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It is a little piquant, at the age of 65, and as a grandfather to boot, to write about the moment, some three-and-a-half decades ago when I became a father. Geeta, my wife was in confinement at Calcutta (then it had not yet turned into Kolkata): there was yet some time to go for the expected date of the delivery of our baby. I was at the other end of the country, some 2,000 kilometres away, stationed in the desert district of Barmer in Rajasthan, just a short distance from the international border with a not-so-friendly neighbor. Those were the days when there were no mobiles, and the telephone was a black, ugly and unreliable instrument adorning the living room.

She arrives – my little bundle of joy

In the early hours of the morning, it rang and I was informed, about 12 hours after the event, that the baby, who was expected some three weeks hence, had unexpectedly popped out the previous evening. It was a she, was in fine fettle and alive and kicking. My carefully made plans to take a few days off near the expected date was suddenly thrown out of the window. I had to leave immediately for Jodhpur by car, and from there to Delhi by train and then board the express to Howrah.

father and daughter

Planning the journey, purchasing the tickets and then packing my bag and leaving… all these were much tougher in those days. But it all panned out. It took two full days and nights and another half-day to reach Howrah. I took the cab from the station, dumped my things at Geeta’s home and then rushed to the hospital. It was not visiting hours yet, but a kindly nurse took pity on me and pointed out through the window the little squalling bundle wrapped in a pink blanket, where she lay amidst a dozen other tiny babes. The moment was emotional, and more so when I came back that evening and held my daughter Divya in my arms. I felt the prickling of tears in my eyes; there are no words to describe that once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Who I was as a dad then

She is our only child and now, 37 years later, an independent working woman with her husband and her own daughter, our precious grand-daughter Zaara. So when Divya asked me to write a few words on the role of the new-age dad, I was a little nonplussed. In the days when Divya was growing up, I was completely immersed in a job that kept me occupied 24×7. But for a quick cuddle before leaving for office and a few minutes of time in the evening before she dozed off, the entire burden of bringing up the baby lay on Geeta’s shoulders. I was the typical provider while the mother remained the typical nurturer. It was my role to keep the home fires burning by making sure of the required finances and ensuring that mother and daughter lacked for nothing. Now, more than three-and-a-half decades later, I regret my obsession with work. Impractically, how I now wish I could relive those days again and spend some quality time with the growing infant.

Enter, the new-age dad

Those days are gone: increasingly, the family with two earning members is becoming the norm. And the daycare system for the growing child is growing in leaps and bounds. And while it is a little sad to think of an infant in the care of ayahs when the parents are at office earning their salaries, this seems to be an unavoidable reality of the 21st century. So on this father’s day let us take a few minutes to think of how the new age father should conduct himself, so that he, his wife and the children can obtain the best out of life in these unpredictable days.

Where once the traditional father was the sole breadwinner, in fact, something of an authoritative disciplinarian with just a small role in child-rearing activities, the new father takes delight in spending time with the children. He takes upon himself some of the responsibilities of nurturer as well, even as his wife often reverses roles and becomes a provider on her own strength. The new-age dad even takes upon himself some of the domestic chores such as feeding the infant or bathing her and changing her nappies.

new age dad

He shares the responsibility of ensuring that the children are dropped off at school or picked up and brought back home. He may have to chop the vegetables, roll out the dough, or feed the baby, as his wife has gone to the office to attend a sudden meeting. Floors have to be swept, the dishes washed and the household shopping to be done. Imagine if the mother is busy and there are sudden exigencies such as when the baby is unwell or needs to get her shots: these situations can bring added pressure and domestic tensions. The walls between the role of a father and mother have blurred and become porous: traditional gender roles have become flexible.

Related: 5 Father Role Models in India

The 21st-century dad tries to spend more time at home and helps the child learn as she grows through the stages of 123 and ABC. It is not the child alone who is learning. The father comes to realize that by investing more time and effort in the growth of the child, he is enriching himself and the family. The new age Dad sees the benefits of being a more compassionate and generous-hearted person. His open and supportive actions can make the family bond better and will help inculcate family values that may last generations.

Yes, his positive role can influence the family of the future. This is the time when he can instil in his children a deeper value system that could last forever: respect for women, compassion for the unfortunate, a reverence for environment and animals, the need for giving those different from you their own space and deference. As time passes, the boys will learn to regard him as a role model, and girls may form impressions of who the men in their lives should be. If he plays his role well and with commitment, the future marriages of his children are likely to be stronger and built on a solid foundation.

Child-rearing, no child’s play

Admittedly, this is not a simple task: there will be conflicting demands on his time. Often he will have to make choices between the office and the family and juggle his time between the two. Both husband and wife have to make adjustments without compromising the requirements of their profession or diluting their responsibilities as a parent. It has to be an evolving relationship changing with the times. In the present-day crisis of Covid-19, the family perforce has to spend more time with each other, as parents are working from home and children attend classes online. This may bring about its own challenges and problems as such enforced proximity in enclosed spaces may generate new tensions. But the combined wisdom of the father and the mother, with the new opportunity of everyone staying at home, can help the family to build greater strength and resilience while also providing the chance for closer and deeper bonding.

The new dad (and mom) must grasp this opportunity to make the home a place of reassurance and happiness, a place of refuge against external threats. They must strive to interact with

the children and give meaning and strength to the idea of family, to develop long-lasting values that will sustain the children in the days ahead. The new-age dad has to be responsible and caring and be as much of a nurturer as his wife is, and find the true meaning of home and family. In my early working days, except in the medical or teaching arenas, women were hardly seen or heard. Now they abound everywhere, finding their feet and their potential as new opportunities and hitherto unexplored areas open up.

Carpe Diem in times of COVID-19

The world is changing every day, and the virus has taught us new meanings about the frailty of life and the momentary nature of our species. The new fathers have to step up and seize the day; they have to forget old definitions of fatherhood and accept new obligations. Harmonious family life is one where each member – father, mother, son and daughter – performs his or her duties, fulfils responsibilities and finds potential: that is the only way to discover meaning and joy in the increasingly precarious wonder of life. A happy family is a joint enterprise; it requires hard work from all its members. The bliss it can provide is immeasurable.

About the Author

CK Mathew.CK Mathew

Dr. CK Mathew is a retired IAS officer of the 1977 batch and has been Chief Secretary in the state of Rajasthan. He is the author of two novels and is an avid blogger. He is currently Visiting Professor in the Azim Premji University. He can be reached at ckmathew@hotmail.com .