Living: Daddy dearest

Ditching predefined notions of fatherhood, the new breed of fathers are paving the way for a bias-free future.

Have you watched the film Happy Feet? Among other values that the award-winning movie showcases, it is interesting to observe the emperor penguins as an ideal personification for fatherhood goals. Right from the hatching of the eggs to adulthood, daddy penguins play the role of an equal parent. It may be the way of Nature but humans too are making that shift.

With more women chasing their career goals now, an increasing number of Indian dads are getting involved in raising their kids. From changing nappies, bottle-feeding infants, brushing toddlers’ teeth and bathing them to braiding hair, driving kids to school, playing with them and tucking them in bed — these ‘penguin dads’ as they are now called, represent the face of a progressive India that is ready to challenge the stereotypes.

Dr Swati Popat Vats, president of the Early Childhood Association, a parenting mentor says, “Sometimes the situation demands it when the mother is unavailable. However, most fathers now are genuinely interested in being 100% involved. Some do it because they’ve read research on the subject while others want active involvement in their child’s life and are ‘man’ enough not to think of it as being sissy or ‘joru ka ghulam’. It is also not something that the community or family looks down upon now; it is celebrated in the media. You see so many movie stars taking care of their kids that you did not see a decade ago. I guess that too rubs off.”

Perks of the job
Apart from taking the stress off the mothers, penguin dads develop strong bonds with their children and this is a psychological perk for both the father and the child. According to developmental psychologists, the involvement of both parents in a child’s upbringing has strong positive influences on the holistic growth and development of the child.
Developmental paediatrician and founder-director, New Horizons Child Development Centre, Dr Samir Dalwai says, “Children whose fathers are actively involved in parenting have sharper cognitive skills, and are more likely to be emotionally secure and confident. They have increased empathy, better social connections and grow up with fewer or no gender biases. It’s a win-win situation for all.”

As parenting mentor, Dr Vats has always advocated both parents’ involvement in bringing up a child. “I believe that father and mother are the yin and yang of parenting. Both bring different parenting styles and perspectives. Hence, a child will grow up with a more secure parent bonding and will receive double the involvement, care, and attachment. If the society becomes more sensitive to parents in general because now both the genders are actively involved in parenting, more parent-friendly policies and practices can be adopted,” says Dr Vats.

Load sharing
For 39-year-old project manager Subramony Narayanan, changing nappies, bathing, clipping nails, shopping and waiting outside till his son’s classes end, is a conscious effort he loves to put in. He thinks parenthood isn’t about the mother being omnipresent and believes, “children are quick to notice the balance that parents create which in turn resonates into their growing up and treating each other equally.”

When his wife Soundhariya Viswanathan, a PR professional was pregnant with their first child, the couple discussed role-sharing. “However, when Sidhant was born, it was a natural for my husband to take up the responsibilities. When I fed the baby, he’d burp him, while I bathed the child, he’d be waiting to wrap him in a towel and dress him up. There were no rules or obligations — only voluntary contribution from him. Even now, he is hands-on and gets our four-and-a-half year old Shakthi ready is no time — from helping her brush her teeth to combing her hair and making yummy onion dosas and rajma. At times, I’ve left for work in a hurry when the children were asleep and returned late at night to find a home with everything in place,” says Soundhariya with great pride.

Similarly, super dad and entrepreneur Vickram J Kowdley spends a lot of time with his son, especially over breakfast. “From feeding and changing nappies to bathing, I’ve done it all, my favourite activity is making him laugh with silly stories and jokes, especially before bed. Children learn what they see and so I know I have to set an example to my nine-year-old Yash on what kind of a human being he can be. That can only happen if I’m an involved parent.”

Changing times
Narayanan thinks times have changed and we are now in a generation where if we don’t help our partners, we will be criticised. Having been brought up in a women-centric pampered environment, he feels, “A father is born when a child is born — the sense of duty automatically sets in, if it doesn’t, then bro you are in trouble,” laughs Narayanan. Even Kowdley’s family has been extremely supportive of his style of parenting. “Maybe they think I’ve got to go easy on making every moment teachable, but that’s okay,” he says.

Learning from the masters
Narayanan’s father, uncles and father-in-law have been leading examples. While his father’s contribution in their large joint family was more out of necessity, he did a good job of it. “I learnt the skill of combing my daughter’s hair from him. He managed three daughters and did everything from grocery shopping to school PTMs and tuition pickups and drops. Today, I go back to my role models for advice on certain situations,” he smiles.

Viswanathan grew up seeing men in her family be hands-on and appreciates how it has transcended in her son. “My nine-year-old enjoys making sandwiches and helping his sister with her homework and to get ready for school,” she says.

Kowdley’s father too was very involved in his upbringing. “He has been my north star, pointing me in the right direction always. He never raised his voice and always encouraged me to try everything from dance to karate. His kind words and smile have taught us to have a great value system built in. This parenting style is deeply ingrained in me. If I’m even 10% as good as him, I’ll consider myself a good dad,” he adds.

Kowdley is part of a WhatsApp group called Bangalore Super Dads that exchanges support messages and meets up offline. “We had a panel discussion last year about challenges of being a super dad. We hope to meet more often this year,” says Kowdley. For those who wish to join the club, can contact send a message on +91 9845884954.

Nationwide rage
At times, there are some reservations about considering fathers who ‘mother’ their children as role models. However, what’s interesting to observe is that this isn’t just an urban trend. “We have schools in tier-2 and tier-3 towns where dads are involved in their child’s activity out of choice. We consciously called our mother-toddler programme, a parent-toddler programme and have working dads who are present for the sessions when their wives are unable to attend,” says Vats.

Spotting the difference
Children who grow up seeing their dads involved will, of course, grow up to be involved in parenting too. “Once children reach the age of six, they become aware of what their friends have and they don’t. They will question their mother about the same and are bound to feel disappointed when their dads are not involved like other dads. Children understand when things are explained to them. Moms should never paint the father in a bad light for not participating, as this will create a rift in the relationship and bond that the child shares with the father. This will be detrimental when the child becomes a teenager and a parent, as he or she would imitate the father’s parenting style or overcompensate,” warns Vats.

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