I first read about the “Myth of the hands-on Daddy” in Lalita Iyer’s wonderfully fun book “I’m pregnant not terminally ill, YOU IDIOT!” (https://www.facebook.com/ImPregnantNotTerminallyIllYouIdiot) and as much as I laughed-till-I-peed at the chapter, it made me kind of want to kill her for bursting the bubble I had around my head all throughout pregnancy, where I imagined my husband Abhi sharing in absolutely all things baby, right from the maalish and baths to the diaper changes and quality dad-only dates with the li’l one. The beatific images I had nurtured in my mind of Baba watching bub while Mommy took a bubble bath quickly faded away as I nodded my head in agreement with her about being too quick to praise our men for things as simple as taking a walk with the baby or watching them while we took a quick shower.
As our daughter reached the one year old milestone, I decided to assess husband dearest on the hands-on daddy scale; here again, Lalita’s wonderful pointers (read her post here) came in handy to see whether I could award him that prestigious certification or not.
(Bated breath as the jury goes out to decide upon a verdict)
Annnnddd…… yes! Maybe a partial and very much in love yes, but oh yes truly and I don’t want to jinx my blessedness by posting this, but I can truthfully say that my partner makes a wonderful hands-on-daddy, right from preparing healthy home-cooked meals to bath and bedtime rituals.
I would not have had half as much fun being a mother, had I not had a supportive and equally involved partner to share this turbulent ride with. As I write this I am filled with the deepest admiration for single parents who become father-mother-caretaker-finance-provider all rolled into one and do amazing jobs of raising their kids. I don’t know if I would be able to do that, and if I ever did, that I would find it as rewarding or enriching as I do now.
Just after Rumi was born, I went through a phase of feeling low and depressed, and then severe pangs of guilt and bewilderment for feeling like this when I was supposed to feel elated. I was staying at mum’s but terribly homesick for my husband and my in-laws where I had spent the last trimester on bed rest. I would feel like the worst mother ever for even wondering if I would ever be filled with unconditional love looking at my child, something that had not happened at first sight in the hospital. In a time where my own parents looked at me like I was crazy, Abhi stood beside me like a rock, defending me when I didn’t want to cuddle the baby right then, taking me out when I couldn’t bear being at home anymore and always always comforting me and holding me when I broke down. Here is a poem that he wrote for me in those early days after Rumi’s birth:
Out of nowhere did a window appear
and it opened.
The glance it gave,
the field it showed
We sat by the window, you and i
day and night
month by month.
We watched its sun
and loved its stars….
And then seasons changed.
The window is now a door….
And it’s open…
Shall we step into it, you and i?
Shall we do it together?
Shall I hold your hand, and you mine?
And trust that it will all be fine?
As it has always turned out to be, with you…
I know it will be great, even as
we grow to three, from just two…
Right from those days of breastfeeding when all Rumi did was suckle and sleep, Abhi would wake up with me in the nights, give me a cup of hot chocolate, a loving hug, and prop his legs up for me to rest my back as I fed the baby. It naturally didn’t make sense for both of us to be up, especially as he was the one who had to be at work early the next morning. It was irrational and unreasonable. But in those first few months of hazy, bone-aching soreness, rationale and sense were not as important as that loving gesture was. Even now, when I remember those nights, I feel a sense of love and camaraderie. I remember us whispering to each other and sighing as we lay down again. Most of all I remember enjoying those difficult nights, simply because they were shared with a loved one. The thermos of hot chocolate, the hand on my shoulder… all said “We are in this together.” What a wonderful feeling, that.
When Rumi was seven months old, I had to go to Munich for two weeks. Abhiraj took time off from work and looked after the baby. We didn’t have to ask my mother or his mother or any member of our extended family to stay with him or look into things. It was with him that Rumi first tasted her vegetable and fruit purees. Guided by our wonderful pediatrician, Abhi coaxed carrots and beetroots into Rumi’ s mouth, while I sat in a seminar in a different part of the world. He gave her baths and put her to bed, in the crook of his arm. After I came back, I was only too willing to take over everything, having missed her so much, but Rums was more than happy to snuggle to Baba. She is content to be fed, bathed or put to bed by either parent, which means we can happily alternate between baby duties, other household chores and breaks.
I think this kind of shared parenting is what makes both of us better parents. Regular breaks from our little girl give us the opportunity to cook, relax, miss reading to her in bed and look forward to the next night when it’s our turn. When one of us is turning in early with her (she is one snuggly puppy, who will not sleep without skin contact), we do not feel resentment at missing out on a night with friends or a TV show because we know we can look forward to it the next day. I regularly get evenings to myself where Baba takes Rumi to visit Ajji and Grandpa across the street. The same way, he has his TV watching and surfing do-not-disturb time slots on weekends where I completely takeover. And Sundays – glorious Sundays – belong to only the two of us and Rumi spends time with her grandparents. What a win-win situation!
Between the two of us, I am more clinical, guided by books and the internet. My husband’s caretaking flows freely and spontaneously. He allows her to play in the mud, sit down in puddles with stray puppies and feed them from her fingers. I carefully choose her dainty dresses and clips; he lets her roam about in her polka-dotted bloomers. I curate the best books I can find; he makes them come alive with theatrics and puppetry. I make the khichadi, he buys the ice-cream cone. I keep track of her vaccinations, he holds her in his arms at the doctor’s clinic. Rumi benefits from my organization and research and discipline and routine as she does from his free-spiritedness and zest for life and non-conformity and rule-breaking. By supporting each other and guiding each other on this unfamiliar terrain, we can both bring out the best in each other and provide Rums with two different, unique yet harmonious styles of parenting.
In a world that works beautifully on a law of balance with day and night and sun and rain, my husband is the perfect yin to my yang and I am grateful to be sharing this adventure called parenthood with him.