M.S.V. Subramanian, father of reader Rohini B. Ramanathan, in 1995.

M.S.V. Subramanian, father of reader Rohini B. Ramanathan, in 1995. Credit: Ramanathan family photo

December is difficult for me. On the 25th day of this month in 2010, my father passed away on his 82nd birthday. He had a heart attack. For this simple man who was born and died on Christmas Day, it was the end of an eventful life.

My parents first came to the United States in 1971, when my father, M.S.V. Submaranian, was posted to a job in Washington, D.C., by the government of India. Although my parents returned to India after a few years, I stayed. In 1984, I became a U.S. citizen and sponsored my parents for immigration. When my father reached the mandatory retirement age of 58, he and my mother joined me in the United States.

In 1985, I bought a two-family house in Long Beach. My plan was to have my parents occupy the top floor, with a tenant downstairs. However, Mom and Dad preferred living with my family and me. So, I expanded my Oceanside house, and it became their home.

They liked the house’s proximity to shopping, transportation, hospitals and the boardwalk in Long Beach, where Dad went for walks. He found a job as an accountant at a paper company in Baldwin. A trained Indian classical vocalist, Mom minted a successful career as a music teacher. She died earlier this year.

It is the Hindu tradition for sons to remember their parents on the anniversaries of their deaths with a ceremony officiated by a priest who chants 3,000-year-old Vedic verses while offerings are made to fire. Every year, with me at his side, my husband conducts such a ceremony for his parents. Daughters do not have the privilege to conduct this ritual to honor their parents.

On my dad’s first anniversary, it bothered me that as a man without a son, he was not destined for such pomp and show. He had stopped honoring his own deceased parents in the traditional manner, but instead honored them on their anniversaries by donating money to feed the hungry.

Each year on the occasion of Dad’s birth and departure, I contribute to the charitable activities of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Rockville Centre, where I sing in the choir. Through this practice in place of the traditional Hindu ceremony, I feel that in my own way, I am a son.

It’s been five years since Dad’s passing. However, I still sense his presence everywhere. Sometimes when I walk to Sands Shopping Center in Oceanside, I scan the sidewalk and imagine his footsteps. Or when I see an N15 and N36 at the bus stop near my home, I wonder whether Dad, who rode them to work, might get off. He doesn’t, of course. My heart feels heavy, my eyes well up.

From the back, I even mistake slightly built, spectacle-wearing, wavy- and white-haired men for Dad. Amazing how many fit this profile.

Every fall when the crabapple tree on my front lawn bears fruit, I think of Dad standing under it, gathering a few apples in his hands from the low branches, biting into and savoring them, a familiar image. I dedicate this tree and the month of December to Dad.

Reader Rohini B. Ramanathan lives in Oceanside.


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