Poor Dad, Rich Dad

Yesterday Rumi suddenly asked me “Tu shrimanta ahes ka” (Are you rich?) I burst into laughter. My God, where had she learnt that word? Probably from those appalling Marathi soaps that she loves to binge watch. “Ask Baba” I said, still laughing at the use of the word “Shrimanta” in that sweet voice. She asked Abhi and as he smiled at me, I’m sure even he was thinking of an argument we had had a couple of days back.

Abhi and I rarely ever argue. When we do, it is not so much of an argument as a full-blown intense fight, where the past, present and future are all dragged into the conversation. There are tears and there is sulking. There are one or two really awful days and then, when the clouds clear again, it is sunny and happy and just all gone in a few seconds. As we get older in our relationship, we have learnt not to mind these days as much. My tears have reduced and so has his sulkiness and we have made peace with these passionate outbursts.

Anyway, last week, when Abhi got home from work, he was very downcast. When we spoke about it, he said “Sometimes I just feel like a failure. I have been working for over a decade now. But what have I got to show for it? I want to give you and Rumi everything you ask for, without having to worry about the bank balance every month.”

My heart just went out to him. This man works so damn hard. His days begin at dawn every single morning. And he is giving us so much. I really enjoy the luxury of being at home with Rumi because of him. And our life is abundant and full of grace in every way. Our lovely house, the trips we take together, our indulgent dinners, mall excursions, everything. We are lacking for nothing.

I have a very fluid approach to money. I find that it is there when you need it. I never fret about it and I generally have what is called an ‘abundance mentality’, where I sometimes want to hug our cheap but very pretty blue curtains just because they are looking so lovely. Now this approach completely works for me so I tried to cheer Abhi up by saying things like “Maybe it’s in your mind that you’re feeling poor, would you really be happier with more money? ”, not realizing how incredibly trite it all sounded. He just glared at me and said “I’m trying to discuss a problem with you and you’re giving me all this positivity junk!” and left the room, leaving me very bewildered and hurt.

Later, when we spoke about these things, the first thing I did was I sat him down and thanked him. So much is written about all the sacrifices that mothers have to make, have we really given a thought to the things that men sacrifice when they become fathers? I don’t actually like to use the word ‘sacrifice’ for parenting Rumi, because giving birth to her was a decision that we took entirely for ourselves and I don’t ever want her to feel like we gave up anything for her. On the contrary, I want her to see us enjoy raising her and feeling fulfilled in the time that we spend together as a family. I want her to know how incredibly happy raising her makes us.

But it is true that we have to say “No” to a lot of things when we become parents. Sometimes they are invitations to the latest movie or play or party. Sometimes they are opportunities at the workplace. Many people find it incredible that I am still choosing to be at home with Rumi. At every age milestone from the time she turned one, I am asked whether she will be starting daycare or school soon (which obviously means I will be starting work, because apparently sitting at home is all play!). I am making this conscious choice of being at home, secure in the knowledge that my husband is working really hard to provide for the three of us. Double-income would be really welcome at this point but then we did not want to send Rumi to a daycare as yet, or have the grandparents become her babysitters. Nor did we want to see less of each other by alternating work and home schedules.

We made this decision together and I am enjoying it and so is Rumi, but I have never thought of the price Abhi pays for it, or the many things that he says ‘No’ to. What about his creative dreams? As soon as he comes home, he immediately takes over Rumi. When does he get time for his hobbies? When does he ever have free time? This blog that I lovingly write in my free time is all thanks to this husband of mine who reads every post and beams as if it is the best thing ever written. I have the freedom to pursue all the business ideas in my head because he believes in them and tells me to “Go for it, without worrying about money”. He wakes up at 5 and takes an early class so that he can be home in time to go for a swim with Rumi or take her to the park or teach her chords on the guitar. Our baby speaks German because of him. She identifies different musical Raagas because of him. She sings ‘Mile Sur Mera Tumhara’ because of him.  I really don’t know many dads who get this kind of time with their children, apart from weekends.

So I hold his hands and thank him, for the existence of this blog, for my business idea to have a chance to come to life, for the time he spends with Rumi. My tears fall on his hands. “You are anything but a failure” I tell him.

Yes, there are things to be done and improved. We need to save more, to think about tomorrow, to be able to pay for Rumi’s care and education. We need to get out of the “bank balance down to zero” situation at the end of every month. But, I remind him that he has changed my life for the better, in every single way. Rumi is so very lucky to spend all of this time with not just me but also her Baba. It is a blessing to have him home, not just in time for dinner but also in time for doctors’ visits and school-orientation programs and fun-fairs and birthday parties. He is one of the few Daddies who not only know the names of her friends but also their favorite snacks at play-dates. This, the three of us together at dinner, with songs and stories and laughter, is the life of my dreams. If this is not abundance, then I don’t know what is.

Thus convinced, we go to bed feeling very content.

And back to Rumi’s innocent question, we both answered in unison with “Ho, apan khup shrimanta ahot” (Yes, we’re really rich).


Two to tango


I first read about the “Myth of the hands-on Daddy” in Lalita Iyer’s wonderfully fun book “I’m pregnant not terminally ill, YOU IDIOT!” (https://www.facebook.com/ImPregnantNotTerminallyIllYouIdiot) and as much as I laughed-till-I-peed at the chapter, it made me kind of want to kill her for bursting the bubble I had around my head all throughout pregnancy, where I imagined my husband Abhi sharing in absolutely all things baby, right from the maalish and baths to the diaper changes and quality dad-only dates with the li’l one. The beatific images I had nurtured in my mind of Baba watching bub while Mommy took a bubble bath quickly faded away as I nodded my head in agreement with her about being too quick to praise our men for things as simple as taking a walk with the baby or watching them while we took a quick shower.

As our daughter reached the one year old milestone, I decided to assess husband dearest on the hands-on daddy scale; here again, Lalita’s wonderful pointers (read her post here) came in handy to see whether I could award him that prestigious certification or not.

(Bated breath as the jury goes out to decide upon a verdict)

Annnnddd…… yes! Maybe a partial and very much in love yes, but oh yes truly and I don’t want to jinx my blessedness by posting this, but I can truthfully say that my partner makes a wonderful hands-on-daddy, right from preparing healthy home-cooked meals to bath and bedtime rituals.

I would not have had half as much fun being a mother, had I not had a supportive and equally involved partner to share this turbulent ride with. As I write this I am filled with the deepest admiration for single parents who become father-mother-caretaker-finance-provider all rolled into one and do amazing jobs of raising their kids. I don’t know if I would be able to do that, and if I ever did, that I would find it as rewarding or enriching as I do now.

Just after Rumi was born, I went through a phase of feeling low and depressed, and then severe pangs of guilt and bewilderment for feeling like this when I was supposed to feel elated. I was staying at mum’s but terribly homesick for my husband and my in-laws where I had spent the last trimester on bed rest. I would feel like the worst mother ever for even wondering if I would ever be filled with unconditional love looking at my child, something that had not happened at first sight in the hospital. In a time where my own parents looked at me like I was crazy, Abhi stood beside me like a rock, defending me when I didn’t want to cuddle the baby right then, taking me out when I couldn’t bear being at home anymore and always always comforting me and holding me when I broke down. Here is a poem that he wrote for me in those early days after Rumi’s birth:

Out of nowhere did a window appear

and it opened.

The glance it gave,

the field it showed

was mesmerizing.

We sat by the window, you and i

day and night

month by month.

We watched its sun

and loved its stars….

And then seasons changed.

The window is now a door….

And it’s open…

Shall we step into it, you and i?

Shall we do it together?

Shall I hold your hand, and you mine?

And trust that it will all be fine?

As it has always turned out to be, with you…

I know it will be great, even as

we grow to three, from just two…

Right from those days of breastfeeding when all Rumi did was suckle and sleep, Abhi would wake up with me in the nights, give me a cup of hot chocolate, a loving hug, and prop his legs up for me to rest my back as I fed the baby. It naturally didn’t make sense for both of us to be up, especially as he was the one who had to be at work early the next morning. It was irrational and unreasonable. But in those first few months of hazy, bone-aching soreness, rationale and sense were not as important as that loving gesture was. Even now, when I remember those nights, I feel a sense of love and camaraderie. I remember us whispering to each other and sighing as we lay down again. Most of all I remember enjoying those difficult nights, simply because they were shared with a loved one. The thermos of hot chocolate, the hand on my shoulder… all said “We are in this together.” What a wonderful feeling, that.

When Rumi was seven months old, I had to go to Munich for two weeks. Abhiraj took time off from work and looked after the baby. We didn’t have to ask my mother or his mother or any member of our extended family to stay with him or look into things. It was with him that Rumi first tasted her vegetable and fruit purees. Guided by our wonderful pediatrician, Abhi coaxed carrots and beetroots into Rumi’ s mouth, while I sat in a seminar in a different part of the world. He gave her baths and put her to bed, in the crook of his arm. After I came back, I was only too willing to take over everything, having missed her so much, but Rums was more than happy to snuggle to Baba. She is content to be fed, bathed or put to bed by either parent, which means we can happily alternate between baby duties, other household chores and breaks.

I think this kind of shared parenting is what makes both of us better parents. Regular breaks from our little girl give us the opportunity to cook, relax, miss reading to her in bed and look forward to the next night when it’s our turn. When one of us is turning in early with her (she is one snuggly puppy, who will not sleep without skin contact), we do not feel resentment at missing out on a night with friends or a TV show because we know we can look forward to it the next day. I regularly get evenings to myself where Baba takes Rumi to visit Ajji and Grandpa across the street. The same way, he has his TV watching and surfing do-not-disturb time slots on weekends where I completely takeover. And Sundays – glorious Sundays – belong to only the two of us and Rumi spends time with her grandparents. What a win-win situation!

Between the two of us, I am more clinical, guided by books and the internet. My husband’s caretaking flows freely and spontaneously. He allows her to play in the mud, sit down in puddles with stray puppies and feed them from her fingers. I carefully choose her dainty dresses and clips; he lets her roam about in her polka-dotted bloomers. I curate the best books I can find; he makes them come alive with theatrics and puppetry. I make the khichadi, he buys the ice-cream cone. I keep track of her vaccinations, he holds her in his arms at the doctor’s clinic. Rumi benefits from my organization and research and discipline and routine as she does from his free-spiritedness and zest for life and non-conformity and rule-breaking. By supporting each other and guiding each other on this unfamiliar terrain, we can both bring out the best in each other and provide Rums with two different, unique yet harmonious styles of parenting.

In a world that works beautifully on a law of balance with day and night and sun and rain, my husband is the perfect yin to my yang and I am grateful to be sharing this adventure called parenthood with him.

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