The first time my dad ever found out I had got my period was when my mother told him, over dinner, the night it first happened. “You know the agony she’d been in, the last couple of weeks?” “Yes?” asked my extremely worried father. “She grew up. That’s what that was about.” My father nodded in acquiescence, asking my mother to let him know if I should be taken to a gynaecologist soon.
I know this because I asked my mother what he had to say about it the next morning. His opinion mattered to me, it still does. Through spiels on failed relationships and successful friendships, the idea of telling people to “fug off” (dad has always merrily misspelt common curse words, believing that they add extra vitriol) when they try to tell you what women should and shouldn’t do – and a whole arsenal of ‘sorry dad’ jokes, he’s just been, well, there.
How Could I Not Tell My Dad About the Pain?
But menstruation was a different story. I couldn’t exactly talk to him about it – I don’t think anyone ever told me that I could. I didn’t see anyone do it, and if ever, at a family function, I could sense the familiar redness beginning to seep through freshly laundered white petticoats, a bunch of aunts would be at the ready to whisk me off to a bathroom before any of the older men ‘saw’ it.
I wasn’t sure what was so monstrous about the whole affair; I saw my father hover over me at unearthly hours when I caught a tiny chill. The night I fractured my left arm, he stayed up all night telling me stories I’d heard on loop for a decade to distract me from the pain.
Why then could I not tell him about the incessant, gut-wrenching, someone-kicked-me-in-the-stomach-and-knocked-the-winds-out-of-me cramps?
I did, eventually. We started slow.
I started telling him about the cramps, one painful month at a time. I asked him to pick up packets of Whisper by the bucketful, ensuring he understood the longevity of a period cycle.
I was too young to understand it comprehensively enough to break it down for him; but I felt sorry for the man. No one had told him, in the brood of three brothers, what periods entailed, how cramps wracked your body sore, how ‘shame’ was a social construct with ill to do with his daughter’s body.
As I grew up and made more and more male friends, I realised what different worlds my dad and these new-fangled, freshly-minted men belonged to. These were friends I could ask to cover for me if I missed a lecture because I was tucked up in bed with a hot water flask and a Meftal; these were boyfriends who crushed PMS jokes with indignation; nephews who asked about the happy women in the white pants sprinting around on television – and who I was happy to answer to. But my father didn’t know or grow up with these men.
So we talked anew.
Of Pills and Shared Coffee
It’s been almost 10 years since I moved out of the hometown and away from the parents, but my father – true to form – always visits with two things in tow: a tiffin box of cold rosogollas that need to be warmed up over the stove – and enough packets of sanitary napkins to last me till I see him again.
My most vivid memory of childhood periods are of my father carrying me in his arms from a drawing room, where I lay writhing, to the dining room so I could eat a meal. How could I possibly think this wasn’t an ally I could speak to, just about anything?
On our last family vacation a year ago, I told him how a friend had recently been diagnosed with PCOD. “How serious is PCOD?” he wanted to know. And we looked at Google news sources together, bumping shoulders in camaraderie.
The last time I saw my dad was a week ago, when he visited for a whirlwind weekend – and following our usual routine, we filled up on wontons and coffee – before I ground to a halt. “I’m not going to be much of a dynamo today,” I told the ‘old man’ I love hanging out with, grimacing at the period I could feel coming on.
“We’ll get you pills. And do you have enough packets? Should we buy more coffee?”
He still isn’t entirely acclimatised to the world in which I talk extensively on periods. He hasn’t entirely obliterated the environment that conditioned him. Yet.
But I know my father is listening, and that he’s got my back.
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