Mothers possess a natural instinct to hold or hover over their children, while fathers are relegated or relegate themselves to the background, confused about baby’s needs but more unconvinced of their capabilities to care. They surrender to the ‘superior’ parent.
On working on a poster for Father’s Day, I ruminated and scribbled down the endless possibilities of salutation to fatherhood. “The man whom you will always look up to no matter how tall you are” or “The person who taught you to be a man but to whom you’ll always be a baby” (Hallmark, hire me!) That is there, but in general, fathers are expected to be sought for intellectual and financial advice, but for the hugs and the whining-go to Mum!
Not always true. I’ll never forget the time when my 10th Board results were out. I’d done well but I hadn’t gotten the marks I deserved in Social Studies. I had been topping that subject the entire year and it was my favourite. I had worked hard and I knew I deserved much more. Of course, I told myself it was no big deal and I had to be mature about it. But I sank down on a chair beside my father while he was getting ready for work and it was on his shoulder that I lay my head, letting the tears spill. He may or may not have known that I was crying and neither would he have known what exactly for but he patted my head all the same. And with neither of us exchanging a word, all my disappointment melted away.
Recently, I have developed a keen interest in watching fathers from all walks of life interact with their children, particularly babies. The way they lean them across their shoulder or carry them on their chest catches me as one of the tenderest sights. Big men rendered vulnerable because of the small weight in their arms that is breathing into their shoulder, utterly dependent upon them.
The cutest thing that I saw recently was on the Pondicherry beach. The beach there is a narrow strip of sand between the pavement and the rocks. This father, dressed in formals was walking with his chubby toddler, fully clad in his pajamas. The little wanderer set forth on the sand, waddling like a midget penguin. The father hovered protectively overhead, encouraging the tiny steps. Whenever the toddler recognized he was about to fall, he stretched his short little arms out and placed them on the sand, attempting a rather perfect mountain pose. His father stepped in front of him and awaited the resurrection patiently. Our little man got back to his feet and resumed his march, Dad reveling in his offspring’s achievement as if it were his own.
Finally after about twenty minutes of trotting back and forth, the father picked up his little treasure and hoisted him up to the sky. And then they jogged a bit, the baby’s hands outstretched to the wind, together celebrating their glorious little world.
I’ll never know the name of the father or his little boy but I feel so privileged to have been witness to their tender moment. The boy will grow up; the father may not have as much energy to run after him. They might forget about their adventure on the beach. But I most definitely won’t.