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Does parenting change with changing eyesight? - Guest column by Vineet Saraiwala

June 17, 2019

Our guest columnist this week, Vineet Saraiwala, who leads inclusion at Big Bazaar and is an avid marathoner, talks about the valuable role his father has played in shaping his journey

In most Indian families, fathers' play the role in the background and prefer working silently as compared to the mothers'. They don't demonstrate emotions and are usually away at work so it is natural they spend less time with their children. They support the family monetarily while the mother complements the family emotionally.

I have Retinitis Pigmentosa in which the clock keeps on ticking and your vision keeps on dipping. While most of the traits in our relationship have been stable, one of the characteristics - PROTECTIVENESS - has taken a full circle.

Imagine time on the X-axis and protectiveness on the Y-axis with the curve like a mountain. It started with being extremely unprotective at the beginning to reaching the zenith of protectiveness with gradual deterioration and finally back to the same stage of being free. For my brother and I, vision was the decreasing variable with the passage of time. He is currently proud of us and even gives his approval when it comes to risky avenues like trekking and ultra-cycling. it's a story of courage, compassion, patience and the acceptance of reality.

The 'unprotectiveness' phase (0-15 years)

My earliest memories of my father are of him cleaning the shop floor when the workers were absent. He trained us to be self-reliant from a very young age and was perhaps grooming us to perhaps run his shop in the future. At that time, child labour laws were not prevalent and we carried load, prepared bills, collected cash and assisted our father in running the show .Besides this, we also studied at English medium schools and was good academically. Though our father did not express anything when we performed well or badly, he must have been happy with our results. His standard reply to relatives was that we always pass in our examinations.

We wore glasses but that was never a cause for worry as the best doctors in Jamshedpur told us that when we were 18, we would be eligible for Lasik surgery and the spectacles would be removed. Our father would take us for periodic eye check-ups and would have mentally planned our destiny. We cherish playing carom, UNO, cricket and even Hide and Seek together. Our bonding flourished while watching and conversing about cricket matters, which sometimes upset Maa. Our father is a big foodie and we loved overeating until we were really full. He is a tough taskmaster with strict rules on money management, returning home before 8 PM, no partying with friends, waking up early and focussing on necessities, not luxuries.

I fondly remember the days when I would shell groundnuts and serve him at the end of a hard day's work. He opened the shop at 8.45 AM, regardless of sun, rain or storm. We were also super religious and expected to believe in God. These learnings helped build character and a strong sense of discipline which helped in the later years. The stint working at the shop also taught me to become self-reliant and think like a self-motivated entrepreneur. He was carefree about us and gave us freedom in things we like to do.

The 'over-protective' phase (15-25 years)

This was the time when our vision began worsening and our father grew concerned about it. The tasks we did in the previous phase were taken away from us as the sight grew worse and my father started consulting doctors, saints, Gods, tantric and left no stone unturned to do the impossible. He treated us like babies and grew depressed about the new challenge. Initially, he scolded us for not being able to see the road or find our shoes and would tell us to watch TV from a distance. We too were getting habituated our to destiny and like our father, wondering what was happening to us.

He would often delegate responsibilities to our cousins instead of us and it hurt our self-esteem. I wanted to go to another city for higher studies and I am grateful to him for having the courage to send me to a new world on my own. Had he not done that, I would have never learned about the screen reader software which changed my life. I also learned to live independently. He had tears when he dropped me. My mother often told us that whenever we left our native home, he would cry after every departure. He might not show his emotional side but we know it exists.

When we went on to do post-graduation, he taught us to reach our classroom from the hostel by making us memorise the route. He encouraged us to carve our own destiny and supported us in our every decision. He did not encourage us to travel on trips and is still concerned until we reach home from office every day. He regularly asks about recent medical developments and is our biggest pillar of support. His biggest satisfaction is that we are happy and safe and hangs up the phone after knowing this every night.

The 'chill' phase (25 years-present)

Our father is a relaxed man now and all his concerns about our eyesight have disappeared. He gives us permission to travel, hang out with friends, and live independently. He has accepted our life as it is and feels proud of our journey. The biggest testament to this came when he agreed to let me take part in an ultra-cycling race. When we crossed 200-KM at 11 PM, he called up to find out about my whereabouts. To my surprise, he did not scold me for riding in the night or tell me to ride safely. Instead he told me to speed up and finish the race. I thought to myself that life had turned a full circle and that he is a changed man now. He has handled both his sons with Retinitis Pigmentosa extremely well, with compassion. If we were learning to accept our disease, he was learning to adapt himself with the change. Both needed time to understand and adjust to the new reality

This Father's Day, I would like to thank him and all fathers like him who become overprotective of their children. That overprotectiveness is a sign that your dad loves you and cares for you, Give him time to change and make him a part of your journey. We initially thought that he showers us with protectiveness because of our disability, but any father would freak out at such circumstances, crazy adventures, departures from home, the dynamic nature of our disease, independent living and an unknown scenario which has no end in sight.

Be full of gratitude and confess your love to your father before it's too late. Appreciate his struggles and listen to his stories. He would have gifted you on your every birthday and brought you the comfort so celebrate these memories with you by his side.

Happy Father's Day.

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