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!
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 [email protected]
A version of this article was also published by Khabar Magazine.