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This year father’s day felt different. And I don’t mean in the way we celebrate it, because like others I was guilty of incessantly googling many creative and indoor ideas that were floating on the internet, but in its deep sentiment and what it represented. For me this year, I celebrated the often overlooked tenderness in fathers.
Australian poet Pam Brown once wrote, “Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of song.” I am head-over-heels about my own father. I love fathers in all their forms and shapes because there is nothing more appealing than to see a man’s tenderness crawl out of him in the moments least expected. And fatherhood, if nothing else, will do that to a man.
Being raised by a single father myself, I have seen the tenderness that is possible from a father, I have come face to face with the fact that gender does not decide how one loves and that such love can achieve a lot. I have always celebrated my own father’s tenderness, but in the past few months, my observation of acquaintances, friends, and family has been unique. The Pandemic has given a new face to fatherhood, that of a deeply involved state of participation, frustration, and a redefined idea of love and responsibility.
Within the Indian and even the Indian American social constructs, the father is still seen as the patriarch, the provider. Life in America, compared to India, gives fathers more chances to be involved in the household. They cook, clean, do the dishes, change diapers, drive children to school, and be part of many more practical child raising opportunities. And yet, many fathers do not know the ins and outs of day to day life with children of all ages. It is one thing to do this part-time and another to provide and nurture at the same time, around the clock without any breaks.
A friend whose wife recently had her second child confided in me recently about such an experience. Last time around even though having a newborn was a life change, her husband went back to his life after the paternity leave. But this time, his understanding of the sanctity and struggles of the postpartum period have made him see his own role as a father in a deeper light.
And there are other fathers who get to see the juggle of the children at home, the never-ending labor of love, with no escape. Fathers who are now spending time with teenagers who are off to college in the next few years, their own kids who in the pre-pandemic world had no time to see them, but now they cherish three home-cooked meals together.
And then there are the empty nesters, fathers who now see closely, the pain of the long days of mothers who spent a big part of their adult lives serving children, now starting a new life.
But make no mistake, fathers are losing their minds. They have never done this before and for the first time, they can’t wait for the work alarm to ring at five am again. But meanwhile, they are pushed to their limits. They are exhausted. All they want is a drink with a friend to escape this elevated chaos called the family life. They have children climbing on their sore backs and grumpy teenagers endlessly debating political subjects. And through these sighs and screams, the impatience for the days to end, and passing many a sulky and under-productive day, their hearts have opened, their roles have expanded, and they continue to see the new dimensions and expressions of tenderness. So I hope all the fathers out there did get that drink, whether it was in the bathroom or in the attic, that they were celebrated, because this year they deserved it, more than ever.
Preeti Hay is a freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in publications including The Times of India, Yoga International, Khabar Magazine, India Currents, and anthologies of poetry and fiction.