Parents love each one of their children unconditionally but what a father feels for his daughter can be so special, so heartwarming. And the relationship becomes extra special when the daughter reciprocates the father’s sentiments. This is the story of Mila and her father George, and of the bond that they shared, the bond between a father and his daughter.
Mila was the youngest child of her parents, one who came into their lives when they were well into their middle age and parents to two other children, a boy and a girl. Since they were quite old when she was born, she was given the name of an “Accidental Child” by most of their friends, a name which George simply hated. It, in fact, made him feel extra protective towards her because he did not want her ever to feel that she was not wanted or loved by her family. Actually, he wanted to love her, care for her much more than he had done for the other two. Fortunately for him, by the time she came, he and his wife Gina were financially secure and comfortable which meant that he did not have to work as hard as he had had to when the other two were growing up.
So right from the moment the little bundle of joy was handed over to him he was available for her no matter what. It gave him an immense amount of pleasure to do every little thing for her from changing her diapers to feeding her, to helping her take her first few steps and taking her to school on the first day. In fact, in many ways, he had taken over a number of things which in the case of his older children had been his wife’s responsibility. All this obviously meant that the father and daughter became very close to each other. And this sometimes made Gina feel like an outsider, someone who wasn’t always needed.
Initially, it was quite strange and amusing for Gina to see George like this but with time she started appreciating this change in him and started depending on him for many things related to their daughter. He could drop anything to be with Mila at any time of the day or night. Mila was an integral part of their lives and always stayed with them. They would avoid all those places where she couldn’t be taken or wasn’t welcome. Once she entered school, George was involved in pretty much everything that concerned Mila. He loved to take her for all her hobby classes and wait for her while she finished. All this had been Gina’s responsibility in the case of the other children but now George was there to share all the work with his wife which made her life much easier.
To her siblings, Mila was like a toy with whom they could fool around whenever they felt like it. But they could never get upset with her or hurt her because if they ever did that, George would step in and not spare them. She was his favourite and he made no bones about it. Since the siblings were much older they themselves were pretty protective about her and therefore never felt bad when they were pulled up by George over something concerning their kid sister. Mila was only five when her brother left the country to study in the US after which his contact with the family steadily diminished because after finishing his studies he decided to stay on in the US. Five years later her sister also followed suit. So by the time she turned ten, Mila was the only child of her parents who was living with them. She always had their undivided attention and their world revolved around hers. It seemed as though the other two children had ceased to exist for the parents. They were like those relatives who visit once in a while and that’s it. The family comprised only these three. They did everything together, went out, watched movies, read books, cooked meals, went on holidays. This obviously made the three extremely close. The parents did not seem to miss the others, so wrapped up were they in the world of Mila.
Getting so much love, affection and attention Mila grew up to be a self- assured, loving and compassionate person. She was academically bright and a popular figure in school, a matter of great pride for the parents. And though she was close to both the parents the closeness between the father and daughter had to be seen to be believed. George’s entire demeanour when Mila was around him never ceased to amaze Gina. It was as though she was his universe and he could put everything on hold for her. On her part, Mila also always depended on him for everything and felt close enough to be able to discuss everything with him from academics to boyfriends to issues with her mother. This kind of a secure and comforting upbringing laid the foundation of a secure and confident life ahead.
Very soon it was time for Mila to leave the portals of school in order to enter college. Like her siblings, she had also decided to pursue her further studies in the US. Her impending departure was something that George could not really come to terms with. He felt that since Mila was going to be in the US for the next four years, it made perfect sense for all of them to move there. For him, it was the most natural thing to do while it obviously wasn’t for Gina. She couldn’t understand why in this case they had to put their own life on hold when they hadn’t even considered doing so in the case of the other two children. The husband and wife could not see eye to eye on this leading to arguments and fights between them, something that had never really happened before. It was quite a shock for Mila as well to see them like this. It disturbed her to think that she was the reason behind it. She tried talking to them, trying to enable them to come to some sort of an agreement but no matter what, George would not budge. He was clear that if Mila decided to go to the US he would follow suit. Gina found the whole exercise ludicrous and pointless and Mila could see her point. When she could not make him understand her point of view, she threatened her father saying that she would shelve her own plans if he continued to be so stubborn. This had the desired effect and George agreed to let Mila go by herself but on the condition that they would visit each other at least four times a year. Not wanting to argue further Mila gave in and thus began a new stage of her life. It was for the first time that she was going to be by herself for a long time period. She had been on school trips, been out with her friends but it had never been so far and never for so long. It was new, it was scary but it was exciting. Also leaving behind her parents, her home, her friends was not easy but she knew she had to do it, so off she went to explore newer pastures. Of course, her brother and sister were close by which was pretty comforting.
Meanwhile getting used to a life without Mila wasn’t at all easy for the parents and especially for George. Many times Gina had to sit down and explain to him to build a life of his own, pursue his hobbies, his interests rather than moping around in the house. She kept herself busy by working for an NGO, meeting up with her friends and also developing various interests. The transition from a life totally devoted to his daughter to one where she didn’t figure anywhere in his daily routine was quite challenging for George. In the first few days, all he did was look at her pictures, wait for her calls and write sentimental emails to her. But finally, Gina’s counselling and Mila’s explaining had the desired effect. George decided to pick up the reins of his life. His passion for photography now found its way back into his life. He decided to pursue this interest in a serious way. This, of course, provided a huge relief to the mother and daughter who could now focus on their lives rather than getting worried about him all the time. George started taking up photography assignments which would take him all over the country, to begin with, and then to other countries as well. The motivation behind visiting other countries was, of course, the remote possibility of being able to meet Mila more than four times a year!!
Life moved on, Mila graduated from college but unlike her siblings, she decided to move back to be with her parents. She didn’t want them to be alone and since she managed to get a good job, it was fine. The parents were overjoyed and the smile on George’s face assumed permanent proportions. Her homecoming was celebrated in a big way. Again George wanted to just revolve around his daughter but now the mother and daughters didn’t let him do that. Mila, in particular, insisted on him focusing on his life and letting her focus on hers. Thus the family settled into a routine. Though they were all busy in their respective lives they still made it a point to spend time with each other. They largely ate together and spent at least one day in the week with each other. In the meanwhile, the older children got married but continued to live abroad.
Soon people started suggesting that Mila should also be getting married but anytime anyone proposed an alliance, George would do a double take and refuse point blank. It was impossible for him to think of letting his daughter go away forever. Sending her to the US had been one thing but sending her to live with someone else forever was not a thought he wished to entertain. His attitude both amused and infuriated Gina. She felt that when it came to Mila, he became like a little child who wanted to hold on to his favourite toy no matter what. She had to counsel, she had to cajole and at times even give him a piece of her mind to make him see sense. In fact with the prospect of marriage looming over his head, now he wanted Mila to stop meeting boys or going out with them. If she ever wanted to do that which was pretty often, he would insist on meeting the boy, asking him a hundred different questions and embarrass his daughter no end. In fact, he started avoiding all well-meaning souls who made the mistake of proposing an alliance for his beloved daughter. But of course the inevitable could not be avoided. It wasn’t long before Abhijit literally waltzed into Mila’s life. They met at a party on the dance floor, something clicked and before they knew it, they were head over heels in love with each other. This development was like a bolt from the blue for George and also a reality check for him. He couldn’t avoid the reality any longer and of course, he wanted Mila’s happiness under all circumstances. He agreed to meet Abhi as he was called but this time he knew things were different. The shine in Mila’s eyes, the expression of a little shyness on her face said it all. She wanted George and Abhi, the two men in her life to not only like each other but to get along with each other as well. George could sense her anxiety, her fear when she introduced them to each other. On her part, Gina also gave him a nice, long lecture on letting Mila get on with her life, on letting go of her in a graceful and dignified manner. Thus with a sense of trepidation and foreboding George agreed to meet Abhi not being able to shrug off the feeling that he was there to take away his daughter from him.
But there was something in Abhi, something about Abhi that greatly endeared him to George. He had walked into the room to shred Abhi to pieces, to intimidate him, to reject him[ notwithstanding the instructions from his wife] but he just couldn’t do it. There was something that made the parents, the father in particular fall in love with the suitor. His easy and friendly manner, his polite and courteous demeanour and the love in his eyes for their daughter did the trick. Much to the astonishment of Mila and Gina, George agreed on letting the two get married. However, the fact that he had agreed did not mean that he was going to step back from his daughter’s life. In fact the impending event, that is the marriage of his beloved daughter had given him a lot of food for thought, the main point of concern being where Mila was going to live after getting married. Thankfully the couple was going to be in the same city. But George wanted to be a part of the planning process right from which part of the city they were going to be, into what kind of a house they were going to live in, to whether it was going to be a rented one or whether they were going to buy it. Though his enthusiasm was initially accepted after a while, it started to get to Abhi who couldn’t do with so much of this well-meaning interference. His efforts to push him back by getting Mila and Gina to speak to him were rendered ineffective which is when he decided to have a heart to heart chat with his future father in law. He sat him down and explained to him that much as he respected his sentiments and feelings, he could not have him running his life. He assured him that he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself and his wife to be and though he was open to suggestions and advice he wasn’t prepared to hand over the reins of his life to anyone.
The conversation had the desired effect and George realised his mistake. He stepped back but of course found it difficult to do so. He now put his heart and soul into making sure that Mila’s wedding was one of its kinds with no expense being spared. Many times Gina had to step in and hold him back and cut down on the unnecessary expenditure. She had to keep reminding him that they couldn’t afford to spend all their savings on this wedding and also of the fact that he had never been so lavish at the time of the other weddings. It both amused and frustrated her to see him like that. But what broke her heart was the look on her husband’s face when at the end of the ceremony it was time for Mila to leave. It seemed as though his world had fallen apart, he had tears in his eyes and just wouldn’t leave his daughter. Their relatives had to gently pull him away,at which point he just broke down. It took him quite a while to get used to the fact that his daughter’s world was different from his own and no longer would he be the most important man in her life. But gradually he learnt to accept this reality, of course with a lot of support from the two women in his life.
A year and a half of this state of affairs and one of the women decided to leave him forever….. just like that. Gina, who had always been hale and hearty, had never known a day’s illness, went off to sleep one night and never woke up. It was a day which began normally for George till he realised that, his wife, always an early riser had not joined him for the early morning tea. He went in to wake her up where to his horror he figured that he would never be able to do that. Panic-stricken, he called up Mila who rushed with a doctor who told them that it had already been two hours since Gina had passed away. The father and daughter were stunned. It was shocking, it was unbelievable and not something they could accept. Gina had been the anchor, the rock-solid presence in their lives. How could she leave them and go? How were they supposed to function without her? It was Abhi who had to step in and take charge of the situation. He had to make the necessary arrangements and inform all the relatives and friends. Once it was all over, Abhi decided to stay back and help George get his life back on track. It was difficult, almost impossible but slowly and gradually, the acceptance came. George had to come to terms with the reality and also with the fact that he had to move on and let his daughter and son in law get on with their lives. He convinced them to move back and decided to get a hold on his life.
Time moved on as it had to. For George living alone was not easy but he had no choice. Of course, he wasn’t left alone by Mila and Abhi. They would visit him practically every week, speak to him every day and be there for him. On his part, George immersed himself in his photography, his reading and gardening. Never one to indulge in self-pity, he kept himself busy so that he had less time to sit and brood. He missed Gina terribly but chose to remember all the good times that they had had and the beautiful memories that they had created. He would look forward to having all his children over who had now made it a point to visit him twice a year. At those times with the house teeming with his children, his grandchildren, he would wonder if Gina could see how happy they all were and then feel happy herself.
But once they all left, George would feel very lonely and forlorn especially for the first few days. Though Mila and her husband were there, they did have a life of their own and couldn’t always be around. One day while George was buying his groceries at the local supermarket he saw someone who seemed very familiar but he couldn’t place the woman till the time she walked up to him. The moment she said hello, it all came back to him. She was Megha, his friend who had just moved into the neighborhood. They had been good friends in school and were meeting after more than thirty-five years.They sat down to have coffee and to catch up. George came to know that Megha had just moved close to where he lived as she wanted to be close to her son. She told him about her life, how she had lost her husband twenty-five years ago and had brought up her children single-handedly. George was quite impressed by the story of her life and by her grit and courage. He told her about his life as well. They parted ways after promising to stay in touch.
This chance encounter with Megha stirred up many an old memory in George. He remembered how he had been completely besotted by her in school but had never had the courage to approach her. It felt good to see her after so many years and yes, he did want to see her again. Another chance meeting with her, this time at the local doctor’s set the tone for many more coffee evenings and afternoons. Meeting her added that spark to his life which had gone missing ever since Gina had died. Though he loved spending time with her he didn’t want anyone to know about it especially not his children. He loved them a lot and didn’t want to jeopardize his relations with them because somewhere he had a feeling that they may not like his meeting Megha. They might think that he was being disloyal to their mother. But was he being disloyal?? The moment this thought entered his head, it wouldn’t leave him. Though he knew that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, he was just spending some time with a friend, the feeling wouldn’t leave him. He tried to rationalize the situation by trying to understand as to what was bothering him. And yes he knew the answer, just because the friend was a woman, he was feeling guilty. Had it been a man it wouldn’t have bothered him at all. He then decided to consult a few friends who told him to stop worrying about others and to do what made him happy.
This made him feel better and he decided to stop overthinking and get on with his life. But the more he met Megha the more he liked spending time with her and he could see that the feeling was being reciprocated. They had started to depend on each other for a lot of things, initially with the feeling of not bothering their children too much to the feeling of wanting to be a part of each other’s lives. But then the guilt ??? Was he being unfaithful ?? Was he being selfish?? He had no answers to these questions. He tried discussing with Megha but she was sailing in pretty much the same boat. In the meanwhile, Mila could sense that her father had become strangely quiet, a little uncharacteristically quiet. There were no morning and evening phone calls, no entreaties to her to come and see him, no surprise visits by him on Sundays!! Something was definitely amiss!! Her natural instinct told her that something was not quite right. She hoped that it wasn’t a medical condition. So one Sunday morning leaving her family behind she decided to pay a surprise visit to her father. And what did she see on her arrival!! Her dad was going out for lunch and when she wanted to know the name of his friend he turned just a little shade of red and wouldn’t tell her. She found his behavior both odd and funny. Not wanting to give up she kept questioning him till he had no option but to tell. When she heard the story and sensed the embarrassment behind it, she had this sudden urge to hug her father and tell him that it was fine for him to have a woman friend. It was no big deal. She decided to do just that. She sat him down and like a parent would explain to a child, she started to explain to her sixty five year old father that he had every right to feel happy and if that happiness meant being with another woman, so be it!! And there was no question of being unfaithful or disloyal to his wife because Gina would feel happy to know that he was happy. She told her father that her mother had always loved him unconditionally and always wanted to see him happy. Therefore he could choose to be happy in any which way without going on a guilt trip.
Mila’s pep talk and her handling of the situation made George feel better. It felt as though he had been pulled out from under a ton of bricks. He decided to go ahead and meet Megha. He didn’t know what the future had in store for him, he didn’t know how long he would live, he didn’t know how long Megha would live but he knew one thing… his life ahead would include her no matter what..
The daughter had made the father’s life easier just the way he used to do it for her when she was a child…. Child the father of man!!