Monday, March 16, 2020


My dad Janak Desai during some fun times.


I never really know how I'll feel on the 16th of March. In the last 10 years it has ranged from contentment for all the memories to a blubbering mess at any mention or thought of why the day has such meaning. One thing I never expected was that the mood had no bearing on the proximity to the actual event. If I were to chart my feelings on this day for the last decade, there would be peaks and valleys versus a smooth curve downward with each passing year. Nothing about grief is smooth, really...

Ten years ago on this day my father, Janak Desai, passed away peacefully at my childhood home in Royal Oak, Michigan. After at least 100 friends and family came to wish him farewell while he laid in home hospice over 3 days, he took his last breath while my mother, brother, sister-in-law and I sat one room away. He planned that, I just know it... he never wanted to be a burden.


I've always turned to humor in times of great stress and worry. My father did this as well and while I could always tell his stress was never fully at bay, a small quip or funny face to cut the tension helped all of us... especially him.

In the throes of self-quarantines and virus dread, the anniversary of my dad's death has steered me to think about all the funny stories about him... many of which entertained my friends for so many years. When he died, I was inundated with messages from friends telling me about those stories that tickled them.

SO... if you need a laugh right now... I give you some highlights from my life with Janak Desai:

Member's Only Comfort
I had moved back in with my parents in the summer of 2001. My time at Michigan State University was over and with no job or real inkling of what to do next with my life, I returned to the familiarity of my childhood home in Royal Oak, Michigan. After 5 years away, the adjustment wasn't too terrible and I could tell my father was thrilled to have me home. As a retiree and empty nester, having his daughter around definitely lifted his spirits.

One day late in the fall, the weather had made the shift from those waning days of warmth and sunshine to full on brisk and downright icy.

"Take your coat, Sheevu, it's supposed to be cold today," my dad said as I grabbed the car keys. My unemployed ass had plans to meet up with some friends for lunch and then knock around Best Buy to look for some CDs (like we did 100 years ago).

"Okay, " I said, "Do you need anything while I'm out?"

"No bheta," he said while rinsing his plate in the sink. My mom had made some Indian food for lunch before her full day at the salon. Daddy was always good about cleaning up after enjoying his prepared food... that day I believe it was fresh handvoh or spicy lentil cake, one of my dad's favorites.

After a few hours of being a jobless wanderer around the suburbs of Detroit, I came home to a dark house. Our Royal Oak house was built in the 1950s, so the creaks and cracks from that day's winds gave it an eerie feel. Upon entering, I saw the dim living room empty, a place where my father would usually be sitting and watching every 24-hour news station in rotation.

"Daddy?" I called out. No answer.

My warmth from the car heater soon dissipated as I removed my jacket and took off my shoes. "Man, it's cold in here!" I said, "Daddy? Where are you?" No answer again.

Our house was very small and a call-out from anywhere could always be heard. I started to worry since my father had to be home... he was no longer able to drive and besides, I had the car even if he could. I walked in the kitchen where the tile felt like ice under my feet. Empty. I called out again with more urgency. Nothing. Had he fallen? Was he hurt? Why was it so damn cold??

I rubbed my arms quickly to generate some heat as I walked to the back of the house. No, he wasn't on the computer or in the bathroom. Finally, I turned the corner into the master bedroom. His eyes were closed as he lay on his back. The darkness caused me to strain and look a bit closer... he was asleep, but was... was he wearing a jacket? Was he wearing his beige Member's Only jacket?  Was his beige Member's Only jacket zipped up all the way with the banded collar totally snapped? Was he wearing his beige Member's Only jacket while laying underneath the covers?

"Daddy!" I yelled and his eyes popped open.

"Oh, hi bheta!"

"What's going on? Why are you sleeping with your jacket on under the covers?"

"I'm feeling very cold," he said with a serious expression and a shiver. I glanced at the thermostat right outside his bedroom and noticed the house was at 62 degrees and the heat was off.

"Is the heat not working?" I asked.

"The heat is not working??" he asked with alarm hearing the opposite of what I said.

"No, I'm asking you... did you try turning on the heat?"

"Oh," he paused for about 10 seconds, "No," he finally murmured turning his head flat against the pillow with closed eyes.

"So, you felt cold and you didn't turn the heat on... but you put on your Member's Only jacket and got under the covers??" I couldn't hold in my giggle. Daddy cracked a smile and I saw his shoulders bobbing underneath the layers of 80s fashion and a floral JCPenney comforter.

Shaking my head, I walked over and slid the little plastic wand to 72 degrees and heard the furnace click on. Soon the vents were exhaling warm air. Daddy emerged out of his cocoon and joined me in the living room where I was turning on the lamps to cease the creepy vibe. He was feeling warmer, but not quite enough to remove his Member's Only jacket.

"Bheta... warm up some handvoh for me?"

Give my dad a little information and he would expand on it in great detail complete with grand assumptions and unfounded theories. Something as little as a store closing early could elicit a long story complete with a backstory and plot twists. If my dad responded to your comment with a "Probably...." you knew you were in for some confident pontification.

One day I was taking him to get his blood drawn, something he had to do every week to check his Vitamin K levels since he was on some pretty strong blood thinners. At a stoplight, I noticed a car pulled over on a side street adjacent to the main road.

"Whoa!" I said.

"Su thayu (what happened)?" my dad asked.

"Looks like they are arresting that woman over there!"

"Where?" he asked. Since my dad suffered from poor eyesight, I had to describe the scene unfolding about a hundred yards away; a woman being handcuffed by a couple of cops.

"Probably..." he started, "She was drunk driving..."

"Drunk driving?" I said mid-chuckle, "It's 10am!" The light turned green and I knew Daddy was still thinking about the law enforcement scene as we continued to the doctor's office.

"You know, maybe she's going through a divorce and drinking a lot," he said with no hint of humor in his voice. I grinned and settled in for a stellar "explanation" of what woes this stranger was suffering from to be arrested so early on a Tuesday.

"Probably fighting for custody of her kids and losing her house... beecharee (poor woman)," he continued.

"Wow, Daddy... lots of assumptions about her life," I said unable to keep my amusement from invading my voice.

"You're making fun of me," he said. My laughter was met with a smirk on my father's face. Then came one of my favorite Daddy-isms he'd throw out when he knew one of us was poking fun at his expense.

"Slap yourself."

Champps Fetish Date??
Now, I wasn't present for the event that spurred the next story, but it became a Desai Family classic thanks to both the oddity of what happened and the subsequent frustration it caused my father when others reacted to the ridiculousness of his version.

Many years ago while my mother was away on a trip to India, my brother and father went to dinner at Champps, a sports bar famous for its enormous entrees, huge beers and everything else expected of an all-American sports bar. Now, my brother's version of the story details some very odd service. As he and my dad were eating their meals, their server kept checking on them over and over again, almost too often. Then, the manager came out to chat about how they were doing. My brother wasn't sure why, but it made them uneasy and they felt like something else was going on. The frequency of both servers and managers coming out to check on them was almost comical.

The following is a paraphrased transcript of my bro and dad's conversation at their table as told from my brother over 15 years ago:

What the hell is going on? So weird how they keep checking on us.

I don't know.

Makes me uneasy, like maybe they did something to our food?

You never know, maybe they are playing a joke.

It's very annoying... I might say something.

Well... maybe... maybe they...

Maybe what?

Maybe they think we are... a gay couple.

(furrows brow and blinks rapidly... probably)

You know... they think we are gay and want to make fun... 

But... what... why would they... WHAT!?!?


How does being a... a gay couple connect with them checking on us so much?

I don't know! But probably they think we are gay and on a date!

 I, um... I don't think that's it.

(shrugs) But maybe...

Later when my brother recounted this story to the rest of the family, we all laughed with amused confusion... well, except my dad. He did not like us laughing at his explanation. I'm pretty positive he believed his reasoning until the day he died. Any argument against it, which was mostly by me, would illicit a very temperamental response from Daddy. He wouldn't budge... those servers and managers 100% thought he and my brother were a gay couple and they were making fun FOR THAT REASON ONLY. Once during a retelling of that story at our family Christmas, I kept trying to get Daddy to explain his reasoning only to have him whip his head at me and yell, "YOU WEREN'T THERE!!"

For my brother, who was there, it was naturally disturbing to think of his dad talking about he and him as a romantic couple... but also, as my brother said as a sort of footnote, "If I were gay... I could do much better than Daddy!!"


Sometimes thinking about my dad makes me cry, but today I choose to remember all the times that bring a smile to my face. I'm thankful for so many things he gave me during our life together, but that sense of humor tops the list... no question.

Thanks for the laughs, Daddy. Miss you always.

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