Raisin, My Four-Year-Old Role Model

by Scaachi Koul


This year was a big year for my dad; a bad year in a lot of ways. It was the first full year he spent without his mother, who died late last fall on the other side of the world. He edged another year further into retirement, something he never really wanted for himself. He spent most of his time preparing for 65 and lamenting that he can no longer hold downward dog the way he used to.

And then, last summer, I shot a bullet directly into his heart by bringing my boyfriend home for the first time.

My dad has always had a set of indiscernible standards for me, but it’s hard to follow invisible rules. He’s a social liberal but wants to arrange my marriage. He’s a feminist for all women other than his own daughter. I manage to make him squeamish by wearing anything less impenetrable than the x-ray vest you get at the dentist. So when I told him that I would be bringing my long-term boyfriend home, who is white, who is significantly older, and who is not his choice, old Papa Koul spent a lot of time pantomiming heart attacks and strokes to get me to change my mind. All my dad wants is something very simple: for absolutely everyone in the family to do whatever he wants all the time with unwavering loyalty, no matter the absurdity of the request.

But here’s the thing about four-year-olds: they do not give a shit about what you want.

My woman of the year is 30 pounds, has not yet lost a single baby tooth, and is a human bouncy-ball. She calls me Boo, and I call her Raisin: she’s my niece, the only grandchild for my parents, and my only sibling’s only kid. She’s also the only person who can manage my dad anymore.

I’m an adult. People keep telling me I’m an adult. I always figured that with adulthood came the ability to stand up to your parents, but I still haven’t been able to calibrate this. I’m home for the holidays right now, engaging in another Cold War with my dad. He started giving me the silent treatment 42 hours into my trip. I’m still not sure why, but instead of shrugging him off, I’m furious that he manages to wield unfair control over my emotions.

Worse, maybe, is that when I visit home, I generally give in to whatever absurd requirement he’s putting on me. I wear extra layers in the summer because the sight of my collarbone is offensive to him. I rarely spend time alone because he considers it an affront to not be “with the family” at all times. He likes to yell at full volume but wants my voice to be little more than a delicate hum. And I do these things because I don’t want to fight and I know he’s better at being difficult than I am. I didn’t date when I lived at home. I didn’t wear the clothes I liked. I didn’t wear heavy makeup. I was never out late. I rarely went out on the weekends. All with the goal of keeping some semblance of peace.

But Raisin, like I said, does not give a shit about this.

It’s not a unique position to be 20-something and trying to get your aging father to understand you. What is strange, though, is that this toddler has done a better job at it than I ever could. She loves her karate lessons, and when my dad tells her that little girls shouldn’t fight, she pretends to chop him right in the neck and runs away laughing. He sits there, mouth open, trying to figure out a rebuttal, while she dances and yells “MUDBUTT” to anyone who’ll listen.

I flew home before my boyfriend came to visit. My dad didn’t talk to me, grumbling about having to allow this stranger into his home. Raisin came with me to get her new uncle from the airport. When he came out of his gate, she ran into his arms for a hug without really knowing who he was. He brought her a Toronto Blue Jays cap, she let him pick her up, and asked him to sit with her in the back seat on the ride home. When we got back to the house, my dad was pacing the hallways in his slacks and sippers, tense and irritated. He frowned at me when I walked in, but behind me was Raisin, chirping and screaming and tugging my boyfriend into the house. My dad’s jaw slackened. How can you fight with a little girl’s intuition?

I’m not as brave as I think I am and it becomes glaringly obvious when I watch my niece interact with my dad. Her pajama pants ride down and when he starts talking about what is “appropriate” to wear, she pulls them down further and moons him with glee. When he tells her to sit with him and stay quiet instead of running around the house smashing things, she replies with, “Well, you’re being Mr. Demanding today” before shoving her hands into a Cheerios box. And just like that, my dad is disarmed because you can’t fight a preschooler with airtight logic.

Likely, plenty of her rebellion is because of her lack of context. My dad didn’t raise Raisin. She just shows up and asks for cookies and pulls at his beard. They’re better friends than family, which is probably why he gives her more rope than he ever gave me. My dad loves both of us, but he feared for me because he was the only man I had. He doesn’t have that same panic for her. She is bolder and safer than any of us ever were.

She seems so ballsy to me. A few months ago, he teased her and she got so upset that she took a swing at him. She missed, and my dad just walked away laughing, but I felt my heart lurch into my throat. Does she feel this empowered already? How did that even happen?

I’m equal parts proud and confused. I didn’t know it was possible.

I’m still home for the holidays right now, and my dad still isn’t talking to me. I’ve avoided bringing up my boyfriend in order to avoid upsetting my dad, but Raisin doesn’t play by these unspoken rules. She wants to know why he didn’t come with me. She wants to know if we can call him. She wants to know what he’s doing all day. I can feel my dad flinch whenever she brings him up, but he doesn’t argue. He doesn’t fight with her the way he does with me. He just sighs with the recognition that you can’t control everyone.

I’m not that much braver with Raisin, but I’m trying. I brought my boyfriend home because I wanted him to be able to meet Raisin, and for her to be able to talk about him freely without having to censor herself around her grandparents. A few months ago during another visit home, my dad got on me about my weight, and the only reason I told him to fuck off was because my niece was watching me accept unacceptable behavior. This morning, when Raisin came over, my dad stood in the foyer of the house frowning at her. He does this to me all the time, some warped game to get you to feel badly without actually knowing what you did wrong. When he did it to me as a kid, I’d send myself to my room and try to figure out what I had done. Raisin meanwhile, told him to pick her up, bit his ear, and then asked him to play with her. He tried very hard not to smile. They blew up purple balloons together.

My dad is trying to be better. He’s not doing a great job at it, but I know that his granddaughter is giving him a good reason to try.

This was a hard year for my dad. Raisin made it liveable.

Scaachi Koul is an assistant editor at Hazlitt magazine. Are you trying to sound out her name right now? You probably are.

Image courtesy of Scaachi Koul.