DaDDy Is­sues

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - INDULGE -

AFEW MONTHS ago, I went to see the stand-up comic, Papa CJ, per­form his show, Naked. He walked on to the stage, car­ry­ing a few props. Among them was a teeny-tiny blue one­sie that he hung up on a stand be­hind him as he be­gan his rou­tine. But it was only to­wards the end of the show that the au­di­ence learnt its sig­nif­i­cance. This was what Papa CJ’s son had been wear­ing when he last saw him. Since then, many long years had passed but he hadn’t seen his son be­cause of a bit­ter di­vorce and a cus­tody bat­tle that left him frozen out of his child’s life.

There were a few moist eyes in the au­di­ence by then, for mil­lions of In­dian fa­thers who would love to play a more hands-on role in the rear­ing of their chil­dren, but are un­able to do so be­cause one par­ent has to be in full-time work to keep the home fires burn­ing.

Th­ese kinds of men do the best they can. They try and come back early each evening to give their wives a lit­tle rest. They take over night feeds. They rock the baby to sleep in the early hours of the morn­ing. They put to­gether a quick pasta or pu­lao for din­ner if the baby has bad colic and just won’t set­tle down. And they long for the week­ends when they can spend qual­ity time with their kids, breathe in their special baby smell as they douse them with tal­cum pow­der post bath­time.

Are there some dads who shirk child­care re­spon­si­bil­i­ties even when they have all the time in the world? Am sure there are. But for ev­ery dad who prefers watch­ing foot­ball to play­ing ball with his kid, there is an­other who spends hours read­ing sto­ries to his child, giv­ing in to ev­ery de­mand of, “Just one more, dad!”

Fa­thers like th­ese would like noth­ing more than a pe­riod of pa­ter­nity leave when they could le­git­i­mately take some time off work to bond with their ba­bies, and give their sleep­de­prived wives some respite in the end­less du­ties of child­care. But stereo­types like the ones that Maneka Gandhi ref­er­enced in her state­ment, pre­vent them from do­ing just that.

This ca­sual dis­missal of the im­por­tant roles fa­thers play – and more im­por­tantly, want to play – in a child’s life is symp­to­matic of a cul­ture in which it has be­come fash­ion­able to slag off men to prove your fem­i­nist cre­den­tials.

Con­sider this. Would Maneka Gandhi have been al­lowed to get away with it if she had made such a sweep­ing state­ment about women? Or, more to the point, would a male min­is­ter get away with be­ing so dis­mis­sive about women? Let’s say that a male min­is­ter said that women should not be al­lowed credit cards be­cause they are reck­less shop­pers and would run into debt. Would we let that go as eas­ily as we have the sug­ges­tion that all men would treat pa­ter­nity leave like a paid va­ca­tion?

Of course not. There would be wide­spread out­rage, po­lit­i­cal par­ties would con­demn the state­ment, so­cial me­dia would go into melt­down, there would be de­mands for an apol­ogy. In short, all hell would break loose.

But sex­ism doesn’t cease to be sex­ism just be­cause the tar­gets are men rather than women. And dis­miss­ing all men as ‘feck­less fa­thers’ who don’t have any in­ter­est in look­ing af­ter their chil­dren, reeks of rank sex­ism.

Yes, there are plenty of men who feel pretty use­less around a baby when he/she is be­ing breast­fed and in di­a­pers. But who said that pa­ter­nity leave was only meant for when the child is an in­fant? Child-rear­ing doesn’t stop once the kids have started walk­ing and talk­ing. If any­thing, it can get even more stren­u­ous.

It’s not enough to bathe and feed chil­dren. It is just as im­por­tant to teach them life skills, like swim­ming or cy­cling. Or in­deed, pro­vide them a liv­ing ex­am­ple of a world in which men and women are equal par­tic­i­pants, equal part­ners even, in the task of rais­ing a fam­ily.

So, in­stead of re­in­forc­ing the stereo­type that look­ing af­ter ba­bies is a woman’s job, how about en­cour­ag­ing men to get more in­volved in the rear­ing of their chil­dren? And if you are go­ing to do that, then in­cen­tivis­ing them with a pe­riod of paid pa­ter­nity leave is a good start.

We do our kids a dis­ser­vice when we marginalise the role fa­thers play in their lives

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For more SPEC­TA­TOR col­umns by Seema Goswami, log on to hin­dus­tan­times.com/brunch. Fol­low her on Twit­ter at twit­ter.com/seemagoswami

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