By Shreesha S Bhat (L&T Heavy Engg), Visakhapatnam
“I really want a kid. And when that day finally comes, I’ll learn how to be a good dad. But my wife… she’s already there.” So said Chandler Bing in one of the most memorable and moving scenes in the popular 90s’ sitcom Friends, to the mother of a pregnant teenager whose baby he and his wife Monica were trying to adopt.
I will be forever grateful to Chandler for those unforgettable lines. They have given me a ready-made excuse to give my wife whenever she accuses me of not helping her enough in taking care of our infant son – I’m still learning to be a good dad like Chandler, whereas she’s already there! Being the perfect mom, she cannot expect the same standards from me! I can hear the feminists sharpening their knives to attack me at this brazen display of male chauvinism – what a selfish man, allowing his wife do all the hard work in raising the baby, while he has a gala time with his other male friends, watching movies and football!
There is a popular Kannada movie song in which a daughter sings paeans to her father, describing him as the first hero she met, and the advisor who taught her how to live her life. Most fathers would eventually take on this role in their child’s life. But to begin with, most young fathers are as clueless as Indian batsmen on seaming tracks, about everything that goes on between their wife’s pregnancy being confirmed and the baby turning about a year old. And this fact is well known to everyone else. When my wife was seven months pregnant, we travelled to our hometown, where she would spend her maternity months – halfway across the country from the city we live in. During the journey home, on two flights, the cabin crew pampered her with a level of service and care unheard of in the aviation history of India – free priority boarding, juice packets, pillows, best wishes, a lot of dedicated attention (in the so-called cattle class!) – but none of them deigned to so much as glance at me, the clueless husband tagging along. Well, what does he know about what the pregnant lady has gone through in the last several months, and the pain of childbirth soon to follow?
After leaving my wife behind with my parents, I returned to a life of temporary bachelorhood – cooking alone or ordering pizza, weekend road trips with my (bachelor) colleagues… and most importantly, binge-watching TV series on Netflix! But in no time at all, as it seemed, my son was born and into his fourth month, when we brought him back from my hometown. After a couple of months of playing the ‘supporting role’, my mother-in-law who had stayed with us so far, returned home, leaving the two of us with the task of taking care of the baby – like no.10 and 11 batsmen facing South Africa’s pace battery on a green top at Durban!
From being a Netflix addict, I suddenly had no time even to deactivate my Netflix subscription. My boss told me that soon I would realize that coming to office on weekdays is like taking a break from the hectic weekends at home. Determined to prove his words right, my son got into the habit of waking up at 5 AM on weekends, and sleeping well past 8 AM on weekdays. Some of his tantrums were so innovative as to put President Trump to shame. Being a fiery (armchair) activist promoting gender equality, I was determined not to be one of the typical dads who leaves all the heavyweight baby duties to his wife, and was eager to play my 50% role. I would not watch football and cricket, or go to office get-togethers and dinners, nor to watch movies (Dunkirk being the sole exception – but then a Christopher Nolan movie is a pilgrimage that cannot be skipped). Instead, I would dedicate all my waking hours when I’m at home, to running this ultra-marathon of raising the baby!
It appeared that a lot of my colleagues and friends had all had babies within the space of a few months, and suddenly, the topic of discussions all around me underwent drastic changes. From talking about whether RBI should cut rates and how many more Grand Slams Federer would win, the discussions now predominantly focused on whether Himalaya baby products were better than Johnson’s, or was it the other way around? Like football fanatics feverishly discussing their club’s progress up the points table, we were now tracking our infants’ progress – did he flip on his stomach? Has he begun crawling?
I have just returned from my umpteenth trip up and down Mt Everest – i.e. putting the baby to sleep, after singing his favourite lullabies with shuffle and repeat modes on. I have also managed to finish writing this article and reading all 52 pages of The Hindu’s Sunday edition and watching an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, before he wakes up and demands to be taken out for a walk. No course at B-schools can teach you time management like a six-month-old baby can!