The Secret Member Club by Sita Kalsi
Sita Kalsi reflects on having a father who was also the eldest sibling and how they became partners in crime. Sita is the eldest of 3 sisters, Mara and Ria.
When my sister asked me to produce something and gave me the brief of ‘Big Sissy’, I immediately thought of my daddy.
As you might have read, our father passed away in June and it has been the hardest few weeks of my life. The easiest way to describe it and to make sense of someone’s passing is that grief is like a spec of coloured paint. Over time, that spec gradually gets mixed into a tub of white, so that whilst it fades, it becomes ingrained into your blood and who you are as a person. Like that immediate dash of colour, it’s intense and it’s hard to predict if it will ever get easier. Some days its days are half full and then half empty. In that way it is hard to admit that I don’t have control over how I feel, when those people who know me, will know how nervous that lack of control, makes me feel.
When I didn’t have a sense of control, or was uneasy in any type of setting, whether personal, work etc, Papa K was always the first person I would turn to. Having that sort of unconditional go-to person is, as I realise now, is an absolute privilege. In those times of uncertainty, and in those candid conversations with my dad, one of the things we would often talk about is the responsibility of being the eldest within the family. I often refer to it as a secret member’s club, something that my dad used to agree with, in the same way that he used to describe the parents club, something you only experience once you’ve had a child.
The secret member’s club is without that stuffy, exclusive label but if you know, you know. When I talk about being the eldest, it is hard to describe, which is great considering I have chosen this topic to talk about!
"a safe space for both of us..."
Perks? Having final rank/veto over something, having a voice to which my sisters listen to, having a voice which people respect within a family setting (which comes with time and isn’t automatically assigned), getting to experience certain things first, being able to offer life advice as and when etc.
The not so great moments? Being blamed for something your sisters did (low key, not anything serious), being given responsibility over something that you don’t necessarily want, my sisters getting an easier access to things I had to work my arse off for, being pressured for being in a relationship etc.
This is where Dad & I would be able to share a common language and speak about anything or everything because we had a similar take on life as part of the club. The secret member’s club I shared with my Dad was a safe space for both of us, mostly for me to listen to Dad’s life stories, advice and anecdotes, but also where I could offer my viewpoint on stuff and he would (occasionally!) take my advice on.
Dad lost his dad when he was 14 years old, and I think back to the person I was at that age. I was an insecure little girl who didn’t have a sense of self, lack of confidence and wasn’t the independent person I thought I was back then. However, one of the things I did have was my eldest sister identity and I suppose that has been the one constant since I was aware of my own mind.
There are times that I have really resented being the eldest and want to swap out with someone else, but it is a role that I have embraced as I’ve gotten older as my frame of life references has gotten more colourful! As Dad had to grow up pretty quickly when he was 14, I think that is something that I will share with Dad, being ahead of my time because I don’t have the privilege of relying on dad as I thought I would have had, if he hadn’t gone this early.
"a level of freedom experienced by no one else..."
My sisters & I’s lives will be undoubtedly be altered from what we would have known if Dad was here through to the next chapters of our lives, but for the first time since Dad passed away, I am excited for the future. I am excited because his take on life was to live to the fullest, forgive quickly and learn as hard as you can. Dad often used to reference this when we would convene in the club, and used to say, when you are old enough let’s chat because being the oldest gives you the opportunity to have a level of freedom experienced by no one else apart from the elder sibling. In the best way of course, and not to perpetuate any type of sister hierarchy!
I’ve yet to figure these what these are (!) but I would like to think that if my Dad lost his dad when he did, and he turned out to be a pretty stand up person, the very best, then I will be ok. So as usual, he is setting the bar pretty high but I embrace it now that he has passed the Secret Member’s Club baton down to me…challenge accepted.