What is a successful family? I don’t know about anyone else’s interpretation, however, I can share of one successful family I encountered as a child and one in which I was surrounded by as I grew up.
As a child I would ask my late father Surjit why he chose my mum Harbhajan as his wife.
I knew all too well already it was an arranged marriage, but I wanted to know what my late father saw and felt and entrusted in, as to consider marrying and then building a successful family of my own.
He provided me the following responses;
- “I met your mum via relatives whom my parents had approached to declare they have a decent, well-meaning, hard-working educated young man who’s ready for the next phase of his life.”
- “I saw a beautiful woman and she was a school teacher of a respectful family.”
- I asked myself if she was devoted to her family and committed to creating a happy, loving family.
I didn’t know at an early age what my father was trying to convey, but I get it now as I age. For me, it points to the ways couples can work together through thick and thin and ensure they move life forward positively, for themselves and their children.
This is probably the most important lesson I’ve come to learn of my late father and his teachings.
I watched for years as I saw two loving people who did not show much physical display of affection towards one another. On the other hand, I also saw how their care for one another was so powerful.
In the late 1970’s my father was involved in a very bad car accident and had a moose crash through the front of the car he was driving …YES a MOOSE!
The animal was crossing a highway my father was driving on and decidedly crossed in front of my father’s car. The animal’s massive weight crumpled the car to the point my father was pinned underneath the steering wheel.
The accident resulted in my father having to undergo two brain operations. I was in grade three when this happened, and I recall being dragged out of school by my mum as she led us to the local hospital to see my father.
I hated this experience and it still haunts me. I was a little boy and all i wanted to do was play with my friends. I didn’t know of the grown-up things unfolding around me nor how they would impact my life.
My father’s injuries were quite severe, his eye bulging out of its socket due to the massive pressure building up in his skull. I still vividly recall seeing my father laying on the hospital gurney and him extending out his bloodied hand and him quietly whispering, “I love you son” My mother standing by his side crying quietly and not saying anything. Me realizing something was gravely wrong. I didn’t know what it was at that time, but i knew something had changed for my father and more so for our family.
How’s a child to understand this sort of adult situation?
I managed through, my mother taking charge of the situation as she corralled her extended family that lived nearby. She spoke with the doctors and she decidedly chose to sign the paperwork to allow the doctors to operate on my father, giving him a chance at life. I didn’t know it then but the two brain operations my father underwent would not only save his life, but it would solidify the resolve and determination my parents had to show up for one another.
My father managed to get his health back, and he got past his injuries, primarily due to the loving care of my mother. My mum chose to relocate me and my father to Toronto in order to live near my dad’s younger brother.
I recall watching the two working together in many ways, with their finances, with caring for one another and for me. They did it like a finely tuned machine. No decisions effecting the family were made unless the two of them discussed it thoroughly. They very rarely left things left undone.
It was around June 1985 when i noticed some serious changes in my mother, as she would say things out of the ordinary for her. I came to realize much later in life she was schizophrenic and constantly having delusional thoughts, hearing voices and much worse believing the normal way of life was not normal. Now what the heck is normal?
I watched my father take helm of my mum’s doctor appointments. When she became confrontational with him, I watched and listened to how he spoke to her, an art form I’ve yet to master. I recall many a time he would come home from a long day’s work at the chocolate factory he worked, and he would have to cook us all dinner because my mum wasn’t functional enough to do so. I recall watching him prepare the meals and he did so with care and mastery in ways that left me in awe. He told me he learned it from his bachelor days when he immigrated to England and lived with some guys, each of which had to take turns cooking. For me it was more than that as he was taking care of his wife and me.
Throughout my life, my dad essentially took it upon himself to take care of his wife and me when my mum became ill. I liked what i saw, it was true love and care for another human being, and the two made their world better, and my world better.
I didn’t really come to know the success and care these two people had planned until i saw my father be admitted into a long-term care facility where he spent last eight years of his life. My mum visited him nearly every day until his passing a few years ago.
Overall, I realized their love and devotion was supreme in that they did everything together and made plans together, and not only for each other but yes me too. They instilled in me a purpose that i strive towards with my son: to instill values of family, love, care, acceptance and patience. The latter I struggle with as a man.
I came to witness two people create a “successful family” during the hardest of times and through great difficulties. Today I am grateful to my mum and dad and my son for whom i work tirelessly to create that family success.
I am a single father to a son I truly love. i learned lessons from my mum and dad, even though they were at times unable to teach me and care for me in ways I wished of them to. They taught me how a successful family operates, and I do what i do today to honor my family so the next generation knows of this.
I hope i manage half as well as my parents.
Even if it’s within separate households, I am working effortlessly to have my son know similar, intangible lessons about what it means to have a successful family.