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I often wonder how children deal with alcoholic fathers, abusive fathers or fathers in absentia. Strangely enough, the same question does not arise of the mother because, I guess, the instances are few and far between. The feeling is at once scary as it is painful. My neighbours Sarah and Jeane in Shillong grew up in a family with an alcoholic father who never worked but drank from morning till night. Uncle John's famous lines whenever I bumped into him were,"I drink like a fish and smoke like a chimney." But that's again typical of Shillong's Khasi men, who live in a matriarchal society, where the women are the stronger lot, run the house and marry of their sons who prefer household chores to a 9-5 job! I want a house husband too. But jokes aside, Sarah and Jeane did not at all look like deprived kids. In fact, they are today both doing well in life and settled with good husbands :).

Maybe they are an exception. But I can't imagine being in their shoes. I have a distant cousin, who was bright in studies but was spoilt thorough by his parents, then after college turned alcoholic, still got married, had kids, then one fine day went to a rehab centre and is now quite a reformed man. Last I heard, his school-going daughter dropped out of college and quietly eloped with a man after finding out she was pregnant. Among the Manipuri gossip circles, that was the direct outcome of having an alcoholic father. Should the father be blamed for this? I have mixed feelings.

Still, I can't imagine my father, the head of the family being reckless, irresponsible and alcoholic. Worse, I can't imagine him being abusive. I have grown up in a home, where the men are the pillars of strength, their character so sanguine that I have imbibed some of their virtues and optimism in life. My father is an erudite, a math wizard and a very, very helpful man. He invested in our education, taught us that their is nothing above knowlege and learning. So, I never knew what it is to be beaten up for not holding the fork right or slurping my cup of tea! And yet, I have the utmost fear and respect for him. And then, when friends tell me about their step mothers or their father's girlfriend, I think I would never ever forgive my father if he ever had a girlfriend. Having grown up in a near-perfect home environment, I have an idealistic concept about men, marriage and life.

And so when Sherie, the Fortune contributing editor, who was in our office two months back, asked me over dinner and a long talk about life in general, as to whether my dad would remarry now that my mom is no more, I laughed at a question that was so normal for an American. For an Indian and a Manipuri, that's quite an impossible thought for a man aged 70. But Sherie's question haunted me for days. What is so American about that question, I asked myself? Why can't a man have normal desire for companionship even at 70? It's a different matter that my dad would have his own opinion on this. But surely, he can't be labelled a flirt or abnormal or someone with high libido if he so happens to find a companion now or choose to have one. Maybe I would stand by his decision. But even as I am writing this, God forbid is my second thought! Perhaps, my definition of the ideal man needs a rethink!


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