It’s not that I didn’t show up for people. It’s just that I wanted to choose who I showed up for: close friends, a few first cousins I actually clicked with, my sisters and my parents.
I prioritized those relationships as I constructed a life that in other ways resembled my father’s. I pursued a career that had me living in Asia and Africa. I flew back to Washington, D.C., frequently to visit my parents. And when my father’s health started to decline, I wanted nothing more than to return to the United States to be closer to him, so I applied to graduate school.
When I got into Stanford University, my father was thrilled — not because it was a good school, but because he had extended family nearby. “I have a number of cousins and an ailing uncle in the Bay Area,” he wrote excitedly in one email to me. “I took the liberty of giving them your phone/email.”
The calls and emails streamed in, met by my elaborate and evasive excuses. In one email, my dad informed me that my cousin and khaloo (mother’s sister’s husband) were visiting California. “I TRUST that you have called/visited them,” he had typed, capitalizations his own. I hadn’t. “If not, MAKE IT A POINT TO DO SO THE COMING WEEKEND.” I did not.
Time was precious, all the more so because of my father’s health. Prioritizing monthly visits to my parents meant I had little time for distant relatives. In the subsequent decade, as my father’s health declined, I moved to the East Coast to be closer to my parents.
A year ago, approaching the final weeks of his life at age 85, my father seemed to lose the will to live. He had no appetite and stopped taking meals. But when we told him his brother was planning to pay him a visit, my dad scarfed down a paratha, determined to make it to the next day. A few days later, we let him know that a cousin would be showing up. He ate an omelet, intent upon making it to the weekend.