Here’s Pratik Patel’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.” 

When I was a senior in college, I was paid $50 to write an essay for an international student’s English class assignment. I don’t want this to be an exposé but rich Arab students at private colleges can buy off assignments if they have the means for it. They usually have the means for it. $50 was a sizable amount of money for me back in 2005. I also wanted to fancy myself as a writer so getting paid for my so-called skills seemed like a good way to test them out.

I wrote this story in which my dad pulled a prank on me by scaring the hell out of me about my 2.43 GPA on my high school report card. Throughout the story, he pretends I have bad grades. But I don’t have bad grades! I have a 3.61 GPA! And everybody ends up happily ever after at the end. It had sentences like this:

  • My father caught me examining the envelope, and put the most horrible thought into words. “Your report card for this semester.” My father had said it in the simplest way possible. In spite of the simplicity, I felt the vibes of unpleasant intonations disguised in that statement. I was trying to get my client a good grade.
  • My father could’ve been a great suspense director if he chose to. But instead of applying that talent to celluloid, he preferred to practice it in real life.
  • And this was how I ended the story. I pulled out my report card from the envelope. My father had neatly circled the GPA. In large, bold, black letters, right in the middle of the red circle, imprinted was the number 3.61. He had also left a little note for me: “Just having a little fun!” That is my father.

I re-read that story recently and honestly, I’m not impressed with my writing skills. But back then, I was pretty impressed. So impressed I submitted it two months later for an online writing competition. Mostly for kicks. It was 2005 and the Internet was still trying to find its identity. It was acceptable, fashionable even, to submit stories for online competitions nobody had heard about.

Now you’re probably wondering if I’ve spent time in pIagiarism or copyright jail. I have not. I got away with it OK? And I hope my … client got away it too. Ok, I admit that my ethics are really really … questionable, at the very least. I took money under the table for completing another college student’s English assignment. And then I published it online under my own name. If you think I’m a small-time criminal, I won’t take offense. We’re on the same page.

So anyways I submitted that story for the writing competition. And to my surprise, it won Story of the Month. I was pretty psyched. So psyched I shared it my with father. And he loved it too! So much that he shared it with his friends and colleagues. They replied back to him with nice things about my writing. Nice things like:

  • This is the most successful part of any parent’s life, when they are respected for the good cause which their children have done.
  • Another said: When you look back, you probably must’ve even recollected that particular day and would have developed a feeling of nostalgia!!

My father was an instant hero amongst his own posse.

He emailed me later. He said: “Pratik, it is excellent work done. You should try to pen more and more stories like this. Thank you a lot for centering me in this story. In fact, I lived up all those moments. I kept on smiling while reading it, and everybody in the office kept on asking about it. Keep it up.” Unlike me, he was never good with words.

It had taken $50 and two small-time crimes for that email to land in my Inbox. That email should’ve made any son proud ….. Right? But it didn’t. The trouble, you see, is the story I wrote about my father was … fictional; it wasn’t true. He never played a prank on me. He never pretended I have bad grades. It never happened. In real life, I got yelled at for my average GPA; occasionally, I got smacked. By the time, I graduated high school I knew I wasn’t ever going to live up to his expectations. And it got worse in college.

I shared that story with him for a purpose. I wanted him to know what was going through my mind when I was a student. I wanted to see if, given the opportunity, would he feel sorry for what he made me go through? I wanted him to wonder if setting such expectations was worth it in the end. I wanted a reaction. Any reaction. Any reaction but compliments for my writing. I just wanted an honest moment of truth. It hurt that he never gave me that. I was disappointed all this passing of time hadn’t softened him. And most of all, I was disappointed that my story wasn’t able to get through to him.

I thought that by sharing it with him, I would get closure so we could start from a clean slate. He’d say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let you go through that.” And I’d say “I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.” And then we’d move on with life. Maybe even become good friends and save the father-son relationship for another time. But that hasn’t happened.

And so, here I am, left with as many unanswered questions as I had since I shared the story with him. I hope I find some answers eventually. You know, just so I can write another story about it. And if I do, it’s OK if I’m not paid $50 for writing that story.

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