When it comes to stereotyping gender relationships, fathers and daughters are put together, just like mothers and sons are. Because of the opposite sex thing dads remain dewy-eyed about their baby girls, while moms see no wrong in male offspring. To amplify this traditional certitude, fathers and sons have their share of skirmishes dismissed as manly run-ins, and tension between womenfolk at home is girlie stuff.
As a girl you love your dad, probably resemble him and take after his side of the family. Moms are for hating, talking back to, and running away from. We study them only so we do not turn out like them.
There is something liberating about this intimacy between the older woman and the younger woman – there is brutal honesty, very little mollycoddling, and tough love than pushes the daughter out of her comfort zone and fight her own battles. But interspersed between the making of the adult daughter by a mother frequently accused of being a shrew and a nag are tears, drama-queen moments and high-pitched hysteria. Mothers think the daughters too young; daughters think the mothers too old. Husbands/fathers, usually roped in as referees, go from one woman to the other with the same words: I will talk to her.
The worst thing a husband can tell you – after he says you can never cook like his mother – is that you have started to look like your mother. It sounds like a compliment, but since most daughters have iffy feelings about their moms, they take it, well, badly. We want no truck with our moms. We rarely want to be like them as we think ourselves much smarter, less whiny and generally the more happening of the two.
When I point out respectful daughters to my own, they dismiss the former as fakes. The natural order of things, I am told sternly, is to boss your moms, because daughters know best. Like the mother, played by Laura Dern, tells her daughter, played by Reese Witherspoon, in the movie Wild, we know more than our mothers because that’s the plan – our moms want us to outsmart them.
In fact, dads often say we are just like our moms when we get something wrong. And this belief gets strengthened within families, that mothers are half-baked creatures, blindly loving, prone to emotionalism. Losers who bump into furniture all day, mindlessly serving up meal after meal, cleaning up room after room; simple-minded enough to make us the centre of their lives.
It takes years and years of living among indifferent families of our own to realise what our moms are made of. To understand how privileged we are to have this unconditional generosity. That we know at least one person who, if we happen to kill anyone, will quickly hide the body, no questions asked. We must have had a reason, they know. Why else do we cry, ‘I want my mommy’, when life goes belly-up?
Mothers are mirrors in whom we see our fast-tracked reflections. They are us and we them. So that one day we ourselves shout from the rooftops: ‘I am my mother.’
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.