While growing up, my father was always around. Not just as someone who provided financial support, but also as my mother’s counterpart in the domestic and the family realm, largely because his job as a school teacher gave him the time he needed for his family. He didn’t wait for his turn to be asked for ‘help’ by my mother in case she fell sick – rather, he understood it as his prerogative to be a responsible father who looks after his kids’ education, health and other development dynamics. A father invested in the house and the children – that is what I grew up normalizing.
My bubble quickly burst when I learned about the families of my friends – families where fathers did not have the slightest clue about which class their kids went to or even the name of their school, let alone extra-curricular activities. A heteronormative family setting in an urban middle-class setting includes a man, woman and the kids (in case they have children). If they have children, the mother sometimes leaves her job, or sometimes doesn’t, depending upon the financial setting and other dynamics of the family.
The mother is usually called responsible for the education of the child, their health, their behaviour and even how a child turns out to be. “Ma ne kuch nai sikhaya?” (Didn’t your mother teach you anything?) is a commonplace sentence we all have heard being said to a child who fails to do anything ‘correctly’. Fatherhood, on the other hand, doesn’t demand much except financial support.
A father invested in the house and the children – that is what I grew up normalizing.
I was at an aunt’s house one day when her relatives dropped by with their newborn baby. Apparently, the mother was not holding her child right and my aunt started to teach her how to always support the baby’s head while holding her. Presently, the mother had to use the washroom and handed the child to her husband, who made the similar mistake of holding the child without providing neck support. My aunt responded to this by taking the child away from him. She explained that he wouldn’t be able to handle the baby and that it was okay.
If he wouldn’t be able to handle a child, then why did they plan on having one? Why was it okay for him to not know how to handle his own child? Why was it okay that he didn’t want to or wouldn’t be able to learn?
Also Read: Motherhood And The Work Life Balance
This real-life example is not the only time it is considered only a woman’s prerogative to look after the child. Advertisements for pregnancy tests and baby products are all aimed only at mothers – as if it is only the mothers who are making the babies!
The famous advertisement line from Prega News (a pregnancy test kit) went, “Ma banne ka ehsaas hota hai kuch khaas” (“Becoming a mother is a special kind of feeling”). Surely becoming a mother is the onset of a different life, but shouldn’t it be the same for the father too? Why do these ads comfortably toss the father out of the picture? Why is Papa banne ka ehsaas (the feeling of fatherhood) not special? Or parents banne ka ehsaas? When do we get to see ads which are inclusive of fathers?
Baby product advertisements are no different. It is always the mother bathing the child and caressing the baby. Sometimes the new mother’s mother is seen giving tips to her daughter on baby care. Of course, it is important to learn to take care of the newborn, but why must women always be expected to know it better than their husbands? Why are we afraid of letting fathers be sensitive towards their own child?
These advertisements reflect our patriarchal environment, where the mother is considered the only nurturer for the child. Most advertisements with family settings are always aimed at the mothers asking her to learn about all the right kind of products for her family.
Learning to parent a child is a lifelong process for the mother as well as for the father. But what is problematic is the demonization when a mother doesn’t know something about the childcare and the normalization of the father when he doesn’t know the same thing. When a father does invest in his child, we fawn over him and call his wife ‘lucky’, when in fact, it should just be ‘normal’. Where does this binary we’ve created place single fathers? It leaves no space in our imaginations for fathers occupying the role of nurturers.
In 2012, a petition titled “We are Dads, Huggies. Not Dummies” was filed against Huggies by a father (Chris Routly) in Pennsylvania. Huggies was accused of casting fathers as irresponsible parents by advertising that watching sports on TV was more important for the fathers rather than changing their child’s overflowing diapers. In response to this, Chris wrote in the petition letter “Is that what Huggies thinks dads do? We leave our children in overflowing diapers because sports is more important to us? Really?” While Huggies might have considered it as the obvious truth of the society, the petition slammed it as nothing but mockery and hurting the sentiments of fathers.
If the father wouldn’t be able to handle a child, then why did he plan on having one?
In some families, the fathers are allowed to stay away from child rearing, and in others, they are pushed away. I have a problem with both. We nurture the mother-child bond by allowing the mother to be all she can be – emotional, loving and responsible, while at the same time the father is denied these privileges.
If mothers’ love is what is required for the child, the father’s love is what completes that circle of love and care. Let’s not underestimate a father’s love and his capability to nurture his own child.