Certain things are immeasurable and beyond definition. Love, for instance. Such things are however often recognisable, either in the joy or sorrow they create.
And yet, there are instances when we don’t see it at all or if we do, we call it something else. There’s love whose dimensions we don’t fathom or even cannot fathom. The love of a father is something like that.
Of course there are demonstrative fathers who shower their children with love; but even in such cases it is not easy to understand what exactly a father feels, what goes on in his mind, the quiet pleasures he experiences when his children do well and the great anxieties that torment him all the time.
My father, who will complete yet another year of his exemplary life on earth on the 26th of June, was never demonstrative.
In fact he was and still is loathe to express emotion. He never said much and even now appears to have a steady rein on his feelings.
And yet, as the years passed, I have come to realise that he tirelessly strived in his own way to take care of his family and to make sure that his sons grew into strong men and responsible citizens.
Today I know for certain that every word he spoke and everything he did were inspired by a vast ocean of love that he concealed from everyone. Indeed today I understand that even his silences and his restraint at times were inspired by love, caring and utmost generosity, all of which can only come from great wisdom about the world and about human beings.
Although I had to wait until I became a father to understand what a father’s love truly is, it is not that I did not notice or appreciate his affections. I know this is also true of my brothers. We’ve always had the greatest respect for our father. He is a simple, hard working man who is totally devoted to his family. He was born in Payagala, Kalutara - a township that has seen a lot of change in recent times, but still boasts of beautiful landscape.
He attended Holy Cross College, Kalutara, an institution established in the late nineteenth century and is today one of the best schools in the district. He had shown much promise as a student but the early death of his father forced him to forego all options of higher education in order to take care of his family and ensure that his siblings could aspire to a better future. If he were to look back he would have no regrets; they all did well in the careers of their choice.
Perhaps that early training in nurturing was what made him the exceptional parent he is. He is a man of few words and as many of us know a quiet parent can be quite intimidating. There were countless moments when his sons gave him ample reason to mete out harsh punishment, but that never happened. He would instead express displeasure with a keen, unwavering gaze which at times was more admonishment than a stinging slap. I recall that he showed an inexplicable fear of the sea and the railway track. I often told myself that it was unwarranted and silly of him, but now I realise with more than a tinge of shame that it was all about unfathomable love for his children. He loved us all. He had no favourites. I still remember his response when the late Lalith Athulathmudali suggested that I be sent abroad for my studies. He said that he couldn’t afford it and that it was wrong to privilege me over his other two sons.
"This, then, is a poor tribute. My father, however, is wise and knows much. He will understand"
His life was his family. Everything he did and said revolved around creating a comfortable home and educating his children and seeing them do well. I have never heard him raise his voice to our mother. I have never seen him intoxicated. He educated us, as much as through the choices he made and the money he expended as by example. More by example, in fact.
He taught us much but not in the manner of a teacher. He was kind and in his kindness taught us the virtues of empathy, generosity and responsibility. He was silent and in his silence he taught us the virtues of patience, restraint and also something of natural justice.
He was loyal and that’s how he taught us the virtues of loyalty. He had principles. He had strict principles and he believed that it is important for one to abide by these. He was never shaken by insults or by the wrongs done to him. He was, as I said, extremely patient.
He never overreacted. He was a firm believer in natural justice. He never held grudges, he just couldn’t be bothered. He never bad-mouthed anyone. He let things go and went on with his life. That’s how he taught us that it was not prudent to be angry, especially in the case of those who do not deserve our time and energy. We weren’t always good students but that’s not his fault. He did his best.
Everything he has said and done, as well as all the things he did not say and did not do, came to me in that moment. I recognised my father. I recognised how much he had given us, how much and how he had taught us, and most of all, that I will never be able to show him how grateful I am. He didn’t say much and is still quite a silent man. I say so much and yet I feel he has been far more expressive and eloquent than I have been or can ever be.
This, then, is a poor tribute. My father, however, is wise and knows much. He will understand.