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Father's Day - Reflecting On The Evolution In The Role Of

A Father 

(An Indian American Take)                                             June 15th 2014

Father's Day

 (Photo Credit: Copyright desideewar)

We have witnessed three generations of fathers- our grandfathers (in India), our fathers (again, in India) and then the current generation of dads (will stick to those outside of India). Okay, perhaps that is not entirely true, for although we have seen our grandfathers' interaction with our parents, we know from what we hear, that what we saw was the much mellowed down versions of what they actually were as fathers when our parents were growing up. Growing up I would hear countless stories from the neighborhood aunties as well about how the parents of that generation- I should probably say- many parents from that generation, did not believe in 'sparing the cane'. The driving force of fatherhood was- 'Spare the cane and spoil the child'. The boys had it harder of course. There was no question of spoiling the child. The salient feature of the father-child relationship could probably be summarized as- 

1. Beware of the cane. 

2. There's no need for any discussion on any potentially embarrassing subject. 

3. There is no need for any display of affection- I provide you with food, shelter and clothing- don't I? 

Not to say, there was no love. The children felt loved and nurtured. Just that nobody knew any better. Loving was left to the lady of the house, while the man's role was to toughen the kids, be the authoritative figure in the kids' life, be the disciplinarian. Yes, good cop, bad cop was the principle of parenting, often attributed to the fact that the number of kids to manage, educate, feed, clothe were much higher, anywhere from 3 to 8. It couldn't have been easy for sure. There were fathers that weren't as strict and there were mothers who were stricter even. Whatever the relationship between the father and his kids, the remnant of it that we witnessed was pretty much the same all across- 1. there was a special tone of voice that was reserved for addressing the father. 2. No issues were ever brought up out in the open- the idea was to shove it under the rug. Discussing was akin to arguing. That wasn't respectable. Not at all.


Our fathers were very different from their own fathers. Parenting style had evolved to 'spare the cane'. Mother's role largely stayed the same, but father's role had drastically changed. We were pampered by our fathers and mothers alike. We grew up in our father's laps, learnt to walk on their bellies and reached for the stars on their shoulders. Our fathers had various different nick names for us. Our fathers played cards with us. Our fathers made 'chai' (tea) for us during our exam days. Our fathers discussed day, our plans, our future with us. Our fathers encouraged us on, supported our decisions, shared our disappointments and celebrated our achievements. All very openly, very expressively. One thing had not changed though. Apparently, there still wasn't any need to discuss anything that could get embarrassing- and that meant that the conversation barriers were the birds and the bees talk. We were at the mercy of anyone who was willing to impart the wisdom of procreation. I had a friend who had a young aunt who passed her the knowledge that she was kind enough to share with me in high school. Most of the friends tell tales of their first 'finding' through similar channels. Or at least some 'version' of the actual science. Myths and fictions did abound, but that's another story. Bottom line- dads didn't discuss dude stuff and moms merely mumbled the womanly stuff. I generalize the majority. There are exceptions to all scenarios presented here. Now, there was another aspect to this- since the knowledge didn't come from parents, the questions didn't go to them either. Unfortunately, neither did the issues. Many of my friends discuss how they never told their parents when they were harassed by street 'velas' (Delhi slang for people who have nothing to do), or inappropriately rubbed against by a pervert on the bus or even groped by someone they actually knew. We might not have taken incidents like these to our parents, but their love certainly brought us lot of security and confidence and a sense of leading a sheltered life even. 


Another common feature of the father (parent)-child relationship in our parents' generation was that most parents of that generation probably didn't constantly harp "I Love You" to their children. Not in that many words. After all, action speaks louder than words, right? However, their love was certainly felt in thousand different ways. Our fathers (parents) were and always will be the wind beneath our wings. Now that we have long left the nest, their role in our lives are still that of a guiding light. They are our friends. We might not have a special tone of voice to show our respect to them, but revere them we most certainly do.


Moving on to the current generation of dads. Let's define who we mean first. By current generation of dads, I mean anyone from first time dads to those whose kids attained puberty smack in the middle of the electronics age- when hand held smart gadgets have been just a fingertip away, in every kids' hands and there is information overload. So if you have one or more kid(s) at home now, you qualify. The dads these days are all about constantly reiterating "I Love You"- in that many words and more. They are expressive and they use the words. They are involved and they participate- right from changing their babies' diapers, doing their part in night-time feeds to keeping tab of their classes (be it 'kathak' or karate, 'bharat-natyam' or basketball), their SAT scores and beyond. Fathers these days treat their little girls as today's princesses and their little boys as mini heroes. And most importantly they make that effort of communicating. Mothers may be the 'go-to' person for questions and concerns, but fathers certainly aren't taking a back seat either. And kids know that and feel that. What about the bees and the birds discussions? Are fathers taking it upon themselves to educate their kids about when-to and how-to? Today's dads are ready to take on the talks about the opposite gender with their kids. He is ready to be equal partner in sex-educating the kids- at whatever level the need arises, to supplement the sex education provided by school. Here's where the father's role has evolved the most. In today's times, there is so much more at stake if fathers (parents) are not completely involved. In this age of easy access to both desired and undesired information, both sought and in your face information, it has become increasingly important for the father to take the role of both a teacher and a facilitator. In this age of easy access to both desired and undesired information, both sought and in your face information, it has become increasingly important for the father to, as a facilitator, guide his kids towards information sources/ websites that are reliable and appropriate to seek answers from with respect to sex education. And as a teacher, apart from supplementing the knowledge that the children acquire from sex education programs in school, it becomes his responsibility to teach his kids (especially sons) to not misuse the power of the technology, to constantly reiterate two basic principles when it comes to technology-

1. To never take picture/video of a girl (or boy for that matter) without her (his) consent (it's way too easy these days).

2. To never share/forward words/picture/video that is meant for him (her) alone (the means are many and the risks much higher these days- simply by virtue of the fact that millions can get access to something confidential within matter of minutes)

In today's age, just being a good role model does not suffice. And today's dads know that.


So what about the next generation of dads? Our kids- when they grow up to be one? Well, I think we all agree that they (if and when they choose to be one) will do well. They know they are the center of our universe and so they know the place kids have in the life of adults. We also agree that each subsequent generation of dads don't necessarily love their kids more, however, armed with the good they see growing up, combined with knowing what they missed and adding what each new era educates, they certainly take fatherhood a step further. Make that parenthood.


Happy father's day to all fathers and their families! 

(By Sonal Kulshrestha)

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