Learning the Meaning of Father’s Day from the Prousts

There is no man of literature that can describe the most humbling father-son relationship than French great novelist Marcel Proust and his father, Adrien Proust.

Two days before 26 November 1903, Adrien experienced a massive stroke attack while teaching in the medical school and eventually passed away, leaving his son so devastated. Of his father’s passing, Marcel wrote in a letter with a heightened feeling of being a failing son:

“Papa was a very sweet and simple man. I tried not to live up to his expectations for I am aware that I am always the dark spot in his life. To show him my affection, […] Other people have some sort of ambition to console them. I have none.”

At the time, Marcel was still in deep disappointment with himself because the novel he was working on, “Jean Santeuil” (an unfinished novel divided in three volumes which was never published during his lifetime).

With his father so hardworking and celebrated as an epidemiologist succeeding to combat cholera plague in Paris, Marcel saw himself as a shadow that never ever surpassed his father’s achievement and strong personality. He had developed a type of Inferiority Complex.

And the disappointment of Adrien was magnified when he learned Marcel failed to have a certain career.  Marcel was ‘only’ able to take up pens and write every night, living like  bat. Marcel’s younger brother, Robert, luckily (or sadly?) went on to study medicine, just like their father, which was quite a source of frustration to Marcel.

Adrien saw Robert’s academic and career attainment soared at medical school. Though he knew Marcel was not interested in attending medical school, as a father he suggested him to join a law firm.

But Marcel knew what he wanted. He write in one of his letters to his father:

“My dearest Papa,

I have kept hoping that I would be finally able to go on with the literary and philosophical studies for which I believe myself fit. As for a law office, I assure you I wouldn’t stick it out for three days.

I still believe that anything I do outside philosophy and literature would be just so much lost time…”

Despite the sibling rivalry, Robert showed full support of Marcel’s literary pursuit and even helped edit the elder brother’s manuscripts after Marcel’s untimely death.

Aren’t we all familiar with this situation as children?

We at times are in the unfortunate position of a child who still wants to devote him/herself to their father. Yet, s/he also has his/ her own stance in life, defending what s/he is,  what s/he wants to pursue in life, whom to marry, etc.

Seeing Marcel defend bravely his literary pursuit, I know that every child, including me, must never be afraid of expressing their minds or opinions even though often children are overshadowed by fathers.

So if you think you cannot make your father proud in HIS own perspective/ stand point, why not trying to make him proud in YOUR own way?

Marcel might be just a sickly, fragile son with little or no aptitude or knack for medicine or laws but I bet, should Adrien know how much Marcel his son is now admired for his literary achievement and how human race still celebrates his works and brilliance even after his death, the disappointed father might turn proud and accept Marcel as a whole human being. (*/)

The Antithesis

‎I’m way luckier than the two siblings next door. They just marked their late father’s 1000th days after the funeral. He died of complications we laymen never manage to describe accurately. Too bad.

Even my landlady isn’t quite lucky when it comes to father issue. Recently her father fell sick and felt like he was in a dire condition. But none of her siblings at home ‎took him to hospital. “How could they…,”she whined. It turned out they were reluctant to spend money for his medical expenses. “I had to pay it all!” She had to pay someone she trusted in hometown to take care of the father. Because she lives in Jakarta, and the siblings think she earns more than them and thus can pay the expenses. Were I her, I’d probably consider choking and strangling these bitchy ungrateful siblings.

So speaking of Fathers’ Day, neither my dad nor I knew today is the day. Well, why should we care? In Indonesia, there’s actually no such day. Fathers’ Day is so western and there’s no way my dad is interested in celebrating it. As a family, we aren’t used to celebrating birthdays. Not because we don’t care at all about each other. We care of course but it’s the culture of the society we live in that doesn’t show much approval of celebrating adults’ birthday. If you celebrate kids or teenagers’ birthday, that’s understood. You even should. But as one gets older, people think,”Excuse me? Celebrate your 35th birthday? What are you? A spoiled kid?”

‎I like to describe myself as an antithesis of my dad. I’m someone who my dad is NOT. Weird huh? It isn’t because my dad is a hateful guy. He’s kind-hearted, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t do drug, never gets drunk or abusive; he rarely hits his offspring (unless we really need it) and as a father, he has proved himself really reliable on so so so many levels.

It’s because of me. I do want to prove his old mindset, beliefs and assumption WRONG.

‎His strong belief that government civil servants will live a happier and more financially secured life causes this. In some way, he may be right in terms of retirement and health insurance. But happiness is larger than that. I want to lead a more meaningful and more fulfilling life by refusing to be a lecturer at a formal institution. He still keeps the wish, I know it well. Once in a while, he inserted a topic of career shift into our chats. “Do you think you will someday settle down after this hectic urban life and maybe teach on some campus and work like me in our hometown?” I always have nodded and always will nod. Teaching is great and noble but I decided long time ago that I won’t pursue such a formal teaching career. Yeah, drop the “formal” word and it’ll be ok with me. I like it informal, like sharing what I know and experience in a limited number of people. But when more people get involved, I tend to withdraw. It’s too exhausting for introverts like me. My dad is extroverted, which explains well why he found seeing many people awesome and addictive. I simply cringe when I have to meet strangers, even in business setting. Unlike my jovial dad, I’m so reserved and shy.

Yet, I’m also proud of him. The sense of responsibility, which I terribly lack, he has shown as a first-born son‎ with characters of leaders. He has a knack of it. It’s an innate skill he acquired since childhood perhaps, as his late dad died of an unknown ilnness decades ago when Japanese troops were in reign.