The dawn of the new-age father

The dawn of the new-age father

The role of the modern-day father has changed to a great extent, with men taking on equal responsibility with their wives in child rearing, observes Vimla Patil.


“Let Dad come home. He will fix you. I will tell him what you have done!”

This was the common growl of a helpless mother faced with bad behaviour or bad grades from a son or daughter. Children quaked in fear when they heard this threat and awaited the punishments to be meted out for being rude, or irresponsible in their educational activities. For decades, the ‘father figure’ was a threat; a stern, unforgiving ogre whose presence demanded silence and fear. Fathers were majorly ‘providers’ who were unapproachable except through mothers.

They were strict and doled out retribution and sometimes even physical punishment if a child did not come up to his expectations. On the other hand, mothers were seen as forgiving, cuddling, soft cushions against the failures of life. They were always there when needed and symbolized treats, good food, warm nights under a shared blanket, playing in the garden, helping with homework, coming to parent/teacher meets and going on carefree holidays.

As Indian society changes at an unprecedented speed, the traditional roles of the mother and father are changing equally fast in most families. Today, when the mother works and possibly earns as much as the father, his role needs to involve erstwhile ‘feminine’ qualities of tenderness, patience, innovation and security-creation through words and actions. There can no longer be an acceptance of the erstwhile ‘fatherly’ qualities of sternness, non-availability, or rare treats on holidays. An amalgam of ‘fatherly and motherly’ qualities has to be created for children to grow into sterling individuals in the future.

Says Rohita Shah, a child and family counsellor, “Today, even in small town India, this picture is changing fast and the definition of a ‘father’ has been redesigned by younger men who have created a genuine mix of ‘motherly and fatherly’ qualities to create the new father figure in a family. This 21st century father figure works superbly because of three changes.

Firstly, the new father is deeply involved in the process of the birth of a child. He is with his wife through her pregnancy, labour, and the upbringing of the child. He is trained in handling a child and is fascinated by his new role. He is involved, deeply aware of the change in his life and completely affectionate towards his children. This is clearly evident in the lives of celebrity men who have taken the trouble to change the public image of the ‘Indian father’ in the past few decades. Most fathers express their feelings with joy in this new age.”

In a recent international poll, 60 per cent of the fathers interviewed said that ‘family and children’ were ‘extremely important’ in their lives.  Fathers further said that children and the closeness they shared with them enriched their lives, giving them a new feeling of love and togetherness. “One father said that his child running into his arms when he returned from work was the best moment of his life,” says the poll.

The new definition of family life has successfully wiped out the ‘dreaded father’ image of the past. Fathers are today protectors, playmates, and confidantes of their children. Fathers are no longer perceived as the only ‘providers’ of the family. With mothers earning equally well, men are no longer obsessed with their incomes, except for their own progress and a better standard of life for the entire family.

Children are brought up to think of both parents as ‘loving’, ‘available for fun activities’ and ‘soft and emotional’. Expressions of love, support and affection are out in the open for the fathers. This is increasingly visible in the changing figure of the father on television programmes and Bollywood films. Fathers of today are more ‘friends’ rather than ‘disciplinarians’. In fact, mothers are more tough and impatient, often than the father, today.

Fathers have a new role as caregivers! Modern fathers can look after their children when the mother is away on a ‘girlie trip’ or on professional duties. They are able to mix toughness with tenderness beautifully. They enjoy the feeling of contributing to the growing years of their children, but do not hesitate to set firm yet fair limits. More fathers are willing today to perform ‘women’s duties’ around the house to share household work equally. Modern fathers realize that family life can be rewarding and that their children need and enjoy the father’s involvement in their daily life.

“There is no longer a prototype for a father,” say sociologists. “He can be a friend, care giver or just an indulgent parent who adds love and humour to the lives of his children and understands their concerns. Very few men have examples other than their own fathers to follow whereas there are innumerable stories, fables and examples of mothers who sacrifice their all for the children. Fathers are still searching for the ‘ideal’ in their category. The fact that they want a new, more satisfying relationship with their children is a great ray of hope in these years.”

Two major social changes have brought about this situation. The first reason is the increasing number of women working and travelling for their career. The second reason is the rising rate of divorces even in conservative Indian families. Social researchers say that divorces in India have tripled in the last ten years. As more and more mothers devote time to build their careers, fathers are required to take on more responsibilities at home.

Fathers today are seriously aware of the escalating divorce rate. Most men have seen divorce in their own family or in the families of their friends. They have been forced to reconsider their own family life and its importance in their happiness quotient. The issues of remarriage and being step-fathers are new challenges for many fathers. Men, as husbands and fathers, are thus willing to develop new roles for themselves, unlike those played by fathers earlier.

Children today demand the participation of both parents in their life. Fathers are significant influences on their children, who want fathers to be receptive, sensitive and gentle in their relationship with their children. What they – especially the daughters – want is real involvement of the father in their lives! Experts therefore advise that fathers should enjoy the company of their children without distractions from other priorities. They can read, play or dance together depending upon the age of the child.

Fathers can involve children gently in their profession or work and the excitement of working hard to earn success. Both mothers and fathers can encourage hobbies, music, theatre, dance, life skills and building friendships and relationships in the lives of their children step-by-step.

All relationship experts say that there is no ‘given’ formula to become a successful father. Being a father, for the most part of it, is a trial and error model of learning. Just remember to love and cherish your time with your kids, but more importantly, express that love by being gentle, friendly, and approachable.

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