A Message From one Vegan father to another..
If you thought being a father was an immense responsibility, ask me - a vegan dad. If your immediate thought is about diet complexities, different meals for different people, and all that, perish those thoughts. There's an even more fundamental issue, something deeper and profound. It revolves around the core principles.
Being a vegan transforms an individual. The longer you are a vegan, the more a 'responsible inhabitant' of the planet you become. That's how it has been for me, at least, and for hundreds of vegans I get to connect with. It's almost a natural maturity curve, that takes you from a simple, compassionate being to one slowly aware of the many hidden truths, blatant lies and untold realities in between. And the journey to realisations on plastics and fireworks, cosmetics and toiletries, coal mines and space expeditions, yoga and meditation, pesticides and organic.... the world suddenly appears not as green trees and blue skies, but a million shades of grey, sheathing the million colours we see otherwise.
This leads to a definite consciousness, self realisation and a rude awakening to a world of cruelty and exploitation. From child labour in Bangladesh that brings you your hep branded clothes to maimed mine workers of Africa who make diamonds out of blocks of coal! You are now more learned, informed, wiser and smarter. More conscious, angry, determined and motivated. And standing in front of you is your offspring, seeking the most basic things any child would want. Just that to a vegan dad, they all seem atrocious desires, going against those very principles.
The issue I faced as a father was what did it mean to my children, of their father being a vegan? Let me tell you right away - there are silent, religious vegans. And there are the vocal and on-your-face outspoken vegans - I'm the latter, which meant I spelt V-E-G-A-N with every breath. I wear my vegan badge with pride, announce my choices and thrust my views. I am shameless and arrogant. I want the world to change - my people, my society, my colleagues, my relatives, my friends, my family... my children! And that's where the dilemma begins.
For the first few years of their lives, I pretty much let my children make their choices on important facets of life. What they read to what they listened to, what they ate to the friends they chose. They would hear my views, my words of caution or direction, but the path was theirs to tread. Joys to enjoy, mistakes to live with and grief to get over with. So, how did it go with being a vegan dad now - when I sat across the table with a curd licking daughter or cheese gobbling son? Was I to now interfere and make those decisions and enforce the curbs or allow them to make their choices, like every unrelenting non-vegan will tell you, "What people eat is their personal choice"?
My first year as a vegan was tough. I was torn between what I thought I wanted to be and what I wanted the world to be. And the desire to change the world starting with people you live every second with. But if I can't force my new found principles on my own kids, what right did I have to force them on the world beyond? It seemed hypocritical, and, in those moments of confusion was born a new 'virtue' - the will to be fair. It was many years later that I got to see Earthlings which reinforced the righteousness in my decision. The compulsive need to force my vegan views on my kids was not any different from the forcefulness with which I thrust it on people I didn't even know. For I realised, the very fundamental of being vegan was to be fair to all lives, the catch word being all. It was never about my kids and others. It was about all of us and all those beautiful lives not human. So it wasn't about me as a father, forcing his kids, it was me as a human against members of the same species, for a billions lives out there.
This belief made my task easy. I wasn't now toying between giving a choice and making a rule, but just being sure I was being fair. Not to my child or my neighbour's, was it fair to the calf? Nothing else mattered. Yet, I applied the same approach to inculcating the habit, and used the same techniques. I kept harping on it, I kept exposing them, I was relentless, and, what I presume was the biggest of them all, led by example. I abstained from things I held dear, and my kids knew were dear to me. They saw the changes I was making, and surely realised I was not complaining about what I gave up, but happy about what I wasn't eating. It was not about sacrifice with a grudge, but pride in a life without guilt. I wasn't talking about what I had to forego, but what more I had to. It was never about the past, but of a future more real.
The father in me had to tread this path carefully. Of taking my kids along, not alienating them and kindling a revolt best avoided. I was okay accepting revolt as long as it meant only defeat for me. But had they chosen to revolt by doing a complete turn around - of vegetarian kids choosing to eat eggs and meat only to stamp their authority in their choice of food, I'd have been devastated. And only made my own transition that much more difficult. I wanted them to change, but not because I had. But because they wanted to do. In their change was an endorsement of the right in my own change. In their acceptance was a recognition and acceptance - for in them they had what I carry as a big regret in life. Of having turned vegan well past my prime. I had put behind me 4 decades of irresponsible living, gluttonous existence, selfish hoarding and an insensitive, materialistic life. If I could see my kids realise early on life, I knew one day they'd thank me - for showing them the right path at least once in life.
Today, I know I have succeeded in that. Of tingling that consciousness and making them vocal players in the field. Of making them compassionate and considerate even when surrounded by ridicule and pain. Of having got them started on many decades of responsible activism. And perhaps, hopefully, also inculcating in them what every responsible vegan never wants to be.
A parent to yet another human child, gnawing away at the very root of life on this beautiful planet! Denying every other life it's equal right on the same soil.
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