Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers Day Special: 'To Fathers Who Are Also On Mothers'

By M H Ahssan
Group Editor in Chief
INNLIVE speaks to a few unconventional fathers who have embraced fatherhood by rolling up their sleeves and taking on the added responsibility of also being a mother to their children.

Tarun Dev was a worried man. Days before his son Rohan had his first day at kindergarten, Tarun was certain the three-and-a-half-year-old would make a fuss about wearing the tie that was part of his uniform. So Tarun and Rohan's biological grandmom (who is also Tarun's house help) had a make-believe birthday celebration for Rohan: he was told that his uniform, complete with tie, was his birthday attire and that he had to wear it before he cut the cake.
He happily slipped into the clothes. Since Rohan had worn the tie just a few days earlier, getting him to wear this constricting piece of garment on day one of kindergarten was easy-breezy.

Such incidents are landmarks that dot the landscape of Tarun's life. “There was no meaning to life after my mother passed away... it was a vacuum,” shares the healthcare entrepreneur. “But Rohan's presence makes me very much at ease in life.”

Not one to care about labels, the bachelor-cum-foster father is more concerned about rearing Rohan in a healthy and loving environment and creating opportunities for him to learn and grow. If this entails sending Rohan to an art class or story-time on the weekends, Tarun takes on typical ‘mommy duties’ of finding out the whom-what-where of such activities. “I actively seek help, be it from neighbours, from moms of other kids, from friends and their wives.”

Like Tarun, Basur Kiran is a single dad, one who has had many years of practice. He and his wife had to split ways days after their son was born, nearly a decade ago. And “everything was a challenge”. Basur has gone through the grind, right from ensuring a regular supply of formula milk and laxatives to bathing Rohan the first time in a kitchen utensil. The father-and-son’s first family holiday was when Rohan was two-and-a-half years old.

Independent individuals
While it’s not been easy, it has helped that Basur stays with his mother so “if Rohan needs a hug from a woman or some pampering, she’s always around”. It’s another matter that his mother wanted him to re-marry. “She was driven by fear. Over time, she has gained confidence that we are bringing him up well,” shares Basur. “It may not be conventional, but we do the best we can.” This includes ensuring that Rohan grows up to be a responsible and self-reliant person. For instance, he was able to bathe without supervision at an early age and since last year, has been able to stay home alone after school hours. “These small things free me up mentally,” says Basur.

Miles away from Basur-and-Rohan’s Bangalore house, in suburban Mumbai, Ariel D’Souza has taught his son Ansel “essential kitchen skills”. The almost-10-year-old can whip up omelettes and roll-out chapatis if need be. “During football, I tell him that if he falls, he should roll over and get up on his own… I’m not always going to be around to help him stand,” says Ariel, whose wife passed away in 2011.

But Ariel remembers essaying the dual role of mother and father ever since Ansel was born in 2005, because his wife’s delicate health meant she was bedridden most of the time. His day starts early, for he has to cook meals, pack lunch boxes, get himself and Ansel ready, drop him to school and then head to work. Evenings and weekends are reserved for homework, playing or household chores.

When two become one
Fatherhood for Ravi Kumar (name changed), has meant a new perspective on life. “It cannot be reduced to one word. It teaches you a lot about responsibility and most importantly, about priorities in life,” says the Mumbai resident. Add to that the fact that he has been essaying the role of a mother to his five-year-old since last year when the couple divorced, and the pressure is understandable.

"Regardless of whether I have custody of my child or not, I have to be there for him,” says the 35-year-old. “But it’s challenging to be the mom and the dad at the same time. There’s so much pressure... the moms at the school my son attends send museum-quality pieces even for a simple show-and-tell class. It’s crazy… like they are competing with one another. How am I to deal with that?”

For Basur, being mom and dad is about striking that precarious balance between being strict and stern and mushy and mellow. “It is difficult. When it comes to homework, I am a disciplinarian. Otherwise, we connect on a very emotional level. He can come to me for anything,” says Basur.

Ariel points out that Ansel was born in tough times and has grown up into a strong child. He is also close to one of Ariel’s friend and his wife, whom he refers to as mamma and goes on holidays with. “But he misses his mother too. We often sit down with her photograph and talk to her,” shares Ariel. “Sometimes he sits on my lap to rest his head against my chest as if I were his mom, and fondle my nipples. It is awkward, but I let him have it... there’s no other option.”

Work-life balance
For Ravi, who ensures that he tucks his son into bed every night, challenges crop up on the social front. “Am I to live like a 35-year-old single guy or like a father?” he poses. “If I have to take care of my child, I have to let go off my social life and revolve around him, which I am happy to.”

Ariel and Basur have both had to make professional compromises. Ariel had to take time off to look after his ailing wife, and had to eventually quit. He returned to the same organisation three years later. Basur had to quit his 9-to-9 job in the hospitality sector because the nature of his work didn’t allow for flexible timings. “I don't think Indian society is up to the mark where they understand the problems that single parents face,” he says. “I chose the NGO sector so I can work from home on some days.”

Small joys
Being a single parent, most agree, forces you to bid adieu to exasperation and anger, and cultivate reserves of patience. “When we went to watch Jurassic World recently, my son had a constant commentary on the dinosaurs – why, what, why, what. Sometimes he would answer the questions himself,” laughs Ravi while admitting that had this come from some other kid, “I wonder if I would’ve put up with it”.

Ariel recalls the time Ansel gave him a surprise birthday party in 2012. “He made me a card and with the help of my friend, ordered a cake… I don’t otherwise celebrate my birthday, but this one was special.”

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