Meet the weekend dads

Meet the weekend dads

Ravi Chakravarthi (right) with his wife and son Aditya. DH PHOTO BY KISHOR KUMAR BOLARThank God It’s Friday takes on a whole new meaning for M K R Prasad. That’s the day of the week when he turns his back on Hyderabad, the city where he works, and heads home to Bangalore to spend quality time with his family, particularly daughter Gowri.  Prasad is what you’d call a weekend dad.

He’s been one for the last year-and-a-half and says that for him, it isn’t very different from being a regular dad. “Even when I worked here, with the type of work schedules, I would leave home at 7.30 am and return at 10.30 pm and would get to see Gowri only over the weekends, anyway.”

Gowri, who’s in the 10th Standard, agrees. “It hasn’t made a big difference. And if I need, I can always call him.”

Hands-on parenting

But Ravi Chakravarthi has a different take. He believes that it makes a difference being available for the child — in his case, the soon-to-be-nine-years Aditya.  He’s no longer a weekend dad but spent 20  months working in Mysore, with the weekends reserved for his family in Bangalore.

“Even if I leave home around 7.30 in the morning and return as late as 8.30 pm, that half-hour with Aditya makes a difference,” he says.

Sure, the communication revolution has made life easier but it’s not the same thing. Recalling his  Mysore days, he says, “I would take a long walk after dinner and call home. Aditya would tell me about the day’s exploits and achievements and at times I would feel that it would have been better if he was right there in front of me. Like the time when he had done a powerpoint presentation and he was trying to explain to me how he had done it.”

Daddy cool

There are numerous other instances when having daddy right there made a difference. Take the case of T Ravichandran, father of 13-year-old Nishanthi and 11-year-old Hariharan, who is more of a month-end dad since his current assignment in Jamshedpur allows him only the monthly luxury.

He speaks of helping his daughter top the class and taking care of the children when his wife had to be away for 10 days to tend to her father who was unwell. “I can’t cook but I tried to do everything I could for the children in the time I had with them. My wife tells me that the children keep talking about those days.”

Sunday blues

The other thing that’s different for families with weekend dads is the Sundays. “For us, Monday morning blues would start on Sunday evening itself,” says Chakravarthi.
“I remember one occasion when we went to our parents’ place along with our cousins. When we returned, Aditya was looking depressed. I thought it strange because he had had a good time with his cousins. When I asked him why he was sad, he said, ‘you’re going back tomorrow’. When I told him that tomorrow was Sunday, not Monday, he immediately cheered up.”

But even dads are not immune to the emotional upheaval. “Most times, I would leave home at 3.30 am to take the bus back to Mysore. It would take all that time, till about half-an-hour into work, to shrug off the feelings of separation. And the feelings didn’t wear off even after one-an-a-half years of that kind of weekday and weekend routine,” says Chakravarthi.

That’s obviously something that most dads don’t want to go through, or see their children go through. But not all of them have a choice. And moving with the family may not always be a good idea with the disadvantages far outweighing the benefits.
Ravichandran, who’s been working with Hewlett Packard for the last three-four years, is now touring different places, completing different projects. It has been challenging. And necessary.

He says: “Money is a prime mover these days. You need it for quality housing, education etc. Though I miss out on my family life, the sacrifice and compromise is important for the children in this competitive world.”

Work and play

For some other dads, it’s the lure of a challenge that prompts them to take up assignments elsewhere. Like M Srinivas who travels to Mumbai quite often since he has to manage several portfolios there.

“One has to be realistic and practical in life,” he says. “After having consolidated the portfolio in Bangalore, the city wasn’t challenging anymore from a career point of view. Right now, I have to chase a much bigger challenge. I try to work for a week in Bangalore but that doesn’t always happen.”

But Chakravarthi’s advice to such dads is that the situation would be worth it if the offer was really good. And there’s a significant change in either the job profile or the paycheck. “If not, it doesn’t make sense,” he says. 

Srinivas agrees that the job affects his health and stress levels and that life is not easy. Even his son, nine-year-old Avinash, senses it. “It’s very hectic for him, coming and going, and he gets angry for small things,” he says.

It’s not surprising. As Srinivas says, “It’s very difficult to stay relaxed. In and out of flights. Inadequate sleep. On weekends, lots of tiny jobs that have to be taken care of. But even if I have to go out, I make sure I take Avi along. My wife works on Saturdays, so Avi is with me completely.”

Quality time and tensions

Avinash’s grouch is that “before he was transferred, he used to play badminton with me every day. And I would get lots of practice.” He has played several tournaments at the state level and has to rely on his coach for practice during the week. Weekends, however, are different, when the father-son duo does what they love best.

But it’s not always such an amicable situation — there are those moments of tension. Ravichandran sums up his situation: “I am always out of the house, so during weekends I want to stay in. But the children are at home all week and want to go out. I live in hotels for the most part and am sick of eating out and want to eat home food. The children, on the other hand, want a change from home food and want to eat out.”
What saves the day, perhaps, is that the children are so happy to see their dad that they willingly forgo their little pleasures. And dads, on the other hand, have had distance transform their hearts to putty.

Stabilising factor

Between the comings and goings, the tugs and pulls, the stabilising factor is perhaps the woman of the house.

Ravichandran says: “It’s not practical to leave the children’s upbringing to the elders who have their own set of values and ideas that may not be helpful for children today. To bring up a family, to give them all the comforts and the stability, one parent has to earn and the other has to manage.”

In his case, the managing falls to wife Dr Sumathi Meena. She’s a qualified doctor but does not practice, compensating for his absence — dropping the children to school, taking Nishanthi for her music classes and Hariharan for his badminton practice and being a full-time presence in their lives.

Prasad’s wife, Dr Bharathi, has also had to sacrifice her practice at the altar of parenthood. “My daughter is 15,” she says, “but that does not make it any easier since children need their parents all the time. We have to be there for them whenever they need us.”

It’s not an easy life but as she puts it, “We’ve adjusted and it’s the weekends that keep us going”.

Who’s a weekend dad?

 In the West, the term weekend dad, popularised by Milhouse on The Simpsons, refers to a divorced father who gets to spend the weekend with the child while the mother — the weekday mother — has custody of the child during the week.
In India, the concept of a weekend dad is rather different. He’s the dad who has to leave the city due to  work but for whom the family is important enough to return every weekend.

Counsellor says

According to Rose Sunderraj, counsellor at Mt Carmel College, “It’s not the best thing but it can’t be helped if one’s situation is like that. You have to do what you have to do. But parents must explain it to their children. They should spend a lot of quality time with them which doesn’t necessarily always translate to fun but involves a lot of sharing, openness and developing an intimacy with the child. Bonding is important.
“And through the week, if the child carries the memories of the weekend like the father does, it’s not such a bad thing.”

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