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My mother protected me from the world and my father threatened me with it. ~Quentin Crisp, The Naked Civil Servant, 1968


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Fatherhood On One Foot PDF Print E-mail
(1 Vote)
Written by Outlook India   

20080908covMy son is getting used to single parenting the way I got used to working parents


Can a father play the role of a mother if the need arises? To answer that, let's first ask a more fundamental question: when is a man ready to play the role of a parent? It is generally true that men usually take longer than women to get used to the new role of parenthood like a boy's foot getting big enough to fit his father's shoes but taking a while to get used to the shoe-bite.

Of the major signposts an average Indian middle-class man crosses, the first is settling down, or getting married. Till that happens normally between 25 and 28 years most of us remain sexually inactive, though not by choice. Even the ones who claim to be ravenous Casanovas in their teens or after would have, at believable best, scored less than two times before settling for the safety of the marital collar and leash. To end the uncertainties of skirt-chasing, the one sure-shot insurance policy a man finds is in the marriage certificate. That one ritual transforms the 'naughty boy' of yesterday into a respectable family man. No longer do the spurns outside hurt us as much, because wild oats can be sown under the garb of a relationship that is supposedly solemnised in heaven.

The next big signpost is the arrival of the baby. Biologically, your partner is at the prime of her reproductive health. But hey, are you ready emotionally to be a papa? It seems just the other day that you were a cool teenager. The new role begins with an element of self-doubt. You have grown up with some well-established ideas of roles the man and the woman are expected to play in family life. As a boy you were told it is effeminate to show your emotions.

But now, for the first time, your armour of machismo begins to feel like a bad idea: you realise you are somewhat deficient in bringing out the gentle side that your newborn seeks when you hold her in your lap. You begin to envy the cooing affection with which your partner so naturally and spontaneously handles the baby and in which your baby finds instant and easy comfort.

Yet you refuse to give up. The pressure or the will to be 'an emancipated man' is a heavy load. Willy-nilly, you learn all the non-man things washing your kid's poop, boiling the feeding bottle, giving an oil massage. And you quickly figure out it is actually not that difficult to dress your baby or pack the tiffin box for school. The osmosis inside you allows you to find the equilibrium necessary to transit from boyhood to manhood to fatherhood. Unknowingly you have made yourself adept at handling the role of a single parent, if the eventuality arises.

But should you feel guilty about bringing on to your child the insecurity of being with a single parent because you could not make your marriage work? Guilt is something we choose to bring upon ourselves. When I was growing up in the 1970s, it was not so common to have working mothers. Most of my friends came back from school to home-cooked food, warmed and served by their mothers. I was a latchkey child. Since both my parents worked, I had to take the keys from my neighbours, and in a non-microwave world, ate cold daal-chawal all by myself. Did I feel deprived? Not in the least. For me a double-income household provided a more secure and sometimes more indulgent way of growing up. For instance, my mother, with her own earnings, could buy me a pair of Avis jeans a prized possession in those days.

My son had to contend with living with only one of his parents, in this case his father, twice. The first time, only for a few months, was when he was five, and the next time when he turned twelve. A twelve-year-old doesn't really need the sort of attention a younger kid would, yet teenage brings with itself its own share of growth pangs a parent now has to deal with his kid's hormonal changes, career options, identity crises and other such knotty issues.Should parents feel guilty about the fact that their child can lean on only one parent at a given time? I don't think so. While I grew up being content as a latchkey child, the present generation of children, at least some of them, like my son, will have to contend with having only one parent at a time. The generation after my son's will possibly have to be content with parents who never entered into wedlock at all after all, the cost of getting a divorce far exceeds the expenses you incur in getting married! In the final analysis, as a single father, you can take comfort in the fact that there will always be in society a few square pegs who manage to fit themselves into round holes.


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