Small eyelids flicker open and finally close, reassured. Because daddy’s shoulder is so comfortable. His arms are so strong. And the lullaby he’s singing is so soothing.
Fathers have a special place in the lives of children that mothers can’t take. And that place only gets bigger when you are a single dad.
There may not be many single fathers in India. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make their kids priority No. 1. Whether it’s appreciating a teenage son’s music, tying a daughter’s ponytail or mastering a new recipe for a tiffin option for a four-year-old, single dads are doing it all. And doing it just fine.
The tricks of the trade
“I have seen many fathers do a brilliant job. Most enjoy parenting and do not see it as a burden,” says Dr Shelja Sen, child and adolescent psychologist and family therapist.
That’s exactly how Himanshu Manglik sees it. Manglik works with an FMCG major and has been 22-year-old Raghava’s sole parent since Raghava was less than a year old."The decision to be a single parent was mine," says Manglik. "Raghava has been my priority since he was born and I have spent nights holding him when he was unwell or in discomfort. I’ve never seen this as a burden."
But problems do crop up. Especially if you are a single father with a daughter. Publicist Aamit Khanna, father of four-year-old Devshi who’s been living with him for a year, didn’t know how to do practical things for his little girl at first – such as how to do her hair. But now the child wears a perfectly tied ponytail.
“It took me quite a while to learn, but I kept practicing,” 34-year-old Khanna says. He would forget to rub her with moisturiser after her bath but now it’s all part of the routine. And though Khanna lives with his mother, he prefers to do all he can for his daughter himself.
“My mother helps with her breakfast, cutting her nails, etc., but I try and do as many things I can with her. I also select her clothes,” he says.
Others are ready to go the whole hog. Deepak Gupta (name changed), a government official, is ready to break any preconceived notions you may have about single dads. Gupta is waiting for the final court hearing to legally adopt four-year-old Amitesh, who has already been living with him for a year.
“There is no perfect woman and no perfect man,” he says. “I’m learning every day as a father and am determined to do everything for my son.”
Gupta wakes up at five in the morning to get his son ready for school and pack his tiffin. “I’ve also learnt to make special things which I give him for his tiffin once in a while,” Gupta says.
The name is bond
The mother’s role has often been discussed when it comes to children, but seldom the father’s. So the father-child bond is very difficult to define, says author Ruskin Bond.
Bond became default father to 18-year-old Prem who came to work with him. “I grew very fond of him. Then he got married and it was his sons that I started feeling more fatherly about,” says Bond.
Soon the author’s life revolved around the children. He took them for walks, told them stories, even wrote stories for them. Today, he has five grandchildren.
For public relations professional Aseem Bhargava, getting custody of his son Shiv was like “winning a lottery after you’ve forgotten you bought a ticket.” Shiv has been living with his father for five years. “I am because he is,” says Bhargava. “We were always close, but since he chose to stay with me, our bond has grown.”
For Manglik, parenting has meant reliving his childhood. “Just like my father did for me, I tried to do everything that would make him feel secure. I told him stories about three characters we had created together.”
HR professional Amit Anand, father of seven-year-old Sana, had always tucked her in at night since she was a baby. Things didn’t change after he got divorced and got custody of Sana. “She still cuddles up to me when I read a story to her every night. It’s our ritual.”
And Khanna weaves movies he has seen into stories for Devshi. “I try and build values through the stories. For example, she is scared of the dark so I’ve just made up a story about Spiderman and how he overcame his fear of darkness.”
The balancing act
Everyone knows how important a man’s work is to him, so what happens when he has to play mum and dad and work?
Well, he has to find a balance. Anand, who headed the HR function of an IT major in Bengaluru before his divorce, moved to Noida where his parents live, because they provide a support system. “As a single father, I realise the importance of being around for my child. So whether it’s coming back from office on time, taking her to the park, I make sure I give her time,” he says.
Manglik knows his career would have looked different if he weren’t a single father, but he also knew his priorities. “Single parenting can’t be about ‘managing’. I couldn’t draw back from professional responsibilities. There were frustrations because I was living two lives with 100 per cent commitment to both. But multitasking became a way of life.”
Bhargava played remote control parent, constantly on the phone, checking on his son till he decided to put him in a boarding school. He did feel guilty about that, but says, “You’ve got to think with your mind and not your heart all the time. I knew it would be best for him.”
Bhargava constantly writes to his son and visits him almost every month. And then, of course, there are the holidays. “I bake for him, we listen to music together, I try and rush home from work, we talk, joke, it’s a special bond.”
Khanna likes his consulting work all the more because it gives him the opportunity to be with his daughter. “There are days when she is cranky and no one but papa will do,” he smiles.
If you thought pampering is all that single fathers do, think again. Bond says he watched the boys while they were growing up. “You need to make sure they keep good company and don’t get into bad habits,” he says. “Also in a place like Mussoorie that has a holiday mood round the year, I needed to make sure they didn’t take life a little too easy.”
Bhargava is a friend to his son, but Shiv’s friends know his father as being strict. And Anand is all for pampering his darling but only up to a point. “It doesn’t help in the long run. You’ve got to be strict about a few things.”