Parenting Is No Joke, Says Stand-Up Comedian Atul Khatri
The popular performer and doting father talks about being open with his daughters, giving them advice on social media and how he can never win an argument against them
By Shashwathi Sandeep
Last year, when Justin Bieber came to perform in India, people went into a frenzy. No one can describe this craziness better than an Indian father who spent a fortune on the tickets and his daughters' shopping. The fact that he is one of India's best-known stand-up comedians, made the whole situation crazier. Atul Khatri, as his Twitter handle describes, is 'a henpecked husband, a father, a comic and a writer who always orders his soup 1 x 2 even when eating alone.'
In a conversation with ParentCircle, Atul tells us about his grown-up daughters, his parenting style and why he is not only a 'good cop' but the best one!
Q.What is your parenting style?
A. I’m fairly practical. I have imbibed this quality from my dad. My dad has also been very practical throughout his life; I don’t know whether this is a Sindhi trait or not. My dad is from an older generation, and people would say things like you should go to temple, you should fast, so on and so forth. We were a very conservative Sindhi family but, my dad right from the beginning, was very clear about certain things. For example, in Hindus, we have this mundan ceremony…so he told me not to do mundan for my daughter, so I did not do it. For one daughter I did, for the other daughter I did not. He’s always taught us, and this is what I teach my children too ̶ work is worship and your parents are God. This is not religious thinking but being practical about everything in life.
Q. Tell us more about your daughters.
A. One is 23 and the other one is 20. My elder one is a fitness freak. She is a certified sports and fitness coach, and a runner. The younger one is doing her third-year bachelor’s degree in Psychology. They have very different personalities. My sun sign is Capricorn and my elder one is also a Capricorn, so we find a lot of similarities between us. From the food habits to the talking habits. The elder one is more impatient, while the younger one is more patient.
Q. Between your wife and you, who is the good cop and who is the bad cop?
A. I think I would say I’m the good cop and the best cop (chuckles)…I’m just joking. The roles always reverse depending on what the situation is. We do this good cop, bad cop kind of a thing, but nowadays the kids have become too smart and understand this. So, I don’t think they take it seriously.
Q. Who wins an argument – you or your daughters?
A. Obviously, the daughters win the argument. We have a very logical way of solving it. We sit and discuss. Since I’m very active on social media, sometimes it may happen that I put up a post and my daughters will find it offensive. We have a family WhatsApp group, so they tell me, “Dad this post is offensive, remove it.” I would reply by saying “No…how is it offensive? Let’s discuss.” Then, we discuss it that night. We have a healthy discussion and that’s important. Also, they are in the same age as some of my audience and I get their perspective for my acts.
Q. What kind of advice do your daughters ask you for?
A. Sometimes, they ask me for advice on social media. They also ask me for a lot of financial advice. I think that kids these days are smarter than what we used to be; all of them have a smartphone in their hand. Entire information is available to them at their fingertips. They can literally Google anything, but at times, they come to me for career counselling. Also, whenever we feel like we can have the expertise, we give it to them.
Q. Are you a possessive dad?
A. Yes, I am. In fact, I have written a new set, on why daughters are better than sons. I’m thankful that God gave me daughters and not sons; I can’t handle them. I’m a very impatient guy myself…It’s not the right thing to say but I have my reasons for that. So, I’m absolutely possessive about my daughters.
Q. What are your daughters' reaction when they see you talking about them in your acts? For example, the Justin Bieber concert or even the one with sleepovers.
A. Honestly, I run the materials through them. I think they like it and they find the truth in what I’m saying, so it resonates with them. This is where we have been practical as a family. Sometimes, people ask my wife why her husband talks about marriage and other personal stuff on stage, and she gives a very practical answer that if he gets money, let him talk whatever he wants. That is what stand-up comedy is all about. We open our entire personal life on stage, make jokes and make people laugh. That is what most comedians do worldwide. It is not just limited to me. I think the kids are mature enough to understand that they are all jokes. In fact, sometimes people who take offence. There was this act where I spoke about my wife having some black money during demonetisation and how she bought sanitary napkins with that for my daughters. My friends asked me why I talk about daughters and sanitary napkins. So, I asked them if their daughters didn’t use sanitary napkins. They say yes, but why should you talk about it in the open. So, I tell them it is actually OK to talk about it. The days are gone when we try to hide things under the carpet.
Q. Do your daughters help you in writing your material?
A. When I run the material by them, they might find something very offensive or don’t like the joke or they might find it too personal. I do take their feedback but it’s not that I’ll take that feedback and make changes; I might still use it on stage. Finally, the audience decides you are funny or not.
Q. What is the best and the worst part of having teenage daughters?
A. There is no best part or worst part of having children. I don’t know whether I’m right or wrong in saying that just for life to continue, for the generation to continue, you have children and I think they complete your family. Today, there are lots of young couples who do not want to have children; they are probably scared of the expenses of bringing them up, you know things have become so expensive now. I was talking to a friend and he said, “we don’t want to have children because we are too scared of these admissions and other expenses.” During our time, my wife and I wanted to have a child; we looked at it as a part of life.
Q. Are there any rules in the house? If so, how often do they follow it?
A. We need to know with whom they are going out, where they are going, when are they going to come back, if it’s late night should I go pick them up, are they coming by cab and so on. One thing we have told our children, which I would tell other parents also, is be open with your children, don’t hide.
Q. A lot of parents dread the teenage years, children become moody and do not communicate much with parents...what’s your take on that?
A. My take is that things have become fairly complex out there. For a young boy, there is pressure to get a girlfriend and for a young girl, there is a pressure to have a boyfriend, it starts at a very early stage. Children seem to be growing up too fast. Puberty used to hit at 14-15 years earlier, now it is 11. It is part of evolution; you and I have nothing to do with it. Parents must realise this and accept it. Build a healthy relationship with your teen.
Q. Your thoughts on parenting in the time of social media?
A. In terms of social media, there is a lot of pressure on children. Social media is creating a crazy pressure on children. It is very important for parents to recognise that and handle it in a proper manner.
Q. Are you a digitally savvy parent? Do you keep track of your children on social networking sites?
A. Yes, I am. As I said, I'm very active on social media. I do keep track of my children on social media. I go through their posts and read what they are saying. Sometimes, we might find something which is offensive, we may talk to our daughter and say this is not okay, but it is up to you to decide.
Q. What is your favourite family activity?
A. We eat out. All four of us are foodies. We first have a fight for half an hour deciding where should we eat. Whoever cries the most, wins. Very practical solution we follow.
Q. Your elder daughter is a fitness freak, does she expect the same from you?
A. Oh ya…absolutely. Both my daughters keep an eye on what goes on my plate. I cannot eat fried food when they are around. Never. I tend to cheat but then I realise I’m cheating myself and don’t eat too much.
Q. Have they ever asked you for any fashion advice?
A. No, not really. I think I don’t know what kind of fashion advice a dad will give his daughters. They don’t come to me but if I’m around and I notice that certain shoes are not going well with the dress, I tell them. Sometimes, my daughter goes to college in kurta-pyjama and I tell her what’s wrong with you, wear miniskirts and go!
Q. And what about guy problems?
A. We discuss everything. Whenever they have a problem, they come to their parents. It is a healthy thing…my daughters have boyfriends, they come home, they go out with them, so we are OK with that.
Q. What are the habits you would like your children to imbibe?
A. Just that they should have a healthy life, eat healthy and exercise. In our family, everyone tends to exercise. So, if anyone is lacking, the rest of us pull them up. Not only health wise, but life in general.
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