As told to Saumya Tewari
Nature places men at a disadvantage. While women get to grow their children inside them, we only get to touch them once they are born. This is where, I feel, men begin to get excluded from the whole process. While we can’t question laws of nature, its time we questioned some laws of humans.
My wife and I welcomed our little one into the family last year. Parenthood has been an amazing journey so far for us. She had a healthy, normal maternity; the baby has been doing fine and celebrated her first birthday a month ago.
She is an involved mother and I am a happy father. The world sees a perfect family picture!
But I don’t.
My family’s balance is skewed now.
When my wife was pregnant, she started wrapping up professional projects she was involved in to give time to her maternity. We were looking forward to having our first child and wanted everything to be just right. And it was, until something struck me.
Last week, the baby was restless for two nights after a vaccination booster. My wife needed some sleep, but the baby was inconsolable without her mother. I never got enough time to spend with my infant and now whenever she is restless, she only wants her mother and I can’t help out in any way.
Sometimes I even feel jealous that my baby’s mom has a stronger bond with her than I do! Especially when I heard how people from the entertainment industry can even go for single fatherhood. I feel it’s not fair to me, a poor middle-class father, that I am compelled to work every day and don’t have the flexibility to take time off and bond with my baby.
My wife, an engineer with experience of eight years in her field, has given up her job and her income to become a full-time mother. I, on the other hand, am now responsible for the family’s finances entirely.
Both of us feel our lives are compartmentalised. She is taking care of the household and the baby alone and I am responsible for the family’s finances.
Sometimes I wish my wife could go to work to take a break from daily chores and I get to stay at home with my kid.
The law for 26 weeks of maternity leave for women has been recently passed in India. This is a substantial raise from the older 12 weeks norm.
Very good news for the new mothers-to-be! Maternity relief is essential for child care, breastfeeding and for the post-natal recovery for the new mother.
But what the socio-economic conventions forget to address is that a child does not only belong to the mother, it also belongs to the father. And child-care is also the father’s equal responsibility. But paternity leave given to new fathers is only up to 15 days. Mine was spent running errands for my wife’s delivery at the hospital – that is all I remember. I only got leave to be stressed and nervous and at the end of it I found myself back at my office desk.
If the father will never be given the freedom to stay at home with his children, how will we ever celebrate fatherhood? It is a choice denied to working men at large.
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Do men not like bonding and playing with their toddlers? Do fathers not lose sleep when the new-born gets up at 2 am? Even if they can’t produce milk to feed an infant, they can still clean-up the poopy diapers; right? And as the child grows, can fathers not sometimes want to take a day off to be with their children if they are ill?
It would have really helped cope better with the neonatal errands if I had some paternity leave. I remember once when my wife had to wait outside the doctor’s clinic alone with the baby to find a cab back home; my office is so far from home that I can’t even be available at a quick notice. It would have helped her get back to normal routine faster too if I had equal leave to divide parental duties with her.
Parenthood is an anthropological reality; and hence parental leave a socio-economic burden to be borne by all, much like insurance or social security.
My wife and I root for equal paternity leave for fathers. Fathers of the world unite and break this social construct!
Soumyadipta Banerjee thinks he’s very lucky to be able to be a stay-at-home dad and look after his child, although society disagrees. However, surely there must be some change where men can choose from a range of options, rather than the two extremes of not enough time from work, or becoming stay-at-home dads? Do you work in a company that lets fathers take leave for childcare? Or do you wish you could? Write in to us and tell us your story!