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.