Open Letter to My Punjabi Father

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I wonder what you thought when you first saw me. Did you wonder who I’d grow up to be? Did you see the mischievous smile, catch the curious gaze and sense the free spirit that would steal your sleep and peace decades later? Or did you just look at the sleeping baby and think, “huh, she seems harmless” and just hold me?

Firstly, I want to thank you.

Thank you for keeping me.

Mom told me a few years ago that she asked you if she should abort me since I was the second girl. You refused and I was born. You rose above the social norm of feticide that has resulted in unnatural sex ratios in Punjab, India.

Currently, our hometown has substantially decreased the number of girls as compared to boys. Some regions have 754 girls to 1000 boys*, drastically different from the natural ratio of 950 girls to 1000 boys* in other parts of India. This is not natural. There’s nothing in the water causing more male births, unless it’s drowning unwanted girls.

You made sure I was born regardless of the societal pressures and prejudices against having multiple daughters in Indian culture. I wasn’t an inconvenience or a burden. I was your daughter and you raised me to be a warrior.

. . .

Secondly, I want to apologize.

As I’m sure we both remember, I threw so many tantrums and got into so many fights when I was growing up in America. It was always risky taking me out to meet new family friends. Will I behave or nah?

Without a doubt, I was the kid disciplined the most.

I must have exhausted all of your patience growing up.

I tried to make it up in other ways though. You have to admit — I killed it in school. You went to all of my dance performances. You went to all of my award shows as I graduated high school. You proudly showed my straight A report cards, list of groups founded and accomplishments racked in.

One time, I remember, I had casually mentioned to you I was performing at a local performance center and later that day, you showed up, right on time, standing in the back of the conference room, holding a recorder, the only parent there. How is that you never missed any moment, no matter how small, to show your support in my life?

You were my hype man when all the parents discussed future career plans for their children. You effortlessly shut down conversations by listing off my resume.

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I eventually left and went to college.

I came back four years later and told you I didn’t want to go med school anymore. I know it must have broken your heart, but you still supported me then. You told me it was okay. When we discussed other career moves, you pushed me to do more, be better, always seeing more in me than I did. You raised me to be fearless, to never settle for mediocre. You sacrificed for us in ways I could never repay or replace.

You gave up everything.

You were completing your Phd in Punjabi literature before immigrating here, after being the first in your family to go to college. You gave up being a professor, your lifelong dream, to drive taxis in America instead. You went to work, day after day, doing something that was beneath you, so that we could grow up to be great. How could anyone match a selfless sacrifice like that?

How could I show you that I’ll always be indebted and grateful for your sacrifices?

How could I possibly make this up to you?

. . .

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I’m leaving for New York again on Sunday night and you asked me if I’ll be visiting in the next four months. I paused. I wasn’t sure. Work would be busy, I thought. I looked at you and stopped before replying.

You seemed different, older and tired.

“Yes, of course, I’ll visit, Dad,” I promised.

When did you start getting old Dad? How did I miss this? You walk slower. You sleep more. Your joints hurt. Your hair is more grey and you have a little tummy you immediately suck in when I pat it. You reminisce about the past more.

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Superheros don’t slow down.

You can’t grow old Dad. Who am I going to call when I have car trouble? Who’s going to be my hype man? Who’s going to tell the Indian aunties I’m not ready to be married off yet? Who am I going to have conversations about life, religion, relationships and careers? Who else will eat a box of glazed donuts from Krispy Kreme with me? Who else will tell me to dump my ex-fiance because you would see me cry over things he said, never mind what people say?

You’re not allowed to get old. I’m not done showing you the awards, speeches and pictures from our latest adventure and accomplishment in life. We have so much more to do. Get your camera ready.

You’ve been an incredible father to me in so many ways. You’re the most woke Punjabi father to exist, in fact. You tell the Aunties to (politely) fuck off so that I can go become a boss. You don’t restrict me into a cookie cutter, white lab coat career of what it means to be successful in Indian culture.

Rather than pushing my wildness, ambitions and fearlessness into a box, you reshape these qualities so that I’m still compassionate and sincere while being ambitious and focused. You teach me to be kind, to be calm, to be humble and to be independent. Through your own sacrifices and selflessness, you show me how to be a better human being.

I’m not done learning from you yet.

Can we go travel again?

Or can we build the hospital in Punjab like we discussed?

We can show them what can happen when a father believes in his daughter, rather than aborting her.

I love you.

 

*References of Indian populations and sex ratios are obtained from:

Lessons from Punjab’s “Missing Girls”: Toward a Global Feminist Perspective on “Choice” in Abortion. Sarkaria, Mallika Kaur. California Law Review. Vol. 97, №3 (June 2009), pp. 905–942

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