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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Diapers, drums and driving

Reading Time: 4 minutesThe concept of fatherhood has evolved, and it’s only gotten better, writes SHERYL DIXIT

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My TV remote randomly stopped on Channel 7, where Australia’s Got Talent was airing in all its pseudo-effervescent glory. After a pretty good display of pyrotechnics, an all-male performing group were asked what they do for a living. “I’m a house husband,” said one of them quite proudly, raising a spontaneous laugh from the judges and audience alike.
Which triggered the thought that there are in fact, a good number of house husbands who take on what has been traditionally perceived as the role of women – that of caretaker of the children and home. The trend is catching on, mainly in metros in India too, where couples with no support from extended family have to fend for themselves. Some husbands opt to stay at home, or work from home, with the wife’s earnings providing a regular income. The phenomenon is not at all uncommon within Australia, but less so within Asian communities. But for the few dads who do stay at home to change nappies and organise exciting afternoon teas and playdates, they enjoy the experience and even more importantly, they do a good job at handling their domestic responsibilities, from cleaning to caring, to cooking mushy baby food and rainbow cake. It’s amazing how the concept of fatherhood has evolved in the last couple of decades.
As a child, my dad was pretty much hands on and he devoted a lot of his time to us kids. But things like the remit of schoolwork and ‘taking up’ lessons fell to my mum, who was adept at using a few imaginative threats to awaken our sluggish brain cells. Parent-teacher meetings were his forte at my insistence, as he was a charming man and my teachers’ complaints were always mild in his presence. Among his numerous good qualities, was his sense of adventure which took us off the beaten track on holidays each year, exploring the best of India. His occasional forays into the kitchen were always met with enthusiasm by us kids, but not by the cook, who would have to explain why the stores of oil and ghee had mysteriously depleted.
Most fathers of friends when I was growing up were relatively the same – the main breadwinner, devout, kind, polite, somewhat distant, but always protective, instilling in us a sense of security. Some were strict, others were lenient, but all showed the same sense of pride in their children. And although kids like myself were respectful and proud of our dads, the father who sported Elvis Presley sideburns, white flair pants and sang Hound Dog when mistakenly offered the microphone at the church social, was the ‘cool’ one.
Modern dads aren’t Elvis, but they are certainly cool. You can see them confidently casual in trainers and board shorts, equally adept at handling a child on a bike, another in the stroller, juggling drink bottles and mobile phones with casual nonchalance that leaves even seasoned mums gobsmacked. They deal with falls and bruises, dobbing and whingeing with practicality and a minimum of fuss. Hell, they even take doctor’s visits for needles and sniffles in their stride!
It’s amazing how much in sync dads nowadays are with their kids, in all aspects of their lives. When growing up, dads used to suddenly notice their kids when it came to year 10, when a good percentage ensured admission into an Engineering college, which could then be boasted about within the community. Respectability was the watchword, and dads used to impress on kids the necessity of matching up to the neighbourhood children in achievements.
But now, dads seem to have a more casual approach to their interaction with their kids. They don’t mind getting down and dirty, having a kick around with a soccer ball, or spending quality time together at the pool. They effectively disguise their trepidation when sitting in the passenger seat, when their enthusiastic teenagers are learning to drive the family car. They are more lenient and understanding about sleepovers, movie nights out and school formals, but they would probably be a tad suspicious about the Hummer stretch limo that their daughter’s date has hired to take her to that prom.
The trend of guiding their children’s decisions too, has taken a well-deserved hit. They would probably grit their teeth when the son of the family announces that he wants to become a hairdresser, but they wouldn’t react with a backhander and a feisty, “Pagal ho gaya kya? (Are you mad?) You’ll become a doctor, or else!!”
In fact, dads are fairly proud of their kids’ choices, even if they could be somewhat radical. One dad, a lover of soothing Indian classical music and a firm believer that Jagjit Singh should be made a saint, bravely accepted his son’s choice to take on the role of drummer in the school’s rock band. “At least it’s still music,” he explains, trying hard to convince himself, as much as me. It is an incongruous sight to see that young man sporting tatts of skulls, wearing torn jeans with studs in his ears, nose and upper lip, enjoying an evening walk with his father, impeccably attired in crisp cream kurta-pyjamas and spotless trainers, hair neatly combed! But they have the best relationship, one based on trust and understanding, and that’s what really matters!
Dads are great, and it’s fantastic that kids nowadays have such a close bonding with their fathers, based not just on mutual and reciprocated affection, but that they also aspire to be like them – or not! My boys quarrel about who will ride Dad’s motorbike when they get older, and it’s still an unresolved argument. My cousin still steals her dad’s shirts when she runs out of options of what to wear (despite having a 2x2m walk-in wardrobe!) A friend’s son has a go at his dad’s fondness for Bollywood movies, but he invariably settles down to watch them, “Just to let Dad know how bad they are,” he avers.
A friend of mine once said, “Dads nowadays are alpha male and beta female!” and that does seem true.
So this Father’s Day, let’s celebrate dads in all their Shiva-like avatars, for being what they are – great!

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Sheryl Dixit
Reading, writing, parenting, amber ale – it's what she does and love. How normal is that!

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