The I’mperfect fathers
At the beginning of this article I would like to mention that I’m not a Father. So I don’t know what it is to be a Father. But I can surely tell you that in my journey of last eight years of work, I have had the privilege to gather knowledge about fathering from Fathers that I have consulted with. It’s not just the Fathers who contributed to this wisdom about Fathering, but the children, mothers, family members, colleagues, teachers, friends who became fathers and most importantly My father. So I’m going to write about fathers through this collective wisdom.
Fathering is often considered to be one of the most significant life stages in a man’s life, especially in diverse Indian cultures. The joy of becoming father is often spoken about as one of the greatest joys of the life. And I have heard about this joy many a times in my conversations with Fathers. The joy of seeing their child for the first time, to holding their child for the first time, the joy of constructing future dreams for their new born, the joy of teaching their children to ride a bicycle or how to cross the road, the joy of coming back home from a long day at work just to be with their child, and the joy of just watching their child grow. These little joys of fathering exist in the everyday stories of every father, irrespective of their socio-economic-cultural background. These little Joys are formed by the doings of the father. But these very DOINGS of the fathers are not spoken about or dimissed as insignificant little everyday things. Instead whats dominantly spoken and portrayed is the image of a father whose a protector, strict disciplinarian and emotionally distant figure. I wonder, WHY?
Fathers in the diverse Indian cultures are stereotyped by the dominant ideas of patriarchy and masculinity. These strong ideas about fathers often become like rules that fathers have to live by to be called as a perfect father. Here are some of the common strong dominant ideas of Fathering that fathers are expected to live by:
- Fathers are the only breadwinners for their children.
- Fathers need to have a complete secured perfect plan for their child’s future.
- Fathers have to be superheros for their children.
- Fathers are the final decision makers for their children.
- Fathers need to use physical ways of disciplining their child, talking is the mothers thing to do.
- Fathers need to man up their boys.
- Fathers should be the only role model for their boys.
- Fathers can only play rough house and physical sports or something intelligent with their children,
- Fathers need to have intelligent conversations with their children, they cant be funny or relaxed.
- Fathers are not supposed to be emotionally available to their children.
These and many more such dominant ideas have become a part of the fabric of our society, as if they were the only truth about how fathers should be. These ideas put not only fathers but also the mothers under a pressure to live up to an image. These ideas influence the way fathers act and if they don’t live by to these stereotyped fathering all the time, they experience failures as fathers. These experience of failure is not just in their eyes but in the eyes of their wife, parents, children and society. And I have seen fathers crumbling down, trying to live up to these expectations and often being labelled as ‘incompetent’ ‘bad father’ ‘invisible fathers’ ‘careless’ ‘not involved’ and many more such labels which totalises their identity as a father. I remember once a father telling me “that fathers are positive people too, but by default they are made negative. No one wants to notice the things im doing but rather the focus is on what am I not doing, not living upto or failing in.” And it’s a known fact that, when you label a person with something and repeat that story about them over and over again, they become that. That’s the way the media works, the advertisements, newspapers, tv serials, movies, books, songs often portray fathers in the dominant labels. Rare are those times when fathers are shown vulnerable, caregivers, emotional, understanding, fun, playful.
That makes me wonder, what would happen if we start making these rare stories about fathers visible. If we capture these rare stories, make these stories stronger and richer in their description, it would start balancing the stories about fathers in our society. Which in turn will influence the portrayal of fathers in our society and thus the fathering itself. But how do we do this ? how do we rescue these rare fleeting little alternate stories ? here are some ideas
- Look for these rare little moments in every father you meet. They are always there. I remember lyrics from the song Anthem by Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Even though a father maybe potrayed in a spoiled identity, there will be cracks in his identity. And we need to talk and highlight these cracks.
- Tell them when you notice them doing something different which you loved, liked or were impressed with. I often write a letter or send a small note when I notice fathers being fun, emotional and caring towards their children.
- Change the story: the next time you talk about a father or hear a story about a father which fixes them into a stereotype, disrupt it. Share the alternate stories of fathers. Create a space for conversation about these alternate stories about fathers.
- Help them: One of the fathers told me “nobody teaches you how to be a father, you either do what your father did to you or live up to the expectations of people around you. What would help me is if I had safe space to learn how to be a father. A safe space where I could talk about all the wrong things I end up doing without being judged.” Create these safe space for fathers by believing that every father wants to love their child.
- Believe in them: A great place to start is to believe
Here’s a something a father told me “ Every father should be heard. Every father should be given an opportunity to talk about what his dreams are for his children. And when you give that opportunity to them it’s a great start for me, our children and our family.” I hope as we try to create safe spaces for our children and women we don’t forget the fathers. Because it takes a village to raise a child, and a father is a part of the village.
Raviraj Shetty is an occupational therapist who believes in his heart that people are not the problem but the problem is the problem. He is part of Ummeed Child Development Center, a not for profit that collaborates with children and families experiencing disabilities where he facilitates a fathers group called I’mperfect Fathers group.