By Pratik Shah
Talking about fatherhood, let me go back where I come from – maybe I can start with my childhood. As soon as I would hear my dad’s motorcycle approach the driveway, I would sprint out of the house and we would zoom off for the day’s ride. Those were the days when TV wasn’t as much a distraction as it is today. I am talking about the single-channel Doordarshan days, when owning a black-and-white Crown TV was still a luxury. Internet existed only in US defence labs and smartphones weren’t even conceptualised. My parents had all the time for me and my siblings.
That seemed just a way of life when I was growing up. Then Mr Moore struck us with his law. Computing power continue to double every two years as he predicted and all of us came under the influence of the shrinking, but increasingly powerful transistors. Now we carry a powerful computing device with us all the time. Work follows us everywhere we go. Just like a giant mainframe of the 1960s, we’re trying to allocate our scarce resources to being a spouse, parent, professional and son or daughter. We end up acting like a juggler at times, trying to balance the various aspects of life and are not always able to hold everything together all the time. The ‘time for self‘ isn’t even a consideration here.
So, little over a decade ago, when I entered into the new role of a father, I had to go through the statutory roller-coaster myself. As I went about managing the chaos, I often saw the twinkle in my children’s eyes and at times felt the warmth in their hugs, even felt their silent anger for me not living up to some of promises made to them. I was not escaping. I simply didn’t have the time to address them.
Yes, gone are the ‘my father’ days. Today’s world is not easy for fathers. Distractions abound. Whether you’re employed or run a business of your own, uncertainty is the new normal. Families have gone nuclear and you don’t stay with your parents anymore. Our presence and their needs are still a priority. Women of the house today, typically have their own occupations, apart from their household duties. Children have school, sports and extracurricular activities. There’s only a small window for ‘togetherness’.
Think about it, back in the good old days or my father’s days, there still was only a small ‘window’ for togetherness. But through that time window, fathers and mothers were intrinsically present; always available. They had enough and more time for children. It wasn’t just about them being physically around. Now, while the window does exist, we are busy. If not with work, then with our smartphones, busy updating stuff that the rest of the world doesn’t really care about anyways. The ‘window of togetherness’ has simply vanished and the unfortunate part is that the society has more or less come to terms with this and accepted this as a new normal.
And one day it suddenly dawned upon me, I was in a race with priorities all over but the one place it should have been. The song ‘Cats in the Cradle’ came to my mind: Little boy blue and the man in the moon | When you coming home, dad? | I don’t know when | But we’ll get together then | You know we’ll have a good time then
I realised that being a father was more than just being physically present with my head dug in work, my smartphone or my laptop. And I embarked on a journey of fatherhood in the world of today. Nothing can replace spending quality time with your children. Nothing can replace your absolute presence – physical as well emotional. And nothing can replace the family.
So here are a few tips for being a better father in today’s era. I propose these with absolute authority and responsibility as I practice all of these myself.
1. The smartphone is your enemy after a time; cut off. Memorise this!
2. Reach home in time to be with family, children. Disconnect internet from your smartphone. Don’t worry. The world will still exist when you wake up the next day, and if there’s an emergency, someone will call you.
3. Have dinner with the kids. Indulge in small talk. Tell them about your work, in a way they understand.
4. How about watching TV – no, not Netflix, a kids’ show o regional entertainment channel may be more fun – with kids, if they’re interested, or even better, a board game, an activity together?
5. Discuss what’s happening at school, ask if they learnt something with a ‘wow’ factor. Make sure your tone is humorous and does not sound interrogative.
6. At bedtime, I think narrating stories (can be real or fictional, but need not be very longish) really help their fertile imagination.
7. In the mornings, drop them off to school instead of a school bus (if not too far). Have quality talk with them on the way to school.
8. Friday nights can be more fun with kids and a sci-fi movie on TV.
9. On weekends, the best way to get the most out of weekends with children could be shutting your internet off your mobile phone.
10. Children love board games – not all fathers realise this. Play with them.
Go out to the beach, to the garden…play football, cricket or maybe try a flying disc. Get a small drone (not too expensive) and teach your children how to fly them or work with them on a DIY kit; get them interested in science.
Most importantly, amidst all this, talk to them continuously – keep the communication open. Let them express themselves freely. Laugh with them. Teach them love. Teach them to broaden their minds, to acknowledge and accept different cultures, habits and perspectives that form the world. Teach them to be tolerant of other cultures. While kids are generally curious, keep them stimulated enough so that their curiosity sustains. And help them satisfy their curiosities.
If you need time for yourselves, figure out a schedule. Wake up early in the morning for your personal two hours, or stay awake till late at night, whatever works for you.
And one day our sons and daughters will fondly remember their childhoods just as well, just as I remember mine, and you yours. And they will end up being better citizens of the world too. The world of tomorrow certainly can be a better place. And somehow it’s all upon us fathers to ensure that!
(The writer is Head of Marketing, InstaReM and author of The Pulwama Aftermath.)