Last June, my dad relocated to Bangalore to take up a position as chief scientist in IBM India. Life just isn’t the same without him, even if there might be one less catfight in our house.
“Pavithra, must you really have the lights on in your room at the fullest? Why can’t you use the dimmer? It doesn’t have to be this bright! Our electricity bill this month! Do you know it’s 500 dollars! FIVE HUNDRED!”
“I forgot. Jeez, Dad. Sorrryy. I was working, you know.”
“Working, indeed! You think money grows on trees?”
Ah, yes, it’s yet another kind exchange of words between father and daughter in our household. One second we’re screaming our lungs out, the next minute Dad’s comforting me, seeing that Mom’s being unreasonable with me. We are, I suppose, the average family—one that has its bright and dim moments.
Dad can’t really complain. I don’t suffer from any of those typical teenage ailments. I haven’t overdosed yet. I’m not a raging alcoholic. And I’m surely not sleeping around—unless sleepovers count. I’m a boring, goody-two-shoes kind of kid. But in this family there’s a slew of issues that come up no matter how good a child I am. Some matters are complicated, some trivial, others valid, and yet some others just plain silly.
But most of the squabbles that arise between daughter and father stem from the fact that both of us are so alike. We manage to clash over just about everything. We’re both stubborn. Neither of us can ever take the blame during arguments—and we’re intolerant and short-tempered. Not the best qualities to possess. Mom says this is inevitable since we’re “cast of the same mold.”
Some things don’t play into this battle of the genes. One thing we never butt heads over is regarding my performance at school. Dad doesn’t nag me about grades. He doesn’t breathe down my neck about violin practice or SAT practice tests. This detachment is sometimes a good thing, just because I don’t constantly feel pressured by yet another person. I always have someone to turn to when my mom is being too pushy or aggressive. But while my dad may not ask much about school, I know that deep inside he expects my grades to be fantastic. He believes I’ll work hard and be successful in everything I intend to do.
Yet this detached approach of his isn’t always convenient. My dad isn’t always able to understand the trouble I go through as a high school student. Cramming in the extra-curriculars and the honors classes isn’t as easy as everyone makes it out to be, and it’s hard for both my parents to understand that. Mom is always around me; therefore, she’s more in sync with my everyday concerns. Since Dad’s job has always involved a lot of travel, he doesn’t always realize what deadlines I’m on or what stress I’m under.
So while I’m diligently working on math homework, Dad will storm in and question me about the mysterious towel lying on my floor or the heap of clothes on my bed, proclaiming my room to be a pigsty. Or he’ll be on light patrol, watching me like an eagle when I enter and exit the bathroom, playing the ever-alert Mr. Policeman just to make sure I turned off the light.
I’m not trying to make excuses for my shortcomings, but my neat-o-meter isn’t often alert when I’m studying for finals or scribbling an opinion piece that’s due the following day for my journalism class. My dad just doesn’t get it sometimes, and such disagreements often lead to full-blown shouting matches.
And like other fathers, Dad is always peeved about my spending habits. Sometimes, my mom and I go overboard when we go shopping. Watch out, mom and daughter on the loose. Now Dad doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with our interpretation of our credit card bills. Mom and I, the writers, are always rounding down $29.95 to $29. Dad, the computer scientist, is always rounding it up to $30. See the problem here?
In spite of the many conflagrations, most of our fights are over petty things—silly things, really, that we both like to whine about. If I sit on the first barstool in our kitchen, Dad throws a fit. You see, it’s his seat—with a convenient plug point for his laptop and at a safe distance from any source of water. No one, not even the Queen of England, may sit there if she’s in town. But I like to plant myself on his spot just to annoy him.
You can see that I’m not always the perfect daughter. And surely, it’s obvious that my dad isn’t the perfect father? But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not always fond of my dad (and neither is he of me) but I couldn’t imagine calling anyone else Dad.
He’s quirky. Yet he’s always there to bring wisdom, calm, and perspective to my mother and to me, and pay for all of my activities—ranging from violin lessons to speech and debate to my many other valid demands on his wallet—without one single complaint.
As a junior this year, I desperately need my dad back here to help me attack the terrifying derivatives of AP Calculus. Dad is … well … integral to the functioning of our family.
And if he comes back home as fast as he can, I even promise to dim the lights. Every time.
Pavithra Mohan is a junior at Saratoga High School, Calif.