When I wrote about cell phones and maa ka dil, just over a year ago, I had neglected to mention that sometimes there exists something far more powerful than a mother's heart. That is a father's concern for his children. When married to such a man, the maa-ka-dil is often totally redundant.
Once his children grow up, such a man is referred to, mostly in sheer exasperation, as Father Hen.
As in, 'Stop being such a Father Hen, Pops'.
I'm sure you can tell that we are not a particularly reverent family.
We were staying with our oldest kid some years ago. She went out for the evening with her husband. The next day Father Hen asked her why they had come home so late. I nearly died of embarrassment. The daughter looked at him in shock and awe, and said 'Excuse me!' with an underlying intonation that said, 'Are you for real'?
Let me confess- when we moved to Noida, and our older son came home to stay with us, after three years of living in a hostel, it was not easy. For either of us. Though he did not possess a cell phone then, I did expect to be told whether or not he would be home for dinner, and if he planned to be out late, I expected to know about it. Somehow, in the strangeness of having a young adult in residence, I'd forgotten my sanity-maintaining principle of no news being good news. I did get worked up if he stayed out without informing us. Mostly though, he would let me know. Although I never sat up late for him and he had his own house key, I'd ask him to just come to my door and tell me that he was home- I'm a light sleeper and that was enough for me to sink into a sound, relaxed sleep.
I think the SRE and I take turns in being paranoid parents. He was somehow never overly concerned if the older son was out late without prior information. Perhaps because the older son is six feet tall and well built. To me, that isn't important- you can be in danger even if you are the size of the Incredible Hulk. And given that life is a risky business, a little paranoia is normal.
Cell phones have increased the SRE's paranoia. He assumes that his kids will be accessible on their phones at all times. As I had written earlier, there are many possible reasons for not being able to reach your child on his/her phone. Besides the indisputable fact that however much your teenager loves you, he may not always feel like talking to you. Well, our younger son (and youngest kid) has been having his first semester exams. And he stays in the college hostel, and is usually home on weekends. He's been a little anxious about these exams, so we were most relieved when we learned that he was quite happy after the first one. I called him before the second exam to wish him, and he didn't seem very confident. Anyway. It so happened that neither parent could get him on the phone for the rest of the day- we were getting a 'switched off' message. By evening the SRE was getting rather agitated, and since he wasn't in town he kept insisting that I go to the college the next morning and 'FIND OUT WHAT'S UP'. Now, I was quite sure that any such measure would mean our son taking a transfer to another town, far away from his paranoid parents, so I refused outright. I also spoke to my eldest daughter, who'd taken care of him while he was in the school hostel at Noida. She also strongly advised us to lay off before the poor son ran away from Kolkata.
My mind was more concerned with technology failure-either the cell phone had not been charged and the kid was asleep after burning much midnight oil, or his phone had just conked out entirely. Since my own old brain only remembers exactly four cellphone numbers (my own, my driver's, the SRE's and our elder daughter's), I wondered if this guy would be able to call us if his phone died, taking all our numbers with it. The SRE was probably contemplating far more dire scenarios.
After several fruitless attempts at calling him I went to sleep. In the morning I was delighted to hear the son's phone ringing. He'd obviously woken up enough to charge his phone. His not answering it wasn't worrisome at all, since he is a nocturnal creature, as well as a latter day avatar of Kumbhakaran. (If you've seen the movie Omkara, and remember the scene where Rajju tries to wake up Langda Tyagi, that's my son for you. His sleeping and waking habits deserve a post of their own.)
I left an SMS on his phone, asking him to call me. In the meanwhile, the husband called and said that he had spoken to the son. The son called me, and I told him about Father Hen's distress. The poor son was most horror stuck! He also rattled off all our phone numbers, and said that he would definitely inform us if his phone died on him. He had gone to sleep after two nights of staying awake studying, and had charged his phone when he finally woke up, in the middle of the night.
Dear dear Father Hen. I know you love our children and are always concerned about them. But please rest assured that we have good and sensible kids who can take care of themselves. And they know where we live, and they know that we are always there for them. They also know our phone numbers. Let them learn to spread their wings- they will love you even more for it. Let them call us when they wish to, not because they feel they have to. Keep the faith, and just chill!