Years ago, my siblings and I pooled together our allowance money and bought our dad the perfect father’s day gift- a t-shirt that read “‘Because I Said SO,’ a Dad’s Answer to Everything.” Not a fan of bright, daunting colors, we thought he would have a laugh and request that we return the orange t-shirt and save our money for something more important. But much to our surprise he not only accepted our present, but also wore it more often than not!
At first, I didn’t understand why he didn’t deny this tangerine-colored shirt access to his wardrobe. But then it dawned on me: He approved of the patriarchal message on the tee and wore it with pride. For everyone that knows him, my dad is a proud man, proud of his children, proud of his ethics, and most importantly, proud of his immigrant status and South Asian heritage. So why wouldn’t he sport such an authoritative message, like Superman’s ‘S’, right across his chest?
Even though I made this revelation, the implications of this text on his t-shirt still didn’t hit home until very recently. “Because dad said so” was the answer to almost every experience we questioned, which pushed us out of our comfort zone, and most importantly helped us embrace our South Asian identity.
For example, we never wanted to attend two different Punjabi-language speaking classes, 4 times week. It wasn’t only tiresome and boring, but attending these classes required impeccable time management because aside from day school, we were also occupied with after school karate, soccer, and gymnastics. The latter list of activities was always welcomed, but Punjabi school was lamented. However, we never skipped a single class, and why?
Well, because dad said so.
Seventeen years ago it seemed like he was putting us through torture, but today I wholly respect his efforts of bringing me closer to my mother tongue. I not only learned the importance of multilingualism but also created some beautiful, familial, relationships in my life that may not have been possible because of obvious language barriers between myself and my grandparents, or relatives back home, in the east.
But to embrace your heritage is more than just mastering the language. I was always taught to look the part as well. Every Friday night, after our weekly visit to the local gurudwara, my dad would take us directly to do groceries. Although there was nothing wrong with doing groceries on a Friday night, I felt that there was everything wrong about going to the local Food Basics in a salwaar-suit. I remember all I wished for in those times was to not bump into someone from school, or for people in the store to stop glaring at me donning my ethnic gear.
But all said and done, every Friday night you’d see me strutting my Indian clothes down the snacks aisle. Why?
Because dad said so.
Although I was embarrassed to be seen in my suit, I now understand why this practice became a routine. We were being taught that it’s acceptable to be different and “to be different” in this case meant being individual, and a representation of a minority culture. To sport these clothes in the grocery store, even just once a week, was a small jab at the practice of assimilating with a Western culture that often bashed the portrayal of other ethnicities.
As a 12-year-old, a 30-minute grocery run in my salwaar-suit would haunt me for days to come. But let me tell you how in recent days, I’ve made trips to the mall in a suit with my chunni, and ethnic jewelry, all in tow. You bet I’m totally comfortable in channeling my inner Brown Girl!
Clearly, we’d mastered both the language and the aesthetics of our culture. So what was left? Being completely rooted to where all these traditions stem from- India. As I was growing up, trips to India were mandatory. Just as my dad felt that we were forgetting the details of those busy streets, the almost disconcerting smells, and noisy vendors at our local “mall”, Baagh Gali, we would be on the next flight back to the homeland.
Obviously, because dad said so.
I have always been afraid to fly, but knowing that we were on our way to India, eventually became comforting. Over the years we became one the busy streets, the smells, and all the culture we had the opportunity to delve in, each time we traveled.
I have had the privilege of repeatedly being able to visit a country where culture, traditions, and values are held at such high esteem. Where education, or vidya, is sought to be a transcendental notion. A progressive nation rich of history. India, for me, has been an eye-opener to who I am as a South Asian; my experiences there have been instrumental in allowing me to embrace my racial identity, in its entirety.
Twenty-six years on this journey of identifying with my background has taught me that we need to let go of our inhibitions to entirely embrace who we are as individuals. Being self-conscious leads to restrictions of self-expression and more often than not, self-expression plays a key role in practicing your cultural beliefs.
So, I encourage you to dance a little harder to that Kathak beat, sing a little louder to your favorite Bollywood tune, and stand a little taller when someone identifies you as South Asian. And perhaps I wouldn’t be promoting such notions had I not got a nudge of encouragement myself. So these thoughts really do make me believe that “Because I Said So” is a completely acceptable counter argument coming from a father, sometimes.