The Fatherhood Con: 5 Nonsensical ‘Truths’ About Fatherhood

Shantanu Bhattacharya, the writer, is primarily a father to a seven-year-old girl and also happens to be the Chief Learning Designer with an eLearning organization. He tweets as @shantanub. This piece was originally published in yowoto(Your world tomorrow) a platform that helps  parents, families and friends to come together and interact with people outside their immediate circle.

Let me get this disclaimer out of the way first, just in case my daughter chances upon this someday and decides she doesn’t want to take care of me in my old age; being a father is a great experience overall and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But there’s a huge chasm between the reality of fatherhood and the expectations with which you went into it. And the reality is, how should I put it, rather instructive, and not always painless.

Let me illustrate.

One fateful morning in November, I learned we were pregnant. (And that’s another thing I learnt from parenting blogs. It’s supposed to be a shared experience, so we should use ‘we’, and not ‘my wife’ or ‘she’ for the entire process. Sadly, my wife scoffed at this new age “bullshit” as she called it. Wife: 1, New Age Parenting: 0), I immediately went to work on my research.

I am a connected guy (as in Internet savvy, not jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai-type connected), and I thought that my diligent and scientific perusal of various blogs and parenting websites would ensure that I was fully prepared for my impending lifestyle change. After seven years of fatherhood, my faith in their veracity is transient, at best. Why? Let’s take some examples of the mendacity that permeates these articles:

Statement: Watching your wife give birth is a unique transcendent experience. Reality: It was transcendent all right. So much so, that I almost transcended into unconsciousness. Luckily I managed to look away at that moment, busying myself in holding my wife’s hand. That probably saved me from having to be peeled off the floor by the hospital staff. I also remembered why I had not become a doctor. Suffice to say, it’s not pretty. And if you want to look at your wife the same way again, you want to avert your eyes, trust me.

Statement: Seeing your baby for the first time will make you feel like love is coursing through your veins like a tsunami. Reality: Looking at the little wrinkled, reddish-white, simian-looking life form that had been presented to me as my flesh and blood, my first reaction was outrage. ‘This is what we produced after all the pain and trouble?!’ I thought. Then came the nagging question, ‘Is only my baby this ugly? Or are they all like that?’ Later, discussions with other father confirmed that most of them had the exact same thoughts. So, no ‘rush of love’ at the time, frankly. More like paralysing fear.

Statement: Your baby’s smile will melt all your worries away. Reality: Yes of course. It’s an angelic sight to behold. But you know when babies smile the most? When they’ve just pooped. And they poop a LOT. So your joy at watching that beatific smile is somewhat tempered by your desperate attempts to control your gag reflex as wave after wave of smelly fumes assault your olfactory senses. I’m proud to say that as a responsible dad, I have changed diapers for my baby. Three times. Fine, you got me, twice.

Statement: Raising a baby together will bring you closer to your spouse. Reality: It won’t. Period. Fathers, here’s the unvarnished truth: you are now second priority. Forever. You might not even be a priority anymore. Get used to it. You are now a diaper chooser, a Johnson & Johnson products shopper, baby carrier, Mothercare aficionado, lullaby singer, pediatrician rolodex, compounder, and most importantly, an ATM. Husband? Maybe later. No guarantees.

Statement: Fatherhood will change your life irrevocably. Reality: Okay, this one’s true. I can’t even begin to describe the ways in which you’ll change. All your earlier angst at kids wailing in aeroplanes as you struggle to get some sleep? Gone. Because now you understand. The exasperation when a kid bangs cutlery on every available surface in a restaurant?  You empathise because it could just as easily be your spawn. The impatience with the woman ahead of you in a line, struggling to find her wallet in a humongous bag crammed with baby things? Poof! You think of your wife’s apartment-sized bag and offer to hold it for her while she searches.

Congratulations. Your life has changed forever. You are a kinder, gentler and better person now. You’re a father.

When the why is clear, how will follow

Actor and flexidad Manav Gohil: Our problems never trouble us. It’s our inability to deal with them that disturbs us.

The TV-to-films journey. The journey uphill is always demanding and rewarding both. More than theatre to TV or TV to films, I would look at this as an actor’s journey. Because from where I am looking, theatre, TV, ads, films, regional films.. they are all work. Sometimes, I can find a good script for theatre, and not any other platform and vice-versa! It’s about how I scale my journey today as an actor. On my drive back home, what am I feeling? Pride, joy, or complacence.

Buddhist Leanings. I am a Buddhist and practice Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism – a way of life based on the philosophy derived from the Lotus Sutra. I have been practicing it since 9 years and seen my life gradually transform.

An identity of your own. When Shweta and I went to the passport office to renew her passport, they insisted on having Shweta Manav Gohil – this despite the fact that Shweta remains Shweta Kawaatra after marriage. We found that in Maharashtra and Gujarat it’s a mandate of sorts to have the husbands’ name attached, unlike a lot of places up north. I was telling her that maybe I should change my name from Manav Gohil to Manav Gohil Kawaatra. Just that I think it’s a cooler surname.

Soaps and women. As far as soaps go and how they skew womens’ identities, they are predominantly targeted at the masses (also a reason you might see the lack of progression in them). Soaps are not really made for social awakening. They might be set amid social issues but essentially things boil down to TRPs.

Finding time for family. I make time. In this age and time, I am sure it must be difficult for all professionals to find “family time”, as much of it as they would like. I guess it turns out to be an art for all of us (me included) to try and balance things.

Balancing work and life. When we probe a phenomena, we only rediscover it, we don’t invent anything new. Work-life balance is an established fact of today’s life; discussing it might lead to a better understanding but the challenge itself cannot be eradicated. So I struggle with it. For me, it boils down to working towards expanding my state of life. Shoots, dubbings, meetings, rehearsals, time with Zahra, chats with Shweta, driver leaving, maid hunting, car breaking down… I think I can encompass it all. i just need to grow in my capacity. After all, our problems never trouble us. It’s our inability to deal with them that disturbs us.

Being a flexidad. This means a tremendous internal change for a man. I have personally experience this in the last 13 months. My respect for mothers.. actually women…has rocketed in the last few months. For dads, I guess it’s a journey of growth. I have always liked kids so I guess I came in pretty handy to Shweta with Zahra. I cannot spend time with them through the day and long to rush back home at 9.30 pm and wash up quickly and request Shweta if I can put Zahra to sleep in my arms. It’s so rewarding. Flexi-daddying is a leap of Faith. Hesitation transforms into a conviction to lead a better life. Just do it!

Keen on acting? When the why is clear, the how will follow! A lot of young people I meet act to either become famous or earn money. You cannot place the cart before the horse. If you have a dream, work (ON YOURSELF) towards it. If you love it enough, you will emerge a winner. or else Plan B is not a taboo.

The last word. All the best to all Fleximoms. You all rock  truly!

Flexidaddying is a Struggle Sometimes but works very well

Samar Halarnkar started his career as a crime reporter. After that, he worked with a variety of publications – The Indian ExpressIndia Today and Hindustan Times. He recently penned The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and believes that cooking teaches men respect for women who stay home. The Flexidad speaks about the need to be more focused and organised when working from home, and how work-life balance is something that is a matter of continuous striving

The cooking connection. My mother made me and my brother help in the kitchen when we were boys. I started serious cooking when I couldn’t afford to eat out and craved good food. I had to cook so I could eat good food. I had to learn, improvise and improve. Not so difficult, really. As far as family goes, what’s not to like? They rarely have to bother about food on the table.  Seriously, my wife has no problem at all. My father, I don’t know. I think he struggles with the idea, he could not understand why I quit at what he considered the peak of my career, so to say… Cooking is just a part of my life, like brushing teeth or waking up. I do not consider it extraordinary.

Cooking betters men. Indian sons are victims of the mera-raja-beta syndrome. Learning to cook helps you appreciate the effort it takes to run a kitchen and feed a family. And it teaches you respect for women who stay home; it’s a respect that Indian men sorely lack.

Working at home. The thing about writing is, you just have to do it. Everything else is an excuse. I say this because I am constantly finding excuses not to write this piece or that. I realise I just have to find the time and do it. Not that I succeed each time, of course.

The balancing act. The work-life balance is something that is a matter of continuous striving. I can’t say that flexi-work has got me the balance, but it is much, much better than it was when I was working. I mean I miss the newsroom and working with colleagues in an office. On the flip side, there’s time with the kid, exploring and thinking of new things to do…just need to be more focused and organised at home, I find, than at office.

Being a Flexidad. It’s no different from being a Fleximom, I imagine. It’s a struggle sometimes, but it works very well. I get to spend time with my daughter, watch her grow up. It’s priceless. My wife does get jealous — that my daughter gives me more kisses than her. But, of course, there are sacrifices.

Working freelance in India. The going is not easy for freelance writers. I have fixed columns, a legacy of my previous job. So, I’m lucky. Otherwise, it’s very tough. It’s not so abroad. We are just unprofessional around here!

Getting published. It was quite easy to get published because I am a man. I suspect it would’ve been far more difficult if I wasn’t. Most women do what I do every day, with no fuss. You’re having this chat with me because I am male because it all appears very novel (when it should not be). If I was a fleximom, I don’t think this would be happening.

What I cook best. I cook meat and fish best, though I learned to cook veggie food after marriage because my wife is a vegetarian. We both do the dishes, but I end up doing them more often than not. Hard to expect my wife to do it after a hard day’s work.

A ‘jugaad’ recipe for all Fleximoms. The big bang stir-fry

Ingredients: 1 tsp sesame seeds, ½ tsp black-onion seeds (kalonji), 6-7 dried chillies, 8-9 large garlic pods, smashed or chopped fine, 1 tsp fresh, grated ginger or galangal (Thai ginger), 1 flat tsp red chilli powder (or paprika), 1 medium broccoli, reduced to florets; 1 small zucchini, halved and sliced; 1 small red pepper, deseeded and chopped long; 1 small yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped long; 1 tsp fresh rosemary; 2 tbsp soy sauce; red-wine vinegar (or red wine) to sprinkle

Method: Season a medium-size wok with olive oil. Throw in sesame, dried chillies (snap them into half) and black-onion seeds. When seeds start to sputter, add garlic. Cook till lightly brown. Add ginger. Stir quickly. Add chilli powder. Add broccoli and zucchini. Sprinkle with vinegar (or wine) so it sizzles. Add soya sauce for next sizzle. Toss on high heat until almost cooked. Add peppers. Add salt. Toss all vegetables. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and grind fresh pepper. Serve.

Try these. Sridatta Boarding House in Mumbai (Lalbaug) and Royal China at VT. In Bangalore, Sunny’s. The Naga kitchen in Delhi Haat and the Italian restaurant in Jor Bagh market. Sridatta has the simplest and best vadi (masala puris) and Konkan-style fish and meat curries. Royal China has great dim sums; Naga kitchen is perfect for experimenting with pork varieties.

Cooks in the making, listen up.  Just do it! If I can, anyone can. When I began cooking, I stumbled all the time.

The last word. It’s been great talking to everyone, though I had to persuade the wife to be a fleximom today and pick up my daughter, so I could do the chat.

The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and Other Dubious Adventures by Samar Halarnkar, Westland, Rs 495