Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, sexual, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.SHILLPI A SINGH
LOVE IS EQUALITY: Tribe of Penguin Dads
Penguin dads are redefining the rules of parenthood by ‘mothering’ their children. Meet the waddle, who are busting the pre-defined and gender-dictated notions and social norms and taking up daddy duties, and for good.
Bengaluru-based IT professionals Abhinav Sitesh and his wife Natasha welcomed twin girls – Abhisha and Naysha – into their lives in December 2016. The couple’s joys were doubled, and so were the duties and responsibilities that came along in their new role. “Natasha’s post-delivery complications had left her bedridden. We had no family support around, so I was on double duty. I had to take care of the little ones’ feeding, bathing, massaging, cleaning poop, pee, and puke, plus putting them to sleep. With two of them, it was around the clock job, from then to now, and to add to my woes was my work-from-home arrangement for an important office assignment,” recalls Sitesh, who had to give paternity leave a miss to do the due as a ‘working father’. He has since then chosen to WFH and is one of the many young fathers, who are happy to be on daddy duty 24×7 and find the newfound role to be far more enjoyable and satisfying. “When one of my children was diagnosed with autism, I knew that here on, I will have far more responsibilities to shoulder. A lot more interventions are required at my end to ease it out for them,” he says. The couple relocated to Lucknow from Bengaluru in March this year so that his children could be around their grandparents, relatives and other extended family members.
Parenting as a joint venture
In a traditional setup, the onus often falls on a mother to raise the child, and she eventually becomes the sole nurturer, while the father’s role is to earn, and he is considered more of a provider. Delhi-based sports journalist Nishant Singh, who is married to news anchor and correspondent Rajani Sen, belongs to the new creed of fathers and is happy to ‘mother’ his two boys, Adamya and Sahishnu. “The societal norms are changing, and our generation is making necessary contributions by shattering the stereotyped, gender-defined roles at home and outside. What a mother does, a father can do too, and a couple is in this parenting business together, isn’t it?” asks Singh. As a father, he is quite hands-on in raising his children and loves to do it all, be it helping with their studies, taking them out to play games or participating in extracurricular activities. As his wife recounts, “Adamya had to wear a rainbow-themed shirt to school, and she was in office in the evening shift, and by the time she came home, Nishant had used his creativity to colour a white shirt and keep it ready for his school.”
Parenting coach and author of a parenting book ParenTeen Prakriti Prasad agrees with Singh on the shared responsibilities while raising a child. “Conceiving a child is a joint endeavour of both parents. I don’t see why and how nurturing that infant, toddler, adolescent or even a young adult became the sole responsibility of the mother with the father acting as a mere spectator, supervisor or sometimes a visiting faculty, with minimal involvement in parenting,” she says.
A father playing an active role in raising his children becomes a talking point because it has been an exception and not a rule. As a father of seven-year-old Sadgi, author and columnist Pankaj Ramendu, who chose to stay at home to take care of her since her birth, while his wife Kalpana pursued her career ambitions, rues, “Why do people find it unusual? It is because our previous generations have been raising children with a set mindset. We have never questioned the existing gender roles in our society because we have been conditioned to accept it as a norm.”
Contextualising the parenting dynamics, Prasad adds, “Indian dads have traditionally just been onlookers of their newborns or enforcers of discipline in their growing up years. It’s both heartening and relieving to see this burgeoning trend of hands-on dads, what you call ‘penguin dads’ now in India too. Millennial fathers are taking paternity leave not just to revel in the birth of their child but chipping in with staying up the nights, changing diapers or bathing and feeding their infants.”
Ramendu believes that a man has never been taught to shoulder this responsibility and participate in a child’s upbringing because this idea has been perpetuated to suit the patriarchal setup. “It is all about gender equality, something which has been an oft-neglected issue. Motherhood is an emotion and not a gender-specific category to bracket a parent. A father can have the same emotions and fit in the role of a mother well if given a chance,” he says.
Changing the rules
Bengaluru-based Prithvi Ramachandran has dabbled in many trades, most notably being the Bengaluru casting director for the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film, Life of Pi, but one role that he is content with the most is the role of a do-it-all dad for his two boys – Mir and Arya. “I have been a stay-at-home dad since my elder son was born, although the terminology might be disputed since the pandemic began and everyone else also began to stay at home! My wife Ruhi works full time and has had a demanding career for over 25 years,” says Ramachandran, who decided to take an active role in children’s upbringing. He takes care of school drops/pickups, organizing playdates, and cooking/ensuring healthy meals and snacks, and the couple takes turns reading stories to kids at bedtime.
A father doing it all for his children, more than the mother, makes his role conspicuous to others, and there is a fair share of challenges all through. “However, much I’ve had to swallow my ego and deal with disapproving looks, snide comments from friends and relatives, and a general giving up of power, I feel blessed that I have been able to spend so much time with my children and dogs. Having children, watching them grow and experiencing with them the joys of the simple things in life helped me realize what life is truly about,” says Ramachandran.
It is a win-win situation for all three parties – the mother, the father and the kid. While the overworked mom gets a breather, dad his share of unique bonding and the kid thrives in an atmosphere of love and attention. “These children are bound to share a much deeper bond with their fathers. Besides, I think this will also reverse the archaic gender perceptions about fathers being the breadwinners while mothers being the nurturers, something we’ve unwittingly been passing on to our children,” advises Prasad.
Two-gether is the way
The tribe of penguin dads is growing because these men want to reverse the outdated concept of bracketing a mother as a nurturer and a father as a provider because these gender-defined roles have blurred. Sitesh fondly remembers how his equation with Abhisha and Naysha is in complete contrast to what he shared with his dad. “I like it this way – open, warm and affable,” he says. Like Ramendu, Ramachandran too believes in gender agnostic parenting and says, “Men being involved in the raising their children is the way it ought to be. It is challenging enough to leave it to just one person. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and all that.. the more hands, the better.”
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But Prasad is amazed and also amused to see only mothers flocking parenting workshops and sessions. She encourages both parents to attend such sessions or their children’s PTMs or school events to keep parenting even-keeled. “It goes a long way in boosting the child’s confidence and self-worth besides strengthening their bond. When both parents work as a team to bring up their children, the child grows upon the firm foundations of love, understanding and belief in each other. Such children grow up to display positive traits,” she reasons.