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.