Disclaimers out upfront – I'm a single, serial monogamist, SouthAsian –American male with no kids. That said, I did read Judy Blume growing up as well as every other South Asian female writer to hit the scene before Lahiri (read Chitra Divakaruni's "Arranged Marriage" which I continue to argue makes "Interpreter of Maladies" look like child's play) so hope that imparts some ability to understand what has been traded in posts back and forth, on this blog and in the mainstream media, on fatherhood.
First off, I think there's a bit of context here that might be helpful– nod to Neesha who commented on the original post, about how this topic involves Philosophy 101 (although this is probably more like 301 because any course discussing anything to do with brownfolks anywhere would be a seminar listed in the back pages of anycollege registration guide.) Part of the reason that men don't have the same diversity or amount of discussion in the public sphere is because there hasn't been a need to until relatively recently. In much the same respect that there aren't journals discussing and promoting white culture in this country, there aren't the same for men who are fathers. Patriarchy is still for the most part the dominant narrative – I know, I know big words on a blog?...it's philosophy class though kids – so there isn't a felt need to define this against anything or for that matter to discuss what it means. This is of course changing slowly but let's be honest…this is happening in certain places – urban centers in developed countries –only now with stay-at-home dads and the like. I'm sure that as this trend grows – and I mean to middle America – you will see an Oprah-like character (and no, Montel doesn't count) discussing not only those things that pertain to middle class suburbia but specifically to men who are fathers raising their kids.
Right now,there isn't much in the way of public discussion of fatherhood but this is changing. As the paradigm shifts so will the need for discussion and reflection. I don't expect the Sopranos, GQ or sports radio to do this but I'm guessing that soon enough you'll see a whole space devoted to just this topic. And yes Devis, men are again following your lead into this…as they probably should.
A couple of readers noted how mothers share their experiences amongst themselves while it seems like their husbands don't. Some respondents (males in particular) noted that this wasn't always the case and I would add that maybe the difference is less about substance and more about style. It's not that men who are fathers are less concerned or apt to discuss fatherhood but I am guessing that when it does happen it happens among a strong peer group (don't worry, will take the philosophy and now apparently psychology cap off soon) that they feel is safe. It is in a nutshell less public and more private than the way it seems that women interact about motherhood. Rather than go into detail about why this might be – because I'm sure we can think of countless reasons and then add into it some South-Asian specific ones– I think a lot has to do real simply with the shared experience of pregnancy and giving birth to a child. Men don't ever experience anything close to that (OK, some exceptions aside).
So where does this leave us? Should fathers try to build a unique shared experience with their kids? I don't even know what this would look like but my initial thoughts don't leave much room for hope. When I talk to my friends about our relationships with our own fathers more often than not all we remember is pops working pretty hard to put food on the table (so to speak--most of my friends are middle to upperclass so it was less putting food on the table and more about whether we could afford to have some great lamb and not ordinary chicken curry– ah, the bourgeois lifestyle; apologies to the Brahmin readers). The scene at the park where dad is playing catch with his son – um,yeah…not so much. Funny enough, I asked a couple of friends who are white, black, latino and yellah (thank you Joseph Lowery; I don't have any 'red' friends, sorry) whether this was true for them – playing catch in the park when we were young or one-on-one lunches later in life – it was somewhat more true but not by much. It makes me wonder where I got the image to begin with...
Then I remember watching Beverly Hills 90210 (don't deny it – I know most of you do…oops, I mean did…too and can't stand the newer version) and this episode where Steve is telling his dad about how little time he has for him. It always amazed me how grown-up Steve as well as some of the other characters were in relation to their parents. Confronting them on their absences for the most part (except for Brandon and Brenda's parents but they were from Minnesota so…) and taking part in some genuine dialogue. Seems like it's exactly the opposite in many South Asian households with parents always around rather than absent but in more than one sense – overbearing. Don't get me wrong – if I had to pick one I definitely don't regret the sacrifices my parents made for me. My dad was home at 6pm almost every day of my life and my mom was a housewife - you can't help but be appreciative of that. But them being around doesn't translate into strong relationships.
Coming back to the issue at hand…seeing as how both my parents were around most of the time growing up was there anything different tetween the two of them? Undeniably. To put it bluntly, unless it's an issue of a financial or automobile (yes, automobile--and I haven't owned a car for almost three years) nature it's a bit difficult to connect to my dad. And I don't think I'm the only one out there. Connecting with my mom on the other hand is super easy. I can chill out while she is cooking and all kinds of topics come out – well, not all kinds…she's South Asian after all so marriage, kids and her horror over what kind of children she raised dominate. But we still connect somehow, someway. Maybe it's the kitchen space and smelling the mustard seeds and fenugreek (read: shameless plug for Divakaruni's "Mistress of Spices") that brings everything back to the good ole days in the highchair and mom in pigtails dishing up the Gerber equivalent of Sri Lankan Tamil food – I don't know. What I do know though is that we connect around a shared space and more importantly experience.
That is the tie that binds – and continues to this day because god knows I can't fit into a highchair now…although I still pretend. What is it about fathers – and in particular South Asian ones – that doesn't create this? Like I said there are probably countless reasons for this but the bottom line is that there isn't a shared experience as strong between father and child. It needs to be created proactively and the onus is on the pops of course. Add to that the fact that most South Asian fathers' fathers lives were literally about putting food on the table and the picture becomes a lot clearer. At the end of the day, what I know about being a father comes from…you guessed it – the media. On the bad days, it's Steve's dad in 90210 and on the good ones it's Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show (mind you I still have no idea how as parents Cliff and Claire had ample time to be both a doctor and lawyer respectively and still chill out to discipline all five children – let's just thank Quincy Jones and leave it that).
I don't know what kind of father I will be but I do know this much. Between high school and college, I took part in a yoga, meditation and dharma retreat (I grew up in California, alright?). So what, right? Well, the folks who came to the retreat were from two different generations –mine and our parents. So I was basically chilling with my friend's parents getting into some real deep issues – we were in the mountains and were asked to explore challenging times in our lives. I distinctly remember during one of those sessions, one of my friend's father bawling his eyes out one-on-one to about how he had not spent enough QUALITY time with his kids. Sound cliché? Almost every father in the room was bawling about exactly the same thing. I'm not a father yet and don't know much but I do know this. When I do become one, I'm damn well going to figure out what quality time means and make it happen – whether that's through talking to successful fathers, understanding myself better and my own relationship to men in my family or starting my own blog. Machaans for Bachaans anyone?
Before I close out, let's turn to what everyone and their father (nice one, eh?) has been discussing recently. Hope, change, OBAMA. What does Obama – the beautiful father of two girls – have to say about all this? Here is an excerpt from his speech on fatherhood (yes, he gave a speech on fatherhood...):
Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it. But if we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing -- missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it...We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child -- it's the courage to raise one...When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me -- how do I make my way in the world, and how do I become successful and how do I get the things that I want. But now, my life revolves around my two little girls. And what I think about is what kind of world I'm leaving them...Are they living in a country that is still divided by race? A country where, because they're girls, they don't have as much opportunity as boys do?...And what I've realized is that life doesn't count for much unless you're willing to do your small part to leave our children -- all of our children -- a better world. Even if it's difficult. Even if the work seems great. Even if we don't get very far in our lifetime.
Amen. I mean…err, Namaste. Hard to argue with the President…he's spot on when it comes down to it. At the end of the day, it's a question of when do we as males stop acting like boys and become men –where we are less focused on who we are in this world rather than on what we are leaving behind for our kids. Couldn't have said it better myself…and you're right, ladies – being open to seeing this means we should talk about it.