As promised, here is Part 2 of the ongoing Men's Day festivities here at Womaning in India. Those of you who missed it can go back and read Part 1 here, in which women shared the stories of men in their lives who have made womaning a bit easier for all the women around them by just being the kind, affectionate, caring men that they are.
Here is a challenge though - if someone asked us to close our eyes and think of the words "kind, caring, affectionate", most of us would probably think of a woman. A mother, most likely.
Who decided that mothers get the copyright on kindness, love, care, compassion?
This week, I spoke to some men who are proving - through the lives they are living - that caregiving is not something a woman has a monopoly over. That parenting is a gender-neutral verb. And most importantly, that dads can run the pee, poop, and puke business as well as moms can.
Destroying the fabric of Indian society (from home)
When Gautam's daughter was six months old, his wife's maternity leave ended and she had to go back to work. By this time, Gautam had worked for seven years in the non-profit sector. He decided to take a break from his career and stay at home with his daughter.
"It was a decision that my wife and I made and did not include any other stakeholders. The choice was centred around our daughter spending her early years with a parent around. I was at a stage in my career where I was looking for a pause and this offered a peg to do exactly that."
If you are wondering how a day in the life of a stay-at-home-dad goes, here is a glimpse.
"Usually, I would take my daughter for walks, sometimes to her grandparents' place. I would make sure she gets her bath, eats, and naps at the right time and has enough play before winding down for the night. I would also instruct the domestic help. And since I love cooking, I would often prepare breakfast myself."
"Perhaps my only concern, when I took the decision to be a stay-at-home dad, was whether all of this would boil down to just a series of chores- feeding the baby, bathing her, putting her to sleep, etc. But what I didn't account for was that it would be a delightful and joyous experience for me as a father."
Surprise surprise. Turns out, stay-at-home dads do pretty much exactly what stay-at-home moms do.
"I don't see why we need to stick to some predefined roles that society has decided for us. Of course there are certain things only a mother can do, but fathers also have an important role to play and their input is as important. Men are expected to be the primary financial providers which can be as restrictive as the homemaker role thrust on women."
And while their families supported the decision Gautam and his wife had taken for their own model of parenting, not everyone understood it or appreciated it as well.
"I was described as a ‘house-husband’ as if it was a derogatory thing. But quitting my job helped me get rid of the worst addiction in the world — the paycheque. I had to ask my wife for money. It is not easy for the male ego. But once I succeeded in embracing it, it was the most liberating experience."
"In hindsight, the further away someone was from us, the less they understood our decision. I have had strangers come up to me and ask if I was a single parent. They would ask 'Where is the mother of this child?' Once, I was invited to participate in a debate on NDTV in which the other panelists told me that stay-at-home-dads were destroying the very fabric of society!"
Gautam went back to work once his daughter started pre-school but remains a hands-on father who thinks hands-on fathering is nothing to be celebrated.
"The flip side of all this criticism is also true - the few men who do take a call to be primary caregivers to their children are unnecessarily lauded and pedestal-ised when it should be normalised. There is a lot of glory and adulation attached to childcare when a man is the one doing it, which isn't necessary according to me."
“Being a man is about compassion”
Amol is a work-from-home dad.
"My wife and I still share parenting responsibilities equally. I just take care of my son when she goes to office.
Amol used to have a high-pressure job that involved a lot of travel. In 2015, Amol and his wife lost a pregnancy.
"I could not let my wife go through it alone. So I decided to look for roles that allowed me to spend more time with her after the episode. We were blessed with a baby boy in 2017. We wanted to figure out how to split our time so that our child gets the best care possible. My work was remote and mostly fell in the American timezone, so my day was dedicated to taking care of both my son and my wife. We also had help from grand parents which made life much easier."
Six months later, Amol's wife started going to the office again.
"After that, I decided to restrict my work hours exclusively after 7pm. This way, I would be with my son during the day and my wife could take over once she was back."
It never occurred to Amol that this was a sacrifice he was making.
"We knew we were simply doing what was best for the family. I always wanted to shape my child's growing years. I wanted minimal involvement of a completely unknown person in the formative years. So it was all just a natural progression for me."
In the pre-covid era, when Amol made this decision to work entirely from home in order to take care of his child, no one around him understood the concept at all.
"People would ask me what do I even do! They thought my work was some random low time job. I received comments like 'no real work happens remotely' and 'you are sacrificing your career for some stupid reason'. I never tried to reason or change anyone's opinion. In my mind I was always clear that I what I was doing was the right decision for me and my family."
Amol says that not just our societal mindset, but even our infrastructure is designed keeping in mind only mothers as primary caregivers.
"I take my son out to play in the parks, to malls for his shopping, and everywhere else. Our public infrastructure is heavily influenced by our stereotypes. For example, in a mall, the baby changing room is always inside the women's washroom - there just isn't one in the men's room. The same goes for our airports."
Amol's son is three years old now.
"I will never get these three years back again. In these years, I have seen my son grow each day and each second of his life. At this age, every day is a new milestone, and I feel privileged to have been there to see the entirety of it."
Amol has a simple message for Men's Day.
"Once, I was carrying my son in a baby carrier in a mall. I was feeding him, changing him, and he was being very cranky through it all. I was getting very flustered. An old woman came upto me, just smiled and said, 'You are doing great. Everything will be ok. Parenting is hard.' She did not make any comments about my gender or my role. Just plain kindness. That is what being a man should be about.”
“Men, don't let the media or years of social conditioning define how you should be a man. Be a man through your actions and compassion, for your partner and for your family. Masculinity does not need any other definition."
Pops in a Pod
Peter and Nadir run a podcast called Pops in a Pod.
Nadir says, "We started Pops in a Pod to share dad-experiences and to bring out stories of modern men - mostly fathers - who are doing everything needed of them with humility and no expectations in return, because they know that it's the right thing to do, especially when it comes to parenting."
A recent study showed that 39% of people in India think that being a stay-at-home dad makes one "less of a man". When I told them about the study, Peter said that the only surprise for him in this statistic is that it seems too low.
"In my experience, this number is probably north of 50%. And this is coming from someone who has lived in a metro city all along. Personally, I've always told my wife that I would have loved to be a stay-at-home dad and take care of my son because that is something I genuinely enjoy. I don't think that it makes anyone less of a man at all. When we look at parenting, there is no 'Dad roles' or 'Mom roles'. It's about the two of you doing everything together and bringing up your children together."
Peter says that multiple surveys have shown that the involvement of both parents helps develop a child's mind better.
"I don't think there is any one definition of masculinity. What we see in media and social media is kind of warped. On Men's Day, five brands will put out an ad saying 'men don't need to be tough'. But why only on Men's Day? Why is this not being talked about every day? I think more important than what a copywriter wrote on one day of the year is what he tells his son every day of the year about what it means to be a man."
Nadir adds, "In today's day and age we do not have the space for statements like, 'if you do this, you'll be less of a man and if you do that you'll be more of a man'. Today, being a quintessential man means taking up responsibilities that help push the society forward in the right direction, either as a son, a brother, a husband or a father."
"I have an issue with men who say 'now that I have a wife and/or a daughter, I will stand up for so-and-so cause'. Why? Other women, not related to you weren't worth it, is it?"
I asked Peter and Nadir to share some of their favourite episodes of their podcast for this piece.
Here is the episode where ‘Peter Pop’ and ‘Nadir Pop’ talk with author Rajat Mittal about his books and his monthly newsletter - Boyish - which discusses how gender stereotypes affect boys in India and shares inspirational stories of Indian men who defied these stereotypes.
And in this one, they speak with Pratha Shetty, the author of “When I grow up” - a children's colouring book that can help them learn about inspiring women from around the world. In the episode, they talk with Partha about the role of men and women in our society and what we all need to do, to give courage - not just to our children - but to each other.
Happy Men’s Day dobara, all ye beautiful men!
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