Anjoli Roy | Longreads | November 2019 | 28 minutes (6,945 words)
For most of my life, I’ve been trying to make sense of my Southern-drawling, Tar Heels–loving, fiscally conservative, immigrant from India, gyno, deeply loving dad of three daughters. There have been some strange contradictions. When my sisters and I were little and our parents were still together, he and our mom would drop us off at Sunday school at a nondenominational Christian church in our hometown of Pasadena, CA, while they skipped service and went who knows where, enjoying the free babysitting. When I was 14 and he found out my friends were having sex, he gave me birth control pills to “help with my acne.” He answered my friends’ and my questions about bodily pathologies oftentimes connected to sex without judgment and always with a professionalism that told me I could count on him. But, for most of our childhoods, he was traveling on the lecture circuit. It wasn’t until I was an adult that he became more than the scruffy cheek kissing us goodbye in our sleep, or the dry-cleaned suits encased in soft plastic sleeves hanging on an empty door frame, not to be disturbed. Until then, he was the grumpy, tired person I mostly avoided on the rare occasions he was home. He was the distant guy my middle sister Maya and I drew countless pictures for, of shoes with a plus sign and then a bee — a visual representation of how to pronounce his name, Subi — which he’d hang dutifully in his office at county hospital.
Today, my dad, the source of our brownness, is a marker of how I understand myself. I grew up the lightest of my dad’s three girls — the one who looked least like him. Maybe that’s why I reach for him so much: I don’t want to get swallowed up with Mom’s side of the family, locked in with the white folks. I have learned to subject him to the same critiques I aim at my own body. In some ways, his story is my story. Sometimes, it feels like we’re both half-told, bleeding onto blank pages.