each other if we’re fine and talk about other things for a few minutes and hang up. But deep down we all know the purpose of this call was just to know that were okay. On weekends, we talk to each other at length.
We discuss everything under the sun. We talk about politics in India and the US. I’ve finally managed to convince them that everything they read on WhatsApp is not true and that it wasn’t me who stole my Dad’s pen 18 years ago. They are more susceptible to newer ideas I have and indulge me when I present a radical idea to them.
I’ve realized that all they need from me is that I spend some time with them and not the latest iPhone.
I also realized that there was nothing I could do that will stop them from ageing. Coming to this acceptance was a difficult journey but a journey we all need to make.
I’ll end with a small incident that recently happened. I woke up suddenly early in the morning and had this urge to speak to my Mom. No particular reason. It was still 4 hours before my usual time to call them. She picked up, we had a short chat and I hung up promising to call her back at my usual time. After I hung up, it seemed eerily similar to the calls I used to get sometimes in the middle of the day from my Mom who used to call me for no reason but to hear my voice.