Modern parenting demands accessible father

first_imgA crisp Saturday morning in Baroda, and around 150 men have turned up to chat and mingle. It’s not just any conference. Fathers all, they have been roped in by their employer, ABB Ltd, the power and automation giant, to hear Rajalakshmi Sriram talk about fathering. Set amidst the sprawling,A crisp Saturday morning in Baroda, and around 150 men have turned up to chat and mingle. It’s not just any conference. Fathers all, they have been roped in by their employer, ABB Ltd, the power and automation giant, to hear Rajalakshmi Sriram talk about fathering. Set amidst the sprawling expanse of Maneja on the outskirts of the city, everything has an ultramodern sheen. But the chic wood-and-steel dcor, which usually crackles with professional energy, looks laidback and carefree today. Colourful posters hang on every corner, pushing for “child-plus-plus” attitude. Sriram, who teaches at the department of human development and family studies in MS University, belongs to the rare breed of scholars exploring the idea of fatherhood in modern India. She begins her PowerPoint slideshow: “Are You an Effective Father?” The dads fidget and cough.Himanshu Chakrawart , 40, COO, ChennaiTalk about catching the moment. If career moms’ struggles make daily headlines, the buzz around fatherhood is getting louder. “Women’s liberation has slowly but surely changed the context and substance of men’s lives,” points out psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar. And dads, as the Baroda session indicates, are rising to the challenge. Expressing regret at not being able to balance work and fatherhood, they are talking about the need to be more involved with their children and trying to renegotiate their lives to allow for effective parenting. An ACNielsen survey this year revealed 74 per cent Indian men do not want work to take up all their time. And 50 per cent crave more time with family. Says Kakar, “This is one of the most striking changes associated with modernity in India”-a theme that underpins his just-released book, The Indians: Portrait of a People. In the West, a similar ferment saw the birth of Men’s Studies a decade back, questioning traditional forms of masculinity. In India, too, a redefinition of fatherhood seems to be underway.Why are dads stressed out?advertisementNew economic forces, such as global competition, create an increasingly fluid job market. It demands committed employees at a time when loyalty is low. Salaries are zooming, but hiring and firing are easier. Dads work longer hours to prove their indispensability.Shoulder more responsibility and risk or slide down the economic ladder, says the market. It prefers nimble, younger people with constantly adaptable skills. Dads are under pressure to acquire new skills and work towards a greater future.Invasive technology-from vibrating BlackBerrys, always-on Internet connectivity, to midnight teleconferencing with colleagues abroad-makes it harder for dads to detach from work at home.More moms enter the workforce.For every five men, there is one woman who works in an income generating activity in urban India today. Dads are left scrambling to become the full-fledged co-parents their wives now need them to be.Modern parenting, post-globalisation, demands a more accessible father. Families are child-centric, children don’t hold dads in awe. Fathers are not expected to be just the providers and disciplinarians. Caught between old values and new, dads are confused.The biggest pressure on dads comes from the new competitive global economy. The fluid job market makes more demands and fewer promises. “It requires people to shoulder more responsibilities and risk,” says Himanshu Chakrawarti, 40, COO of Landmark in Chennai, and an overstretched dad, “People are willing to work longer hours for a better future.” Office space has also become more comfortable and conducive for work. “The intrusion of technology-the Internet, e-mails and mobile phones- makes it harder to detach from work,” points out the IIT-IIM alumnus.And the family bears the brunt. For many years, a 40-something operations executive with HSBC (who spoke on condition of anonymity) played by his hard-driving boss’s rules-“living at work”, as he describes it. Then one weekend, his young son fell and cut his knee. To his shock and dismay, the child refused to let the father comfort him. In fact, he treated him like a stranger. The event was a turning point. Although fearful for his job, he approached his boss and said that he had let slip the singlemost important priority in his life-a close relation with his son.”Judge me by the quality of my work, not the amount of time I spend in office,” he said. The request led to an uproar, but it probably helped the bank put people first. HSBC today is one of the few companies in India with employee-friendly, flexible policies.Guilt and regret are the by-word in many a dad’s life. Take a day in the life of Rajeev Ramachandra, 40, of Bangalore. As founder of Mistral Software, an embedded software product company with offices around the world, he’s on call 24X7. He logs in at work by 9 a.m. and leaves almost 12 hours later, bringing work home every day and working for at least two hours. That leaves him with an hour or so of free time, when he tries to relax, have his evening meals and spend time with his children. This, mind you, is one of his better parenting days. Nearly three weeks every quarter he’s on tour. “I feel I don’t give my children enough time. I try hard to keep my weekends free for them,” Ramachandra says ruefully.advertisementConsider L. Viswanathan, 35, partner with leading Mumbai law firm Amarchand & Mangaldas. His work easily takes up 14 hours on a weekday, most Saturdays and sometimes Sundays. Nearly four times a month it takes him away from home. “It’s painful when your little girl cries and clings to you every morning to stop you from going to work,” he says. Little Sivaranjani runs a moody eye over her dad: “Daddy is always in office.”A gaggle of similarly harried men stream through the consulting room of Dr Aniruddha Deb, a psychiatrist in Kolkata. “Most of them have winning careers, are in their late 30s or 40s, work round the clock, spend long hours in office, are busy on the BlackBerry or the Internet at home, and often on the phone with colleagues across the seas at unearthly hours.” In most cases, the “index patients” are children. Fathers come either because children’s “grades are falling”, or they are getting “difficult to handle”. But in the course of counselling it often appears that it’s the father’s physical or mental absence that’s at the root of the crisis.The ‘overstretched dad’ is undoubtedly a by-product of modern parenting. “It’s the shifting contours of the post-globalisation family that have created new circumstances for modern parents,” says sociologist Radhika Chopra of Delhi University. Fifty years ago, parenting was simpler for men. As the sole breadwinner, a dad’s responsibilities typically ceased the moment he crossed the threshold of his home. The father was more aloof and emotionally more detached. The breakdown of the joint family has lessened the father-child distance. The modern father, Chopra points out, “is no longer the patriarch at home”.BlackBerry vibrates. Call from dad’s US office for a meeting via teleconferencing. A deal needs to be finalised by following day. Dad struggles to go back to sleep. 6.30a.m.Alarm goes off. Dad wakes up groggy and decides to go for a jog. Fires off SMS-es to his staff before sprinting into the crosswalk with his i-Mate. Perfect time to grab the boss’s ear. 7:15a.m.Dad wakes the kids up for breakfast, catches the news on the telly, keeps an eye on the toddler and takes a look at 10-year-old son’s class project. Rushes to get ready for office. 9:30a.m.Dad logs in at office. Late by a half hour today. Got delayed by his baby crying and clinging on to his trouser leg. Nasty traffic snarl in front of older boy’s school, too. 7:30p.m.advertisementConference call with the US office ends. Dad feels obliged to go out for a drink with colleagues and clients. He calls it a day and logs off. 9 p.m.Dad arrives home. About an hour of playtime. Dad cuddles, reads stories, listens and also supervises math homework. He tries to relax and takes his meal. 10 p.m.Children in bed. Dad brings work home during the week (tries hard to keep the weekends free). He tries to wrap up a project for his forthcoming tour.Dad and mom watch television for a while. Dad usually finds it hard to switch off. But tonight, dad is out like a light the moment his head touches the pillow.The result is that the idea of the family, the hierarchy within it and the expectations from it are turning upside-down. “Kids don’t seem to hold fathers in awe anymore,” points out Dr Jitendra Nagpal, consultant psychiatrist with VIMHANS, Delhi. “Families are much more child-centric now and children are quick to grasp this.” He has had disgruntled teenagers telling him, “My father is a Sunday Father. I see him only on Sundays.” In a study conducted this year on 1,460 adolescents by VIMHANS, children’s disappointment with fathers comes across clearly: 73 per cent prefer to discuss issues troubling them with friends, and only 13 per cent with parents. They cite an absentee father as the reason for shunning the parental ear. In yet another VIMHANS study in 2005, teachers across the country claimed, 70 to 80 per cent of fathers do not turn up at parent-teacher meetings in schools. Kolkata’s Harshvardhan Neotia, 45, doesn’t remember the last time he attended a parent-teacher meeting. The industrialist rues that he is proba-bly one of those Sunday fathers for his 11-year-old twins, Parthiv and Paroma: “I’m lucky if I can say ‘hi’ to them on weekdays.” But the son has started asking for more time these days, says his wife Madhu: “As a solution, Harsh sometimes takes Parthiv to office.” Meantime, Neotia continues to be plagued by remorse: “There are some men who can take care of everything and still be home for dinner. I never seem to manage it.”The sense of guilt pushes some men to overcompensate children with expensive gifts. Chakrawarti, for example, recently bought a toy-scooter scooter for Rs 5,000 on his three-yearold daughter Anaya’s birthday (“She knows how to get me to say yes to everything”). Deb narrates the case of a father whose plastic parts business with Tata Motors left him with no time in hand. To compensate, he would ‘bribe’ his teenage son with a car, unlimited pocket money, even membership access for playing golf at his club. The son did not misbehave or lose interest in studies. “He just lost interest in his parents,” says Deb, “He was totally detached from anything at home.” The father made serious efforts to build bridges, but it was too late to reinvent the wheel. Psychiatrist N. Rangarajan of Chennai is not surprised. “It’s a common mechanism for fathers to compensate for their absence from home,” he says, “but very often it harms the way a child grows up and forms relationships as an adult.”Rajeev Ramachandra, 40, Mistral Software, BangaloreMuch more alarming is the way new research quantifies the effects of this physical or emotional absenteeism. In March, British scientists analysing thousands of babies born around the turn of the millennium claimed that children with absentee fathers score lower on tests of empathy, reasoning and brain development. They behave more aggressively, are more likely to have trouble forming relationships and are more reluctant to take responsibility for misbehaviour.In 2002, the US National Center for Policy Analysis had concluded such children were up to three times more likely to engage in a criminal activity, and a 1993 Harvard study had showed that the amount of time a father spent with his children could affect their ability at math and sports.The bottom line is, fathers are in conflict. Sriram calls them “transient, confused fathers” caught between changing worlds: “They were brought look at childcare as a woman’s job, they received no training in fathering, and they are confused about the longterm effects of adopting modern ways.” Studies show how conflicting ideas of parental roles within the family create further confusion. Sociologist G.N. Ramu of the University of Manitoba in the US has analysed how for many Indian women allowing a man to take up childcare violates their self-image as competent mothers and wives. In 2005, when Sriram interviewed 50 parents in Baroda, 38 per cent cited job context (lack of time, work pressure) for not being an active parent; 30 per cent mentioned “unsuitable temperament” and “lack of skills” to be an effective father; 21 per cent rooted for the fathers’ tendency to “escape from certain tasks” easily.What cuts away the ground beneath men’s feet further is the entry of women in the workforce. For every five men, there is one woman who works in an income-generating activity in urban India today. Having two incomes may have brought economic benefits to countless families and given women opportunities for fulfilment, but it has left men scrambling to become the fullfledged co-parents their wives now need them to be. A study shows that Indian men today pitch in 16 hours a week in housework-up from 1.2 hours in 1965. But the real crunch lies elsewhere for professional couples with matching incomes. “The sense of masculinity, more than fathering, goes up for re-negotiation,” says Chopra. Take Chakrawarti and his wife Raka, a PR professional. While she believes he should spend more time with their child, he thinks he does his best: “My wife may not agree with me, but I play with my daughter, read her stories and take her out whenever I can.””Whenever I can” is the operative phrase and professional economist, Omkar Goswami, feels most dads are overstretched because they don’t know how to prioritise their time. “Even at Infosys, which is known for its productivity, 95 per cent of men leave office by 7.30 p.m.,” says the man who figures on the board of directors of the company. “The legendary Narayana Murthy, founder of Infosys, always had the time to mentor his daughter’s education.” It also has to do with the New Age notion of ‘the complete man’, feels professor Mangesh Kulkarni of the University of Pune, who’s also the convener of the Forum for the Study of Men & Masculinities. There is a greater “civil privatism” in men’s lives today-“a withdrawal into the shell of private, family life and activities centred on shopping and consumption, rather than public engagements on which men used to spend a good deal of their time and energy earlier.”L.Viswanathan, 35, partner, Amarchand Mangaldas, MumbaiYet, for most fathers, salvation lies in the world of work. While the concept of progressive programmes is catching up worldwide, there is no law in force in India which entitles a father to balance work and home. A random check reveals that most corporates grant paternity leave for as little as two days to a maximum of three months. But already there are murmurs of change. HSBC bank has initiated measures-childcare centres to flexi hours to longer paternity leave. NDTV is a rare media company that provides for crches. The IT sector, home to the ‘best employers’ in India, is pushing for incentive packages, which include paternity leave. Some, like ABB, include fathering in social responsibility agenda.The easiest formula for men to improvise ways of boosting the time they spend with their children is to learn from their working spouse and be more like a woman. A tough call in a macho Indian society, made tougher in today’s highly competitive work culture, where staying late at work is considered a sign of an employee’s status and importance in a company. For most dads it’s the menopause syndrome all over again-does he pause at work and spend more time at home or will that mean losing out on the fatter paycheck, the fancier car, the promotion? Till that dilemma is resolved, the tribe of Transient Confused Fathers can only increase.last_img

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