The four month old baby looked at his Father with askance and an emotion that said ‘where were you, come here fast’, just as he would do with his Mother. This baby did not know the difference between his father and his mother as for all purposes he has two mothers! It was not like a sharing of responsibilities between the two parents but like a joint venture between two active partners with equal responsibilities. The Father did all that the Mother did and more. He massaged the child, bathed him, sang a lullaby at night, played with him, made his baby-feed at correct intervals, worried about his health, nursed him when he caught a cold, kept wake when he cried at night and even cuddled him while asleep. He handled the baby with utmost gentleness, love and care and delight just like a mother would do in a natural way! How many Indian males would play such a role?
This ideal is also an Indian male but reared abroad and tutored by the child care agencies that made regular visits to their home to impart education and training in child-care to both of them. Says Rajan (name changed) the proud loving father of the baby, ‘this mother’s role is much hyped for nothing. It is a real pleasure to nurture a child and how else will he love me dearly if I do not do things for him’! This young fellow is not an unemployed sit-at-home dad while his wife earns the bread, but is an engineer with a degree in business management from the world’s number one school today. He is a business consultant again at an internationally acclaimed consultancy group. He is very tall and handsome too. I asked him if these domestic duties clashed with his profession and he said ‘BAH’! His wife also a post graduate in engineering and gainfully employed shared similar views. She was on a year of maternity leave and he was on a two month paternity leave- he wished he could take more leave.
One of the chief complaints of working women in our country is that ‘men do not like to perform so called ‘womanly tasks’. Besides that, at most times, when there is a new baby at home, men may behave as bad as children as they feel neglected and demand/expect attention of their wives. Some may even compete with their children in seeking attention! This acts as a source of stress for the already stressed out ‘new mother’. The child is considered her ‘whole sole’ responsibility and child-care is an addition to her existing list of chores. Have you heard some husbands say, ‘why can’t you control his crying, I can’t sleep, I am going to the next room’. The already stressed mother is further blamed for the kid’s natural behaviour and manners. Mothers get reprimanded for every misdemeanour of the kid or for every simple infection that he may catch. So the male theory is that ‘if you take good care of the child, he should never fall ill and should always behave in a proper manner’!!
In a traditional house, where the male earns and the woman cooks, there are no added expectations from the male. The roles are fairly complementary as the demarcations are clear to all with no scope for confusion. The grey areas begin when the woman is gainfully employed. When both are career oriented the dynamics is different. Sharing of domestic chores is essential and how they distribute the chores could be on mutual consent and not ‘imposed’ on the woman unilaterally for it becomes a ‘double duty’ for her. It is grossly unfair, unjust and archaic.
When I tell young aspiring women entrepreneurs to ‘train their husbands in baby-sitting and simple tasks’, they laugh loudly saying ‘MAAM!’ and nod their heads in disbelief and resignation. This is a pathetic state of affairs where youngsters cannot dream of reforming their lives and cannot aim high in career goals for want of empathy and practical support from spouses.
Fathering concerns should be as broad based as mothering where both believe in sharing the pleasant burden of parenting. Parenting starts from the time the wife gets pregnant and the husband empathises with her physical and mental exertions. Some countries insist on husbands being present during child-birth for sensitization and empathy. It is nonsense to say that men do not possess emotional capabilities like sensitivity, love, kindness, gentleness and empathy. It is equally ridiculous to say that men cannot develop and possess ‘womanly skills’ for most professional cooks are men, male nurses are much in demand in other countries, great dress designers are males, the best paediatricians are males. Men can do everything from cooking to cleaning, from nursing to medical care, from sweeping to mopping, all things considered a woman’s domain. Men have every capacity that women have and more. Similarly women have every capability that men display and more. The problem lies in the psycho-social atmosphere called ‘culture’; in the clamouring for ‘sons’ over daughters; in the lop-sided and stereotyped nurturance of sons; in the disrespectful attitudes and mindsets towards women and their roles.
If fathers start ‘mothering’ their children, along-with their spouses, whether it is a boy or a girl, the trend will change and set a revolution rolling which no amount of preaching and shouting from podiums on specific occasions, for women’s equality, empowerment and justice will do.