The Changing Role Of Dads
From merely being a breadwinner to a hands-on parenting expert, the role of a father has certainly evolved over the years. We dig deep in our cover story, a Father’s Day Special.
By Rohit Moudgill • 13 min read
Parenting has undergone a paradigm shift in India in the last decade or so, particularly in urban households. New-age dads are expected to play a greater role in child upbringing. And my journey, which I am going to talk about, has been truly fascinating.
The barriers are breaking
My son is all of twelve years, yet at times, in his playful demeanour, will call me ‘bro’ and give me a high five. Something, I would shudder to attempt with my father even in my wildest dreams, nor can I imagine my father attempting this with his father. The elderly may scorn at my son for his action, but, in my mind, I know he means no disrespect. Times are changing and with it, we should too.
Traditionally, the role of fathers may have been limited to that of the primary breadwinner of the house or the strict disciplinarian, with little or no interaction or involvement in other matters pertaining to the interests of the child. In fact, if I look back even two to three decades, across friends and relatives, the level of a father’s participation was pretty much limited to payment of school fees, visits to the doctor, etc. The time spent and expected to be spent with the child was always on the lower side. But, times have changed and so has the role of fathers.
Go beyond mere lip service
I am a hands-on-dad with my son. Fortunately, when he was born, I was working in an industry which had shifts and I was working the graveyard shift, i.e. 2:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. This meant that once I had caught up on my sleep, I had the evening with him. As a ritual, every evening without fail, I would prop him up in the pram, pick up a couple of diapers, get some drinking water and take him for a stroll. I would point out things to him as we walked, sing along and recite the letters of the alphabet. The walk usually took us to the neighbourhood park, where I would discuss vaccines, how to deal with colic and such matters with other mothers who were also at the park. Naturally, over time, I became the villain of the piece where other dads were concerned – the other mothers started to push their husbands to follow my lead and play a more active role in their children’s life.
The new-age fathers are very much in the game when it comes to caring for their children, even if they don’t have comfortable shifts as mine to take their babies on a walk every evening. The process begins right from the time the child is expected. Accompanying the wife to the gynaecologist visits, Lamaze (childbirth) classes, and participation in the delivery process (if allowed by the gynaecologist) is not a novelty anymore, but the norm.
The real gamechanger starts once the child arrives. The special attachment between a mother and child is here to stay. But nothing stops today’s dad from taking equal participation – from diaper duty, to burping the baby after every feed, to volunteering to wake up in the middle of the night when the baby cries. Yes, it is true and real, the age of the super dads is here to stay.
Physical play is critical
The responsibility of the father doesn’t dim with days and months, but only enhances. In my case, being extremely fond of sports, and having played competitive sport across genres as I was growing up, I was naturally filled with hope my son will follow my footsteps.
This, however, is not a given, and takes considerable time, patience and contribution from the father.
I remember my father coming back home from work and spending time throwing the ball for me to hit. I too decided to give my son as much exposure as possible in sports during his formative years. So, as a father and son, we went through numerous sports – cricket in the driveway, basketball, football, simple catching and bouncing the ball to improve motor skills and hand-eye coordination. We also tested our hands at professional tennis and golf apart from running and jogging in the park.
Yes, it is true and real, the age of the super dads is here to stay.
Over the years, my son has picked up numerous skills in sports and understands the need to be competitive when it matters. He has also learnt to dig in and give it the extra push and strive that much harder to achieve a goal. He has also learnt the art for fair play. He understands that winning and losing are integral parts of the world of sports. Physical play has also taught him great life lessons.
Encouraging small risks
Trying new things and taking little risks as a child is a necessary part of growing up. I am not saying that thrill should be the only driving criteria for new experiences. Still, some exposure to risk without the threat of severe bodily harm or injury can teach your child to face challenges and help her build confidence.
From a child’s perspective, risk-taking could mean trying a different cuisine from the tried and tested palate-fulfilling home or local restaurant food. It could even mean trying a different sport or an activity which your child has not done before.
While it’s important and essential to give your child as much exposure and stimuli to broaden her experience and perspective, it is also equally important that you evaluate the risk in minute details, as the rewards for such experiments should never be a permanent injury or scar for life.
Keep talking. It helps uncover…
There can be several factors impacting the confidence of the child, both internal and external. Some physical attributes may dent the confidence of the child if there are comparisons being made within the family and in and around the social sphere of the child. Once your child goes to school, there may be teasing which may affect your child’s confidence. There is a very thin line between teasing and bullying, and at most times, people do not recognise the same.
Being on the heavier side, my son was often chided in school by his peers. This led to poor moral and body confidence. I could see the swag was missing in him. Upon gentle probing, I learnt of the teasing issue and recognised that he was being bullied in school.
What is important in such situations is to recognise symptoms or changes in your child’s behaviour. Disinterest in going to school or a sudden withdrawal or change in nature, are clear indicators that something is wrong. Keep the communication channels open and gently coax your child to share most things with you. Listen to your child, understand his feelings and be careful not to judge.
Post the identification of the problem comes the critical task of equipping your child to deal with the situation. Ensure your child doesn’t take the verbal jibes personally or seriously - the real problem is with the child who bullies, and not with the one that gets bullied. Today, my son has turned the tables on the bullies and has his swag back.
Children with involved fathers are more confident and have better social connections
Connect, Bond and Learn together
Rather than succumbing to the comforts of technology, spending time in novel ways with your child can have remarkable benefits. I remember many such moments with my father that helped me develop important skills that help me in my personal and professional life.
Recently, I took up a project to create an advanced model of a ship with my son. Once the package arrived, it was hard to keep him away from it. We spent four-five hours every weekend with no distractions. After several weeks, when it was done, I realised we had not just accomplished our task but had spent a great deal of time bonding. Naturally, besides creating the model, this time was spent discussing a variety of subjects, including school, academics, his best friends, classmates, sports, and a host of other topics.
A study titled, 'The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children', published in 2006 says how children with involved fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, confident and have better social connections. It also says these children perform better academically. So, spend time with your child, with or without a structured activity to learn about her life. Let your child know you share her interest and enthusiasm. Focus on building her strengths and provide guidance to help her fight her battles.
To My Dear Daughter Who Loves Garlic!
On Father’s Day, Luke Coutinho, a leading Integrative and Lifestyle medicine practitioner and a Holistic Nutritionist writes a heart-warming letter to his sweet little daughter, Tyanna.
I still remember the day you were born, and the doctor put you in my arms. You looked like a yummy prune and you resembled a cute alien when I looked at you sideways. I couldn't ‘connect’ with you for the first three months, but as time went by, I developed this incredible bond with you. I fell in love and am still in love with your innocence, your beauty and your soul. Your laughter, your dancing eyes, your naughtiness, the way you speak from your heart, your tears and the way you hold me when you sleep are some of the most priceless gifts I could ever get. I love the fact that you enjoyed your first pod of raw garlic when you were 1-year-old and also that you love wheat grass, coconut oil, and all the other stuff daddy loves.
You have taught me the meaning of unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance and letting go. No person, or for that matter, no spiritual or self-help book has been able to teach me the above or inspire me to be a better person. I used to love travelling for work; with you, it doesn't interest me anymore. As the plane takes off, I want to land back and just be with you. I love you the way you are, your tantrums, your naughtiness, the way you manipulate me by knowing when to say the right things. I love the way you make me forget why I was angry with you, or how you just start doing burpees when daddy is angry with you, and I just forget all of that anger then. Yes, you have me wrapped around your little finger, but I'm ok with that...it just makes a perfect you.
In life, always be happy. Remember, you are amazing and awesome and the world is not perfect, and neither are you, but that's ok. Our imperfections can be perfect to us. Be courageous and kind, be naughty and adventurous, grow up with wonder and fascination, make lots of memories. It’s ok to have bad days too and be sad as well, but always know 'this too shall pass' ...you are loved, and always love yourself with a fierce passion. I don't need you to be a doctor, engineer, pilot or a businesswoman. I just want you to be happy and do anything that results in you being truly happy and at peace with yourself.
Mummy and Daddy love you endlessly and forever. You are, and will always be the best gift I have ever got, so I should thank mummy too. No matter where life may take us, or the path that life may put us on, you should know I’m always here for you.
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