Coming home to daddy: Meet three single fathers who are challenging stereotypes and choosing the daddy life
Mothers nurture, fathers provide...there are a set of gender-specific roles that we’ve been conditioned to believe. But how do you apply roles and rules of parenting when it’s just one of them? Parenting is challenging in itself, and single parenting comes with its own set of obstacles. It’s one parent for two!
This Father’s Day, HT Brunch turns the spotlight on single fatherhood, and brings together three stories of men who have chosen to be the mother and the father to their offspring, and if given the choice of a different life, would still choose the daddy life, every single day...
The fitspirational father: Mayank Kapoor, 36, and his four-year-old son Ishaan
Faced with being Dad and Mom to a four-year-old after separation, Mayank took help from books for his son and ran marathons for himself!
Since his separation, two years ago, Mayank Kapoor has been taking care of his four-year-old son, Ishan, by himself. Of course, the focus of his life changed, but Mayank, who is a Bengaluru-based software engineer, chose the healthiest way to go through this change – by reading books on parenting and becoming a fit dad.
“Co-parenting allows you to play good cop-bad cop in the sense that if one is angry, the other pacifies. But alone, you’ve to be both. I’ve become extremely patient and disciplined. You don’t take things for granted. In fact, my typical Sunday goes in planning the week ahead from Monday to Friday!” he says.
Mayank’s parents stay with him, and they’re elderly, so his life is about caring for his kid as well as his parents. His parents moved from Meerut post his separation, and have been immensely supportive of his life. “I realised I’ve to take care of both my parents and my child, so I have to be physically fit. I started running marathons, taking care of my diet and making sure I’m strong. It was a major change because I had never taken up running before that,” he adds.
He can’t stay away from his son, but Mayank understands the importance of self-preservation. “When Ishan is visiting his mother for a week or so during the year, I take off on a solo trip, I go for Himalayan treks. This change in my life has also brought out a new side of me: my love for trekking and the digital detox for a week, no phones allowed!” he smiles.
Books on my mind
Ishan, being only two, took his time to settle in after this sudden change. And to help him, says Mayank, “I actually got in touch with a few moms to understand how to go through these changes better…. But one thing that’s helped me a lot is books on parenting. I learnt a lot from them and also by simply talking to people,” he says.
Also, every weekend, Mayank tries to take Ishan to a new place, or they engage in a new activity together. “I make sure he experiences new things. We undertake a bus or a train journey together, go to a new coffee shop or watch movies together. Sometimes, when my parents aren’t home, we put on some music and break into a crazy dance!” he laughs.
Life with my boy
Mayank recalls a rather amusing anecdote, when Ishan wanted to sleep on top of him. “He put his head on my chest, and said ‘Papa, you’re not soft’. I mean… I didn’t know what to say! I told him to put his head on my stomach, but he wasn’t entirely happy. So I started keeping a very soft pillow, and he was good,” he laughs.
Mayank’s been learning cooking too for his son. “When I started reading about parenting, about food, I thought it’s a good idea to know how to make what he eats,” he says.
Being single dad
Even though single fatherhood is still a bit uncommon Mayank is happy to see people around him being supportive and always reaching out to him. “It surprises people, but no one has ever reacted oddly. In fact, they’ve always been supportive, personally and even on the Internet,” he says.
Mayank feels that life throws us many unexpected challenges and separation is one of the toughest ones. “And if you have a child, it becomes even more important that he or she doesn’t get adversely affected by the change in your life,” he says.
Travel buddies for life: Chetan Shah, 43, with nine-year-old daughter Shahana
Parenting is a process. And, Chetan Shah shows us how blogging, focusing on the self and taking trips together could strengthen father-daughter bonds.
After being married for 12 years, Mumbai-based businessman Chetan Shah and his wife started living separately four years ago. His daughter Shahana (aged nine now), was five years old when their lives changed, and it was just her with her dad. The couple got divorced this year but Chetan believes that his transformation post his separation has been spiritual in a way.
“I had to rely on people for doing things for her, but eventually I was able to take control. My focus is her upbringing. I realised parenting is a 20-year commitment, at the least!” he says.
Also, Chetan had an active social life. He’d hang out with friends often and can still do the same, but he chooses not to. “I don’t feel like it anymore and have no complaints about not being able to go out the same way,” he adds.
The mental journey
Going through his separation, Chetan dealt with a lot of anxiety and he could see it affecting his daughter. “My mind was all over the place and I’d see it was affecting Shahana in a very big way. My problem was I was trying to fix everything externally. I continued with my old habits – going out, partying etc. And it only confused me further. It was only when I took control of my emotions, and my daughter saw the transformation happening within me, that things started falling in place.”
Today, his daughter is his priority, but he also focuses on himself. “I started blogging about my journey and the relationship I share with Shahana on Soul Dads to encourage single dads to express themselves and seek support,” he says.
He believes the maternal energy can never be replaced, all you can do is be the father. “Of course she misses her mother, but my family has been very supportive towards us and she’s in a good space,” he smiles.
On the road
Chetan and Shahana are travel buddies, and take trips together often. “We go for quick getaways where we engage in activities that help us grow together. One time, we went to Auroville where we did a camp that was about parents and children. There was a session that helped us learn a lot about what’s missing in one’s relationship with the child. It helped me understand my emotional connect with Shahana,” he recalls.
Chetan believes in a more non-traditional way of education. So, he took his daughter to a boarding school outside Mumbai. When he asked her if she’d like to be enrolled there, she said, ‘I’d love to go, but I don’t want to leave you alone right now.’ Coming from an eight-year-old, it left me in tears…,” he shares.
Although Chetan doesn’t want to date, or be in a relationship, but people definitely see the need! “It’s always peer pressure. Your friends and family want you to meet someone. They’re in a relationship, and they don’t want you to be left out. They don’t realise that you’ve been through it. You’d want someone in your whole being, not just to fill a vacuum in your life. You can’t fill gaps in your life with someone. We’re told we need someone, but sometimes, you don’t!” he says.
Talking about gender-set roles, he says: “We’re made to believe that the mother is the caregiver, and the dad is the provider. But it’s really about the situation. If the roles are reversed and the father has to mother the child, he’ll do his best. We are conditioned in a way that not much importance is given to dads taking care of the kids,” he feels.
Playing dress up: Piyush Saxena, 39, with four-year-old daughter Aarya
Piyush Saxena has mastered the three P’s of raising a daughter: patience, perseverance and playing dollhouse!
Gurugram-based IT manager Piyush Saxena’s life hit a roadblock when he suddenly lost his wife to a kidney infection in 2017. His daughter Aarya was just two years old then.
“We’re still clueless as to what exactly happened to my wife. It was just kidney stones.... My wife and I had had a lot of discussions about her education and life, and this incident just changed everything. I went through a period of denial about her death, thereafter and Aarya would stand in the balcony looking for her mother. After three months, I decided to move to Chandigarh, to another company, thinking it’ll be okay to manage my daughter, who was back here in Gurugram with my brother, his wife and my parents,” he says.
Not without my daughter
But within a few months, Piyush decided to move back when he realised that Aarya had started missing him as well. “I felt I shouldn’t be away from my kid and came back. We put her in a playschool and it actually helped – she was busy with school activities then,” he adds.
From co-parenting to single parenting, Piyush’s life and daily routine have undergone some obvious changes. “When it was my wife and I, my wife took care of everything, from her vaccination schedule to her eating habits. But now my professional life too revolves around her. I’ve let go of offers that might need more time because I want to devote more time and attention to Aarya,” he says.
Raising Aarya has also taught Piyush to be less aggressive. “I’ve mellowed down, and realise you need to be patient with kids, especially such a young child,” he smiles.
The support from his family too has been immense. “Aarya calls my sister-in-law ‘mumma’. My parents and my brother have been really supportive in helping me heal, and fill that void,” he adds.
Aarya and Piyush have their father-daughter time, where Piyush takes her out to play and ensures she interacts with other kids as well. “I’m teaching her to ride a bicycle these days. I also play dollhouse with her, so I know all about Elsa, Barbie and the gang!” he says.
Even as a four-year-old, Piyush’s daughter is quite fashionable. “She wants to wear clothes and accessories that only she likes. I’ve learnt to wrap my head around that. I didn’t know anything about combing her hair, or dressing her up, but I have learnt with time,” he laughs.
Societal pressure to ‘move on for your child’s sake’ is not uncommon, and Piyush definitely got his share of advice (unsolicited!) from people. “There were quite a few voices advising me to move on including my relatives. People say you have to move on before your child is of a certain age. I’ve learnt to not react to such statements. It feels like pressure sometimes. The truth is, I’m not quite confident about moving on just yet, and at present I’m happy with just my girl and me!” he smiles.
“The society is still not open to the idea of a single father. They don’t feel that a man can raise his child on his own. When I’ve told people I’m a single dad, I’m often met with surprised looks. I think we need to accept this idea,” he says.
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From HT Brunch, June 16, 2019
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