It is my father’s birthday (May 17th) and my first, very pungent post about feminism went up on a blog.
Last night after I sang a lengthy "Happy Birthday" rendition for him over the phone he very sweetly asked me why my mum received so many honorable mentions in my articles while he didn’t. I told him it was because I wrote about feminism. "I’m a feminist too" he answered in all sincerity and I chuckled but it did make me reminisce about how and why my own early opinions of feminism, man-woman relationships and marriage in general, blossomed.
My dad, I suddenly realized, had a lot to do with my own expectations from men. When I tell people that I expect a man to respect my intellect, my social status and not be threatened by it, they shake their heads incredulously. The only reason, I still continue to believe that men like that exist is simply because of my father.
On a rainy afternoon, when I was in kindergarten, my father told me that every person should be able to describe themselves in one word.
"Just one?" I asked, immediately starting to think of all the wonderful things that defined me.
"What word describes you?" I suddenly asked my dad.
"Self-made" he said without missing a beat.
"You made yourself?" I asked in amazement and he smiled nodding.
As I grew older I found out what "self-made" truly meant. At my sixteenth birthday, I told him that I remembered the incident.
"You do, huh?" he asked with a frown, "Then we are going to have to find me a new word to describe me."
"Why?" I asked slightly taken aback.
"Because I might’ve been self-made before I met your mother, but after that she’s had a lot to do with my achievements and success" he said with a smile as we sat back, watching my mother put icing on my birthday cake.
My mother completed her thesis after marriage, while my sister and I were still toddlers. My father would baby-sit us on days that my mother took her exams. By the time we were in school, my mother was a full professor. I remember the quiet nights in Bombay, when I would get up in the middle of the night, thirsty and walk towards the dim light in the kitchen. From behind a curtain, I could see my mother calling out numbers from mark sheets as my dad deftly entered each digit onto the calculator and tallied the totals. I could see how sleepy they both were and yet how much fun they seemed to be having over this little project they had teamed up on. My father could’ve easily left my mom to tally up her report cards and gone back to sleep so he could be rested before the morning’s early shift. But he sat there making jokes to keep her awake and wiping her glasses for her as she yawned widely. For some reason, that scene has stayed with me and sums up the kind of support that a wife expects from her husband.
There were times when my father’s effusive pride over my mother’s achievements caused my sister and me a great deal of amusement. My mother once directed a play in the college she taught. At the end of the play, when she was called on stage and the audience applauded, my father stood up and clapped, as my sister and I ducked our heads in embarrassment. He was oblivious to our discomfort as he gave her his own singular standing ovation.
The very first time he read my poetry he told me he liked my confessional style.
"You get it from your mom, you know," he told me, "I could never write like her. Her English is amazing..." My sister and I rolled our eyes and giggled while he continued raving about my mother’s literary skills heedless to our mirth.
When my mother tried a new recipe, he would have us mete out compliments so she would feel rewarded. He himself never cared much about television but if one of her favorite films was coming on, he would fight us girls relentlessly for the remote control. If she’d had a late night, he would make us breakfast and ask us to be quiet around the house. During our rebellious teen years, my sister and I would get periodic long lectures from him about how we should be appreciative towards her since she does so much for us. On numerous occasions my parents would engage in feisty debates about political or social issues and we would watch with interest as they exchanged ideas, logic and even some occasional humor. Never did he express offense at my mother having contradicted him in front of friends or relatives. Financial decisions and queries, my dad had made very clear, were to be handled by his beloved "home minister". He raised us two girls with the very ideals and philosophies that he would’ve imparted, had we been boys. He taught us to have the same strength of character, ambition and determination that he himself had applied to life. All this while, he had a successful career, a business and never seemed threatened by my mother’s very distinct individuality.
When friends asked me why I even expected to ever find a man who could be secure, confident, supportive and yet ambitious, I always said that it was because I grew up watching such a man.
I called him up this morning to ask him how he celebrated his birthday and before I hung up, I made my admission.
"Dad, I thought about it", I said, "You really are a feminist".
"Maybe that is the one word that describes me" he answered laughing.
Aditi Nadkarni is a cancer researcher, a film reviewer and a poet; her many occupations are an odd yet fun miscellany of creative pursuits. Visit her blog http://musemirror.blogspot.com, for more of her articles and artistic as well as photographic exploits.
Father’s day – time to remember just what your father has done for you!
By Arvind Devalia
Sunday, June 17th, 2007 is Fathers’ Day in the UK, USA and many other countries around the world.
Father’s day is becoming an important day of celebration and gradually catching up with the more popular mother’s day worldwide. Now the fifth most popular purchased greeting cards in the USA are for father’s day cards. While mother’s day is seen to be more sentimental, I believe father’s day is seen more as a day of practical gift giving such as DIY tools etc. But the most popular Father’s Day present is apparently the gift of a tie.
In recent year’s grandfathers, husbands, uncles, father in laws and even stepfathers have celebrated the day. Some even see the day as a celebration of manhood!
No matter what you call your father, dad, papa, pop and so on, Father’s day is your one chance in the year to give your father a pat on the back for who he is and what he has done for you.
I believe father’s day is also an opportunity to review just what being a father means to you and how you can become a better father to your children. More on that later.
In my family, we have always addressed our father as bapuji. This term of reverence seems increasingly relevant, as he is now a sprightly 80.
Often I speculate on just how much I have gained from my father – from my love of reading, writing and public speaking. My earliest memories of my father are seeing him sitting at the sofa, reading one of his many Indian newspapers and then writing his countless articles. He has now been writing for over 60 years and still has copies of his earliest published work from the age of 17.
Whilst I was still a toddler, he used to have a regular radio slot and my siblings and I used to sit around our giant transistor radio in Kenya. Twenty years later, he repeated the feat by having a weekly radio slot in the UK. I must have had the grooviest father around – I used to say to my friends that my father was a radio DJ!
My father was also renowned for his tireless community work in Kenya and also in the UK. This meant late nights for all the family whilst we awaited his return from yet another committee meeting. In turn, he now stays up awaiting the safe return home of his children and grandson.
Probably like all of you, I could go on and on about my father, and his character traits. For example, he is always studious, often stubborn, but endlessly sentimental. As he has grown older, he seems more fully of worry and fretting, but I can now finally accept that as a sign of his care and loving. Why else would an 80 year old want to check that all the doors and windows are locked at the end of the day?
No matter what his personal traits and quirkiness, father’s day gives me an annual reminder to reflect on just what my father has done for me and also what it entails being a parent. He has put up with me and loved me despite all of my own shortcomings, traits and human weaknesses, and made many sacrifices for me.
I imagine there is so much time, frustration, stress and sacrifice involved in being a parent. Occasions such as father’s day allow us to reflect on just how worthwhile it all was. If I had appreciated the efforts of my parents when I was younger, I would probably have been a lot nicer to them and more appreciative of their hard work. Maybe there should be classes in how to be nice to your parents!
I do not have children of my own, but have been blessed with a number of nephews, nieces, young cousins and any number of young people in our extended family. I still recall my great joy the first time I received a father’s day card from my nephew.
Also the children of many friends have found a second home at my place. I even have a special toy box for those times when I have young visitors.There was a time when children visiting us would rush straight upstairs and bring down the toy box, promptly emptying the contents on the lounge floor with great relish.
Though I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have children of my own, I do feel that I have had the best of both worlds. I do also wonder just what sort of a father I would have been. A good one I hope, taking the best of the lessons from my father and also from my mother, and combining these with all my own observations and learning from the last few years of personal growth and exploration.
Having worked with children in the UK and also at Nirvana school (www.nirvanaschool.org) in Pondicherry, India, here are some of the lessons I would want to carry into fatherhood:-
1. Always be encouraging to your children. Give them love. Give them respect. And give them as much freedom and real responsibility as they can handle.
Children will stretch themselves when challenged. But when you encourage them, make sure they can succeed. Do not set such high standards that they might ultimately fail and lose confidence.
So often we are quick to let a child know when they do something we think is wrong. But remember to acknowledge and appreciate a child when all is going well and the child is playing quietly in the house or doing some chores.
2. Treat the child as an equal – never assume an air of superiority. Give them credit – they are smarter than you think they are!
Expect a great deal from your children and they will rise to the occasion. By setting your expectations in a loving way, about things such as good manners and efforts at school, and expecting them to do well, you will be letting them know that you think a lot of them.When they know this, they will in turn respond with a great deal.
3. Let them follow their own life path – just be there to support them in whatever they choose, rather than pushing them into following your footsteps. They have their own desires and interests.
Many South Asian families put so much pressure on their children to become a doctor or a professional of some standing, whereas the child may want to follow a completely different path.
Not all children will succeed at say academics. As a father, your job is to help them discover their gifts and not disparage them for anything that you perceive as beyond them. Challenge and encourage with compassion, but at the same time without promoting mediocrity.
4. Be there for them always. So for instance, spend some quality time with them in the evening after work. Share at least one meal a day together. This is what brings and keeps families together.
Place a high value on spending one-on-one time with your child. More than what money can ever buy; your child really wants their father’s time and undivided attention.
Nowadays, even in South Asian families, children live with their parents for only a short period of their lives. Therefore enjoy the moments now so that one day you can both enjoy the memories.
Live simply and don’t have extra demands and activities that can keep you and your child stressed out and too busy to enjoy the important and essential things in life.
5. Truly listen to them. Ask them for their opinion and let them know that what they think and want counts.
Don’t just listen to the words, but listen to what is behind the words. “Hear” what your children are really saying. Though listening like this requires patience, do persevere and focus on your children. Give them your time – after all their words are so important.
Part of listening and responding is to be able to say “no” as and when appropriate. There is so much stuff out there for children these days and sometimes you have to decide just what is appropriate for them. It is usually better for children to learn discipline, self-control, and how to delay gratification, when they are told no by their parents.
6. Walk the talk. Set them a noble example and be in integrity always. By this, I mean make sure your thoughts, words, feelings and actions are all in agreement.
Be very honest with your children as they will know when you are not telling the truth. You will feel better, trust more and learn to be honest.
Also, as a father, always be sure to treat the mother of your child well. This is where your children will get very important information about relationships between men and women.
Do not ever fight in front of the kids and remember to be kind much more often than trying to be right. This reminds me of a quote I read a while ago which is very apt:-
“The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love and respect their mother” (source unknown).
7. Laugh often with your children – be childlike.
Apparently, children under the age of seven laugh 700 times a day, whereas adults on average laugh only four times a day! So you have a lot of catching up to do. Therefore look for humor and share moments of the joy of life with your children and the rest of the family.
Life is too short and your children will have grown up and left you before you know it, so remember to have some fun together along the way. Don’t take yourself or things so seriously. Begin to see your child through the soft eyes of love and kindness –after all you were once young too - be young again.
I still remember a time at a Xmas party a few years when my father orchestrated a silly party game and had us all in raptures and fits of laughter. He shed away decades that evening and looked so much younger and energetic. We had never before seen him so childlike and joyous.
8. Teach your child about your values and what is important to you and your family. One of the greatest things you can instill in your child is a sense of what is right and what is not. Teach them a sense of duty, responsibility and good morals.
Like it or not, one day they will be walking their own path and you will no longer be there to catch them or protect them. So whilst you can, share your ideas and your wisdom, but be prepared to let them walk in their own shoes.
At the same time, protect your children, but don’t smother them.
9. Acknowledge and celebrate your child’s accomplishments, but do not make their achievements the basis of your love and attention. Don’t jump in with your advice and how they “should” do things. Just be there to support and encourage them. If nothing else, truly listen to them.
Look for the evidence of accomplishment, no matter how small. Appreciate your children’s efforts and enjoy them for what they are doing and do not look at what they are not doing. Instead, look for the good in what your children already do and who they are, rather than insisting that they fit your or some cultural stereotype image.
At the same time, always separate the behavior from the child. Remember it is not the child who is bad - it is their behavior that may not be acceptable.
Of course, hitting, spanking and physically punishing your kids is out – in my opinion it just doesn’t work at all. As a father, do you really want your kids to be afraid of you?
Research has proved how counter-productive physical punishment can be to a child’s self-esteem. Punishment in general is not very effective, so try encouragement instead.
10. Finally truly love your children. You may say you love them, but if they don’t feel loved, then they aren’t loved.
Don’t show favoritism amongst your children but appreciate their individual uniqueness. Not all children are created equal or are alike. Create opportunities to find out how each child is unique and wonderful. Each child has so many gifts to offer you – you just have to look for them.
At the end of the day every child needs love above anything else and as a father you have a wonderful opportunity to bestow this gift on your child – in the same way that at one time your own father did to you.
I will always remember visiting orphanages in Pondicherry and meeting all these children without any parents and thinking how lucky I was to have had such loving, kind and good parents. It is now up to you to bestow the same love and kindness to your children who will carry the candle after you.
To end, here are some inspiring and thought provoking quotes about fatherhood:-
“Not every successful man is a good father. But every good father is a successful man” (R. Duvall)
“I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week” (Mario Cuomo)
Hope you have a happy father’s day and don’t forget to let your own father know that he did a good job. Go on, make more of a fuss than usual.
And of course remember to truly love your children, today and always.
Arvind Devalia is a Social Entrepreneur, CSR Consultant, Performance Coach, Speaker and Author of best selling book “Get the Life you Love and Live it”.