MOTHERESE AND LEGALESE are rich in terms for one’s father: pater familias, pater, genitor (genitrix is mother), father, daddy, dad, papa, pop, pappy, old man, and perhaps a lot more. The words have different connotations, and arouse different responses. “I can be your father,” says an ever invisible CIA spy to his son in a Hollywood movie, “but I can never be your dad”. The relationship is so beautiful that it embraces people who have no consanguinity—consider the Mom and Pop shops that are small and cater to a familiar clientele. Not to forget the Christian priest is called Father. Some fathers are bad due to circumstances, most are good, but some are bad by choice, or nature. We hear of soccer moms and tiger moms, but not so much about the father versions. But they do exist. Here we shall see how the latter influence their children who are famous or have in some way been influential.
A shy and retiring person by nature, Steffi Graf was easy to control by her domineering father. From the tender age of three, the father coached her with a wooden racket rewarding her with ice cream if she hit the ball over the sofa. Failure could result in thrashing and he was soon nicknamed “Papa Merciless”. He was perhaps the worst of the controlling fathers for sport personalities, fuelled at least in part by his desire to vicariously achieve success after his football career was ruined by an injury. This constriction extended to her personal life as well which meant that she made few friends, leading to a situation where the father and daughter broke their relationship. Fortunately, they reconciled just before Mr.Graf’s death at age 75. But there seemed to be a silver lining too, because, on her own admission, it was the father who took any criticism that came their way. Eventually Steffi would find her way to the Tennis Hall of Fame. Her strict and draconian father had some role in it.
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Andre Agassi wrestled with life as few successful people have, including a drug habit that almost destroyed him. His troubles began early with his father, “a man violent by nature”. Agassi hated tennis itself “with a dark and secret passion” as he narrates in his autobiography, because of his domineering father! Perhaps nothing could be more ironic. Such was the senior Agassi’s perfectionist bent of mind that he was angry that Junior had lost the fourth set in his 1992 win of the Wimbledon Championship!
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John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was the son of the Utilitarian philosopher, James Mill, a disciplinarian who ensured that by the age of 14, his son had mastered the Greek classics in the original, and read every book Mill Senior thought was important. Naturally, John had no childhood to speak of since he was isolated from other children, and grew up among adults. His experience is parodied by Charles Dickens in Hard Times where the character of Gradgrind caricatures James Mill’s rigorous system of education, with the name itself being very suggestive—it is the root of the term ‘gradgrindery’. The rigid insistence on facts drove out imagination and wonder and produced automatons. Fortunately John Stuart Mill escaped his father’s influence and went on to become a philosopher and critic among other things. Seems that it cuts both ways in some cases at least.
Joe Jackson was the father of Michael Jackson, the famous pop singer. He was a disciplinarian bordering on the sadistic going by the way he loved to enforce his authority, which included violence towards his children. He was so hated by his famous son that he was left out to his will, though that did not stop him from claiming a maintenance amount of $26,000 per month from his dead son’s estate. Incidentally, Michael himself seemed to be no ideal dad holding his infant son dangerously out the window towards his waiting fans on the other side of the road.
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Matthew Knowles, the father of Beyonce, the famous pop singer, began his career as a salesman and worked for various companies. He was Beyonce’s manager for a while until he was accused of stealing from his own daughter and was expelled from her team. Meanwhile, he is the father of many love children some of them well-known in their own right. He has a fearsome temper that would cause violent episodes of the most shocking kind.
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Tennis star Mary Pierce’s father is the archetypal bad father, so much so that the law banning abusive fathers from approaching their children is popularly named after him. He could be abusive to all children, as when he is believed to have ranted in anger at his daughter’s rival who happened to beat her—a strange and vicious act because the rival was just twelve years old. Up on reaching the age of eighteen, Mary, rather unsurprisingly, dismissed her father-cum-coach and appointed bodyguards to keep him out.
Zakir Hussain has been on the stage even from his eleventh year, an age at which most children are immersed in toys. But his father had recognised his genius and had started training him from as early as the age of three. One cannot help wondering how much of a real childhood he may have had free of p pressures to achieve and learn newer aspects of his art.
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Enrique lived under the shadow of his famous family name, being connected with illustrious personalities who were formidable in their fields—Steve McQueen, father Julio himself who was a famous singer, and his socialite mother, to mention only three. Iglesias Senior’s professional commitments meant that he was rarely home to help or guide his talented son. And in any case, Enrique did not wish to ride piggyback on his connections. He borrowed money from his nanny, recorded three songs, one in Spanish and two in English and entered the world of music with its cutthroat competition, all alone, with no mentor. The rest is history.
The Phogat Sisters
If poverty and tradition can be oppressive, they can also be the springs to success and fame. The Phogat sisters, on whom there is a popular biopic called Dangal in Hindi, a term that literally means the wrestling ring, can be a more than a literal one—it embodies the struggles of life and individuals against all kinds of obstacles. The Greek word protagonist (the central character in a story), literally means a wrestler. It is nowhere more true than in the case of the sisters. Determined that Mahavir Singh Phogat’s daughters should transcend tradition and gender, the father encouraged the girls to take after him professionally as wrestlers. His success in coaching them won him the Dronacharya Award, after the famous teacher from the Mahabharata. One of them, Geetha Phogat won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, and was the first Indian woman to qualify for the Olympics.
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Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was an inheritor of a six hundred-year old music tradition. His father Fateh Ali Khan wanted him to become a professional—a doctor or a lawyer, but the younger Khan’s heart was set on music. Eventually, his father took him as his chela or student and Khan rose to new heights of acclaim, performing in diverse countries from Asia to America. He was a versatile performer at home with musical instruments such as the tabla and harmonium. His range of singing was matched only by his ability to perform for hours together. Though he died relatively young at the age of forty-eight, he is remembered as a maestro who has few equals as a qawwal.
Bad or Cad, Still You are the Dad
They say that paternal feelings are instinctive, but these need to be honed by practice, and perfected by constant thinking and development. There is, as always, the nurture side, which entails that the circumstances should be right for one to grow up being able to receive and give love. The idea and impact of the father soars high and proud, into the clouds, and therefore it is no accident that some religions refer to God Himself as the Father.