I tried to be rational when I found out that my father was having an affair. But I was only drawing more lines for him to toe, for his halo to remain untarnished.
The realisation that my parents still had sex came to me at the tender age of 13.
Now, as everyone would agree, the idea of your parents having sex is right up there with the idea of someone taking a hot poker and gently piercing it into the soft tissue of your brain. Many would choose the poker, but life seldom cares what you choose, which is why this realisation dawns on the truly unlucky ones after walking in on their parents. The luckier ones get away with less nightmarish scenarios like finding condoms in the parental drawer or hearing the click of the lock of the parental bedroom door. It came to me in the form of explicit content on the parental computer.
I chanced upon my father’s computer a few years before my mother passed away. She’d never encouraged any misguided notions about how I came to be on this planet, and correctly explained to me that a union of naked bodies meant less fights at the dinner table. So when I came upon the page that no 13-year-old should come upon (clearing the web-browser history was something my father never paid heed to), I was merely revolted, not shocked. (It did, however, put me off any pornographic content for the rest of my life.) But thanks to my mother’s indoctrination, I swallowed the knowledge of it like a bitter pill: Bad to taste but good for your health.
Life went on, maa passed away. A few years later, I happened to borrow my father’s phone for its superior camera, when I stumbled upon a part of my father’s life that I really was better off not knowing. I knew, of course, that my father was meeting other women, but it was something neither of us discussed. I simply returned his phone and went about my day as was expected of me. I stashed the memory of it into the deep recesses of my mind and ignored its existence until one fateful Saturday afternoon.
My father and I were warmly invited to lunch with the recipient of said WhatsApp messages… and her husband and daughter. I was suffering from a disorder of comprehension, which is a politer way of saying that my mind was fucked. The woman was introduced to me as a friend he had met at work. I could not grasp the relationship dynamic being played out in front of me. My father, who willingly toed every line that society drew for him from the dawn of time and even drew new ones for others, was having a spectacularly clandestine affair with a married woman. Where was my popcorn?
I dared not ask questions because I could not imagine the magnitude of awkwardness that such a conversation would entail.
I tried every means of rationalising the incident: Perhaps the woman is unhappy in her marriage. Perhaps the husband too has an affair of his own, and my father and she are having an Erika-Berger-Mikael-Blomkvist-style understanding. Perhaps the husband is homosexual. Perhaps she will divorce the husband for my father. I tried hard to find some logic until I couldn’t. I discarded my father to that black box in my head, which contains all the things that I have failed to understand. I call the box “31st Century”.
I began to bypass every uncharacteristic tendency that gradually arose in my father. I ignored it when he hurriedly left the room to take a phone call, or when he would return home later than usual without promptly offering an explanation. I ignored the palpably obvious lies too. I dared not ask questions because I could not imagine the magnitude of awkwardness that such a conversation would entail. After moving to another city for reasons of work, I could not help but be relieved that I no longer needed to be around what I did not comprehend.
Sex is as fundamental to us as it is to our parents; it’s something we know yet choose not to believe in. They are sexual beings, people with their own compromised moral compasses, but we don’t see them that way. A wise person once said that you truly become an adult when you realise that your parents are flawed creatures – gods with feet of clay. Until that day, we remain children.
I went about my business, leaving my father to his. I was in a relationship of sorts and settling into my own life, when one day my partner’s phone buzzed. He was out of sight and the buzzing persisted. I reached for the phone to silence it, when a WhatsApp notification jumped to the screen. My significant other had a significant other of his own.
I lay that night and for many more nights next to a person who I knew was not exclusive to me. To my eternal surprise, I was okay with it. We were intellectually stimulated by one another and sexually attracted to each other, but had never declared ourselves to be monogamous. I admit I rather hoped that we would be, but we had never spoken about it because we didn’t adhere to the stereotypical facets of romance.
It then occurred to me, in that instant, that I might not be too different from my father. It also occurred to me that when I’d found evidence of his sexuality, I was not being rational: I had only been drawing more lines for him to toe, so that the halo I’d painted over his head would remain untarnished, and he would not fall from the pedestal I pushed him to stand on. I had been foolish.
When I moved back home, I went right back to ignoring my father’s sexual pursuits and the still palpably obvious lies, but this time it was different. This time it wasn’t that I did not understand it but quite the opposite. I also understood that he is as much of an independent adult as I am and his private life was none of my business.
My father still hasn’t spoken to me of this other life and I let him be. Perhaps his carelessness has been his subtle way of letting me in, or maybe it is just carelessness. Either way, I don’t want to know more than I already do. The only thing that perhaps disturbs me is that there’s a good chance he gets more action than me.