Father’s Day

Today is Father’s day. Hurrah. Get that electric shaver for your dad pronto if you love him TRULY DEEPLY REALLY.

Father’s day simply doesn’t pack the punch reserved for Mother’s Day. It is to be expected of patriarchal cultures where motherhood is put on pedestal, but very little real powers are vested in mothers. It is not very different from having a WOMAN’s DAY in a male chauvinistic society. After all, patriarchy is defined as ‘system of society or government by fathers or elder males of the community’.

This research report is not a highly insightful, but an interesting read about Asian Fatherhood. Nothing in it will surprise an average, middle class Indian.

Indian middle class fathers in their thirties and late twenties are different from their own fathers. They want to be part of their kids’ lives in more intimate manner. The heavily gendered parenting roles are still firmly in place though, majority of fathers believe that women are naturally more suitable for childcare. The parenting duties might not be as strictly drawn as for earlier generations- but in essence they are the same. Father is an authority figure while mother has a more nurturing and administrative role.

I had read a paper about how having a kid increases and sometimes introduces traditional gender roles in American couple, who might not have had a very gendered relationship before the arrival of child. There was a comparison with the Swedish parenthood and as usual, the Swedes came out with flying, gender-neutral colours. It would be interesting to probe the gender dynamics in modern Indian parenting further. I suspect marriages turn more gendered after the arrival of the child in India.

Notions of middle class fatherhood have changed since Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan simmered at each other with angsty father-son conflict. Or since Simran was whisked off to India by her baritone India loving dad as soon as he learns that she is in love with someone. These days we see fairly diverse popular representations of fathers in media-signalling the change. We do see pally, intimate and gender bending fathers, be it in ads or in movies. Though there is still a huge gap in what is expected from a mother and a father. On screen fathers are more likely to worry about buying an insurance and mothers about their child’s nutrition.

I live in an area hugely popular with young parents- thanks to five top-notch schools and gated communities. In my housing society, I have seen one father who regularly walks the child, feeds her dinner as she pounces around after dogs and cheers her during evening skating sessions. He works from home. Other than him, be it picking up kids from school bus, skating sessions, stroller walks or other public events are managed by young mothers. My friends with kids tell me that it is mothers who are active parents even at upmarket schools. In my extended family, there is no doubt who is the primarily responsible for the child. It is almost always the mother.

Does this mean that fathers love their children less than mothers do?

It would be stupid and erroneous and sexist to say that. Having a child changes the life for a man and the love he feels for his child can not be underestimated just because he lives in and is shaped by a patriarchal society. Gender roles do define parenthood, just like they do virtually every aspect of society. That doesn’t mean that fathers’ love for the child is in any way inferior or less important for the child.

Not that it was in earlier generations. Expressions and social norms aside, a father, almost always loves his child more than anything else in the world.

My father is batty about kids and used to dance and sing as he fed us. Even today he is a master entertainer for small kids with his fantastic stories. Because my mother is an inhumanly efficient workaholic- she almost always has done what traditionally fathers were expected to do. From repairs to finance to driving to taking major decisions in family. My father, a hopelessly inefficient academic took a backseat. My mother always bended stereotype of a small town, middle-class woman. And my father is remarkable that he was never jealous, insecure or worried about his wife. It is not that he has no fault- but whatever gripe we have with him as as a ‘person’, not for his gender. We have always idolised our mother, but as far as love and commitment goes- my father was/is no way less than her.

One doesn’t need a day to celebrate love between kids and parents. It is one of the strongest bonds one would ever have. No electric shaver needed. Love, care, understanding and joy of being with family is all it takes for father to feel loved and honoured.

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Pace..

Last one year has been almost entirely MY LIFE- AT MY OWN PACE.

And then the pace changed in the last month. Brother’s wedding, a job interview in a South East Asian city, negotiating the salary, coming to terms with a massive change in our life and preparing for it- emotionally and practically, long drawn banking work, a bad bout of cough & cold, a project connected to the job with day and night schedule.

It has numbed me from some gut wrenching changes in a not-too-distant-a-future. Will write about it when the time comes.

So far, I think I am coping well. I have not gone batshit control freak as yet. I blamed myself for a few things, but not for a long time. I have decided not to attach too much importance to the whole thing. Let us see.

Some good bagels, brother’s happiness in Pune, some excellent TV, lots of great sex and the dog’s increased hyper-activity due to slightly better weather have been the overbalancing factors in the balance sheet . The important side of the story. The only story that matters.

No country for a healthy debate?

I emerged from travel followed by a presentation to come across this 2 week old article referred to by so many of people on my FB feed, that I knew it was going to be like, you know, controversial without really having any meat on it.

And so it is.

I am sure you have all read the article and have varied opinions on it. ( I think the writer started out with an interesting point and lost out somewhere between Aishwarya Rai, mommy-blogging and goal fetish.)

But have you read the comments? Have you? Have you?

They are tiny little gems, those ether-spewn-pearls of wisdoms..

Most of them are cringingly predictable – (mostly)women admonishing the writer for daring to write about parenthood in negative light. The tone of the comments is sooooo smug and moralizing- that you are almost reminded of Nirupa Roy jokes. Needless to say, all of them ironically confirm the writer’s contentions, rightly or not.

Why are we not used to ‘listening’ and ‘accepting’ other views is beyond me. Someone finds bliss in parenting and wants to write about their kids and schools- great. Someone finds it irritating and exhausting and wants to rant – great. Shouldn’t all voices be heard and debated?

Especially those who might be saying something that has not been said frequently before?

After all, none of the commentators are debating about the inherent flaws in the article- and there are plenty. But all of them are reacting to the very premise that a woman may find parenting not as great as it is made out to be.

This is what makes our country such a terrible bore- people not only have no patience for other’s views, they also feel it is their duty to morally bulldoze someone down for daring to say something different.

Nest…

Earlier this month, I opened my bedroom ventilator door after years. Kites were creating a ruckus for 3 days and I wanted to see what was all the tamasha. The moment I opened it, I felt it pushed at something wooden, but before I could stop myself, it opened all the way out and dislodged a nest built by the kites. The nest hung precariously from our 14th floor parapet and I saw a large egg. The kites didn’t come back after this incident and the egg lay untouched for days after the nest was abandoned.

I felt horrible and all the novels I had read about eco-disaster came back to me. I am a total atheist, but I wondered if the kite would curse me for harming their home. Husband laughed it off and talked about billions of animals loosing their homes because of the very development we are part of. This of course didn’t make an iota of difference to the misery. I felt like a fat builder in Khosla Ka Ghosla. I would climb unto the ventilator every day and peer from the glass to see if the couple had come back. They didn’t. Their unspoken condemnation hung around the ruins of their home.

A few days after this, I went to my parents’ home for 2 weeks and came back yesterday.

I saw that the egg had disappeared but the ruins of the nest are still littered on the parapet.

The sight of the missing egg, the kites who don’t come near the flat anymore and the sad-looking sticks lying outside the window saddened me for no rhyme or reason. I thought of my own nest in my hometown. My still agile parents whose health will eventually deteriorate. The loneliness they must be feeling and not sharing with us.

I am not sure if it is a generational thing, but people of my generation, especially my friends and cousins, are perennial children. They have never progressed to that ultimate parental role. There are hundreds of socio-cultural reasons, but the bottom line is that when you go to your parents home, you feel like a child no matter how old you are and how many homes you own and how many kids you have.

What is it about your childhood home, your parents, your extended family that is totally missing in your adult world?

Is it the complete acceptance of you as ‘you’? Lack of adult pressures and responsibilities? Feeling of nostalgia and being a child again?

Every time I leave my childhood home after an extended holiday, I feel terrible coming back to my adult world. I feel morose, angry at people around me and unwilling to do anything but sleep.

I am officially an auntie aged person now, and it is really weird that I feel like a child going to hostel for the first time even now.

This has been a bit of a problem with me. I have never been able to really nest in any place I have been to. Be it US, Hyderabad or Mumbai. I have always thought of my parents’ home as ‘home’ and my homes as ‘ rooms’. Even when I bought a house in Mumbai, it failed to give me that sense of a true nest.

This time, I wallowed in the sadness since my beloved brother has left Mumbai to get married and settle down in Pune. I know it is barely 200 km and chances of meeting him there are higher than in Mumbai. It is also best for him and I have been pushing him to look outside Mumbai for a few years now. But the sheer thought made me boil in anger at this city which cares a damn for anyone coming or going, at husband- because of whom I have to live here ( which is a false statement, but I like to blame someone in helpless anger situations), at myself who stepped out of my small town at a tender age to make it big. Without my fellow eggling in town, how can this dirty city be my nest?

But I have decided to be extremely positive, hurrah, and so I didn’t daydream about my childhood home, as usual, but rather daydreamed about a project coming my way. Enough of being torn from both sides, I decided. Till the time I am here in Mumbai, I will be ‘fully’ here. No both feet planted on both sides of the line or shit like that.

If I am a migratory bird by nature, I need to learn from them and consider my current place as current home.

This is a mature step up for me, the eternal escapist, the eternal daydreamer and the eternal dissatisfied-but-don’t-know-at-what person.

I feel as if I have got an anchor, if not roots.

Because, the comforting thought is, I have a place to go to where I already have roots. Till I go there, let me rock gently with my anchor weighed down for the time being.

Wah wah, a marine theme and all. Superb self-realisation, albeit a little late in the life.

And I hope that the kite couple realises that they can come back and build nests here because they have the right to and that it was a sad mistake. So there.

Stay At Home Moms and $$$

$$ value of a SAHM's labour

$$ value of a SAHM’s labour

Charts such as these which assign $$$ value to Stay At Home Mums’ work abound the modern American debate- from feminist blogs to Mommy blogs to conservative blogs to general controversy mongering headlines.

What would be the Indian counterpart to this chart? Especially since labour in India is pretty cheap vis-a-vis United States ( ask Devyani Khobragade), how would this chart look like in Indian context?

This particular chart is hugely problematic because it compares salaries of professionals with SAHM who is clearly not executing these duties on that scale of professionalism. When you assign salaries for skills, there is an assumption that you execute them in a professional environment, have a financial goal associated with your performance which is appraised in financial terms.
Emotional feelings of all-powerfulness of mother aside, we can not take professional salaries and assign them to SAHMs without these parameters then.

So what are SAHMs truly worth, in hardcore financial terms? ( We had this debate a year and half ago when a bill was going to be proposed that would ensure housewives get a salary. )

Related to this and more important perhaps is to ask what of financial security for SAHMS in Indian context? Especially today, when financial dynamics practically dictates social and family life.

I know that many women ( I will not say ‘parents’ because the number of male parents who stay at home to look after their kids is too minuscule to consider here) do not stay home just as a replacement of paid child care, but to ensure that their children grow in healthy ( mental, intellectual, physical) manner. Many have no support system of parents/ grandparents to look after their child. Many do not want paid care to raise children because it might be unsafe or unsatisfactory. Many leave their salaried jobs for emotional satisfaction of being with their children.

So, how can we put price on what these women bring on the table? While you can not assign market value to everything, especially emotions and relationships, I firmly believe that financial security is paramount to Indian women. And if they are spending their prime years working hard, it should be recognised- in real terms and not Bollywood songs.

So let us not only sentimentalise about priceless experience of child-rearing, but also try to look at it from financial perspective.

Fair Labour and wage laws are sign of an evolved society and logic that some work is ‘outside’ these laws is dangerous to the people who do the said work.

I want to puke when people offer sentimental lip service about how women are sacrificing their lives for building the nation. The same people then leave these builders of nation to the mercy of their earning husbands and a vague notion of moral responsibility.

I am not even talking about the choice that women make to stay at home because they miss their kids. In absence of gender equality in parenting, we can not call something a choice when it is overwhelmingly expected of one gender. More often than not, society, culture and economic need expects women to be the primary parent and ‘choose’ between career and childrearing.

So, what about hardcore monetary security?

If something goes wrong in the marriage and the woman wants to leave her husband, the non-working-for-salary woman gets a pretty raw deal even when it comes to the same kids she spent her live raising. A cousin undergoing divorce is finding it tough to retain custody of her kids since she has no property in her name. In real life, the welfare of kids would require financial security which is not compatible with our divorce laws.

Tougher is the life of a woman who might not want to look after her kids anymore, and do something of her own in late stage of her life.

And what about women whose kids have grown up and do not require their mums as much as they did? What would be the financial worth of these women then?

And how is the performance to be appraised? What if an excellent mother’s kid turns out to be a thug? Whose parenting will be under scanner then? ( Rhetorical question this. For centuries people have blamed mothers for ill doings of their offsprings.)

While alimony, child-support and joint- investments exist , most women would find themselves in tough corner, especially middle-age onwards, if they do not have financial security that they can call their own.

When we say that the family- husband, parents, kids – would ensure that the woman who devoted her life for their comfort, we are putting the woman in dependent position. Because familial relationships may or may not be based on objectivity and fairness, how to ensure that the women get their due?

For this, we need to know what is their due in financial terms.

In absence of the same, the woman is dependent on her spouse to ‘recognise’ her work- both in terms of quality and quantity.

I am not writing this as yet another ‘mommy-war ke aag mein tel’ provocation. Women who work outside home do many of these tasks as well, and the ‘double shift’ is topic of another post.

For the first time in my life, I have formed acquaintance with SAHMs, thanks to the kids and babies who are attracted to Puppyjaan and want to talk/touch/play with him. As the babies coo, gurgle and wave their hands while Puppyjaan stands like a patient tiger; the mum and me usually chat with each other. I go to lunches with them sometime and this very new group experience always forces me to think about the tremendous financial punt these women are taking by leaving their jobs and looking after their kid full time.

I really do not understand how to put value to the work of women who choose to stay home. I also do not understand why 100% of stay-at-home-parents in my 21st century, Mumbai housing society are women. I do not understand how to make sure that child-rearing is seen as a specialised job that requires special privileges.

What do you think?

How does commissioner of police manage her household?? Huh??

What is one staple question asked to women on top in their field, but not men? ‘How do you manage both home and work?’ Since men in our society do not need to bother about home front, it is safely assumed that for menfolk managing workplace is an achievement enough. But with women achievers, readers need an assurance that the CEO or Commissioner or Industrialist indeed goes home to cook and read kids bedtime stories before pressing her mother-in-law’s feet. No matter how much of big boss she is outside, at home, she has to be the domestic goddess. Commissioner of Police Meeran Borwankar ( who happens to be my hero for a long long time BTW  what with her being the first woman to head Crime Branch and all) challenges these double standards here ( report is in Marathi. ) ‘If men and women help each other at home, then looking after kids or household matters is not difficult.’ She says. I really love it that she doesn’t give the standard answers like, ‘I work doubly hard to make sure I personally supervise kids’ homework and make soft rotis’, or ‘ it is thanks to my husband who is very supportive and I couldn’t be here without him’ etc. etc. Why the **** do we expect our commissioner of police to worry about her house just because she is a woman? Do we feel she is less of a woman if she doesn’t know how to make yummy Shreekhand or her kids are supervised by someone else? Isn’t looking after law and order of the city HUUUUGE enough of a job for one person? This whole bullshit about an efficient woman managing both fronts has to be one of the biggest lies of our times. It not only puts unrealistic pressures on women, but also makes them lag behind in their careers. Love this cop for being so frank and no-nonsense.