So when my children asked about their father, I told them at first that he probably couldn't get through. We never had a phone number for him--he guarded his privacy and his location very carefully to avoid paying child support.
That excuse held them for a couple of days, but it soon wore thin.
"When's Pita going to call?" I heard the refrain over and over. Pita is the word devotees use for father.
As days added up to weeks, they stopped asking and subsided into depression. There was no way I could sugarcoat it. Their dad hadn't called to see how they were, if they were frightened, or just be there for them. I'm sure others told him they were OK, but they had no way of knowing that and that wasn't the point. It wasn't about whether he knew they were OK or not. They needed to know that he cared enough to talk to them and comfort and reassure them.
They both exhibited their depression in different ways. Lakshmana started getting into fights. Psychologists now say that boys and men often show their depression as anger and irritability.
Ramya turned it inward and started talking about death in a way that frightened me. She seemed to be severely affected by the aftershocks. At school the psychologist noted that Ramya was drawing barren trees and landscapes, which she saw also as a sign of depression. Finally, in desperation, I arranged for her to go for a visit to relatives in Iowa. I felt the break from aftershocks would do her good--and it did. It also enabled me to spend more one-on-one time with Lakshmana and take him to therapy. We had some sessions together that were very productive.
Much could have been avoided with a phone call.
A couple of years later, Mahasraya did come to Santa Cruz after Lakshmana's bicycle accident and subsequent brain injury. He told Ramya that he didn't call because he'd lost our number. Yet the devotee grapevine was so efficient that 20 minutes after talking to a local devotee about the accident, Mahasraya was calling the waiting room at Dominican Hospital. Are we to believe he couldn't find a single person who knew our phone number? He could also have sent a card--our address hadn't changed.
I remember well when my own father didn't appear in court when I had a custody case with my mom. Not once did he call me to find out how bad things had gotten with her. He knew she had previously abused my half sister by pouring scalding hot water over her hands. You would think he'd have monitored my mother very carefully to make sure she wasn't abusing me. But no, he was nowhere to be found. He sent a message that he would abide by the court's decision.
When will dads wake up and figure out that their absence does real, lasting damage? That absence is as tangible as any abuse--because it is a form of abuse.