Tag Archives: #genderroles

What Could Push a Desi Father Farther From the Family?

First, let us all fathers bite the bullet.

A mother in our Desi social context is loved profusely and respected intimately, while a father is feared instinctively and respected distantly. Fathers so far, seem to have accepted this convenient unpleasantry. Even before being a father, however, I had decided to rock the boat. I wanted to be as much loved by my children as their mother. If respect is added, that is even better!

The question that plagued my mind was, how did dads get distanced in the first place? Sudhir Kakar, a great Indian psychoanalyst and writer, has elaborated on the same point.

Let us consider some scenarios:

When a child at home misbehaves, a mother will not punish him directly but will threaten that she will report his act of “misdemeanor” to his dad when he comes home. Thus, a mother exonerates herself as an innocent bystander and establishes the father as a punishing authority. Father returning home, often exhausted and frustrated, imposes a punishment far outweighing the seriousness of a child’s mischief. The child would have an innate sense of justice that he is more “sinned against than sinning.” A stereotype thus starts to develop.

A shift in the households:

Most of our families are now running on joint incomes, a third party being in charge of the child’s daycare. Now there are two breadwinners necessitating two breadmakers. This also applies uniformly to all other household works. The whole family, therefore, has to illustrate teamwork to run itself efficiently and harmoniously. A lopsided burden on one person while the other person becomes a burden himself is unhealthy and untenable.  The dynamics have to change and adapt accordingly. The altered status demands a change of shift. The roles played by the parents demand interchangeability.

Father can be fixing food for the hungry child or doing the dishes while his/her mother has to help with the homework that the child brings. Some fun time for outdoor or indoor activities for the whole family has to be planned during the weekends. The goal to be achieved, although cumbersome, is to promote happiness for each member of the family. This can only be achieved by comprehensive planning. Discretion applied in TV watching, newspaper reading, and telephone time can release some extra time. Both parents have to be available at different times for different functions.

Some examples to substantiate the point of shared responsibilities:

Man years ago, I met a lovely Indian family of four in Augusta, Georgia, a husband, wife, and their two small children. I was shocked to hear soon thereafter that the lady died suddenly, leaving an unforeseen circumstance on the father. He faced the challenge and decided to raise the two small children all by himself, playing the role of a father and a mother. Now the children have grown up to be dependable adults. I remember this illustrious father on every Father’s Day. He bypassed an extraneous challenge in his own unique way.

Another memory I recall is one where I received a call from a Church asking for my help when one of their members, a converted Hindu Christian, had succumbed to suicide. I will never forget the day that I visited the family. The lady of the house and her three children, crushed by this cruel tragedy, were exhausted, numb, and bereft of any sense of direction. The widowed mother had no previous work experience. By persistent inquiry, I could gather from her that she had worked as a Nurse Assistant when she was very young. I could get her a job in that capacity at my hospital. About ten years later, when I met her in a shopping center, I could not recognize her. By this time, she had passed all her tests and was now a Certified Nurse working in a hospital. Her children were all well placed. This was truly an example of life after death!

Take-aways

Let us recapitulate the Darwinian rule of the survival of the fittest. He also said that the fittest are not the strongest but those who are most adaptable. In these ever-changing, unpredictable times, we cannot leave our children playing a game of chance when a disaster strikes. Only a combined mode of protection and prophylaxis will provide insurance and assurance. Reversibility of parental responsibilities will be the best insurance that money cannot buy. It will also prepare our future generation when they grow up and face challenges.

Even when nothing inadvertent happens in life, it will be reassuring to portray the picture of a mother grilling food outdoors, while the father is feeding the family and doing the dishes, and the children are cleaning up the place when the food is finished.

The reversibility of the roles on a day-to-day basis will incorporate a father deep into the family system, giving an irreversible joy to All in the family. Only our business people may not like this idea because this system will merge Mother’s Day and Father’s day into a single Day, thus reducing their revenues!


Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Gynecology-Obstetrics at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, he is a priest, poet, playwright, Sanskrit Visharada, and Jagannath Sanskrit Scholar. He can be contacted at bmajmud1962@gmail.com. 

A version of this article was also published by Khabar Magazine.


 

Go Women Ninjas!

I stepped out for a walk with my elementary school son. He was telling me about a program that seems to be the craze among his friends: Lego, Ninjago.

Ninjaaaa—goooo!”, said the little fellow and spun around on the spot kicking his legs up in the air. “ I wonder why they need to say Ninjaaaa-gooo before doing spinjitzu, but they always do that.”

“Maybe it is a spell. Why do they spin so much anyway? Is it like ballet?”, I asked.

The horror of my ignorance made him open his eyes wide in disbelief. “Amma! It is not like ballet. It is spin-jit-zu.”

I often prance into these gaffes. It was clear that the Ninjago masters did not appreciate being called ballet dancers, even though their spinjitzu-s looked like ballerinas who had stubbed their toes.

Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance

He set about enlightening me after taking a deep breath. “They do spinjitzu to use their powers. Everyone has a power. Jai has?” he looked at me expectantly.

I knew the answer was somewhere. I had nodded along on several occasions when he explained the powers of Ninja masters. I took a sip of humility and came clean. “Oh! I can never remember these powers. Why don’t you tell me again, and I will do my best to remember them.”

Professors can rarely resist such a humble seeker of knowledge, and so my little Professor launched on his ‘Amazing Superpowers of the Ninjago Masters’ class.

A few minutes of Walk-Walk-Talk-Talk later, “Then, Lord Garmadon was bitten by the Evil sorcerer and Evil coursed through his veins.”

“Oh no! His parents must’ve been so sad!”, I said. “What did his mother do?”

The fellow stopped with a quizzical expression on his face. “Umm…he has no mother. I don’t know why, but he doesn’t.”

Women Ninja time?

It was as we continued toeing the Ninjago-Spinjitzu line that I asked him why there were no Women in the Ninjago world. His face crinkled with thought. “ Nya is there. Cole became a Ninja to save his sister Nya.”

I looked at his sincere face, and took a deep breath. I saw it was time for me to become a female Ninja.

I asked him what he thought of his sister. “Do you love her?”

A look of awe crept into his eyes. His older, taller, wiser sister?  She looks after him, plays with him, and tells him the most amazing Greek myths. “Of course I do!” he said, stung by such a blasphemous question.

“How about Amma? Do you like me?”

Affirmative.

I kicked it up a notch. I asked about his friends. There were a few girls in the list. I asked him about his teachers, grandmothers and aunts? Duh! He laughed and said that he liked them all.

“Now”, I said, “I want you to imagine how you will feel without any of these girls in your life! “

“What?! Why?”, he said.

“Because that is what those poor Ninjago master-fellows seem to be going through. Don’t you see? “

His face dawned, and then he gave a sheepish smile.

Gender Stereotypes

Research shows that our attitudes regarding genders are formed between the ages of 5 & 6. Maybe this is the time to look at all our entertainment choices with a critical eye. If Superman does everything by himself, why do we think our sons will discuss their problems with us? If in most shows Men save the world by going to War, how can we hope for future peace and diplomacy? Every evening, homes are flooded with soap operasthat glorify women who suffer at the hands of those who should be their intellectual partners and friends.

The effect spirals over time as well. If you look at the average amount of time spent in unpaid housework, women spend a significantly greater amount of time than men do. In some countries, they spend almost double the time doing unpaid housework as men.  

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes the extent of the problem and has dedicated $1Billion in 2018 towards empowering Women. They recognize that every aspect of life (lower poverty rates, increased health care & life expectancy), improves when women are empowered. In the introductory chapter of the book, Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes: Sometimes all it takes to lift women up, is to stop pulling them down.” 

International Women’s Month is here and we will be celebrating all the great achievements of Women in Science, Literature, and Leadership; ​​instead of stopping and acknowledging the Women in our lives. The ones who make life what it is with their friendship, camaraderie and companionship.

Biases sneak in sometimes without our knowledge, and setting it right may start with the simple step of recognizing its existence.

 “Wait!”, said the little fellow. “Nya also became a Ninja later in the series. She is a girl-Ninja now.”

“Good!” I said, and peace was restored in our world.

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in San Francisco Chronicle,  The Hindu and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.