For the past two months, there is this one question that am constantly dogged me as friends, colleagues and even strangers keeping jabbing the same at me ever since I became a father. Any conversation these days starts with the cursory exchange of pleasantries, the talk of the birds, the bees, the recession and so on till the query is lobbed at me like a stun grenade, “Ohh..Leave all that. So how does it feel to be a father?”
Stumped, is how I feel. Believe you me, it is not everyday that I am at loss of words or unable to articulate my thoughts; but as much as I have thought over the issue, I am still hard pressed to give a honest, coherent and simple answer to the same.
Looking into the person’s eye asking me the question, I feel the burden of expectation on me. The person, apparently, wants me to break into raptures using esoteric terms and inane adjectives like ‘heavenly’, ‘wondrous’, ‘out of this world’, etc. to describe the whole gamut of emotions. And yet, there I stand trying to figure out what exactly to say, and then finally after some 30 seconds of awkward silence, I do oblige, and mumble something like, “On top of the world, the greatest I have felt, etc. etc.”
Profundity is the issue out here, being a father is not like winning a race or netting a babe, which evoke a single-dimensional happiness based on a sense of achievement. There are so many emotions that sweep over you in a matter of minutes and days, that it is impossible not to get numb. In fact, right after Idhant’s birth I was beset by numbness and really did not know what to feel. In fact, every time I saw the little guy, it was hard to believe that this fragile, delicate, pinkish tiny tot possessed 23 of my chromosomes in his DNA. Right from the hospital to the in-laws place and finally to mine, there were just so many thoughts running through my mind that it was hard for me to pick one out, package it with words and then dish it out as what I was feeling.
Even now, when I sit back and reflect on the days gone by and the ones that lie ahead, I feel flustered, thankful, happy, concerned, confident, worried, proud, scared, superstitious, etc. all at the same time. Hence, whenever someone poses the “how does it feel to be a father” query at me, I honestly wish I could make him/her understand how the feeling is.
My Eureka! moment happened some days back, when a method popped up in my head. The answer lay with Socrates. Using Socratian counter-argumentative approach, I have structured a brief “How does it feel” questionnaire, that needs to be answered by the curious subject. Once that is candidly done, the subject needs to now amalgamate all the different views and that should more or less correlate to my own feelings. So, in case you want to know how it feels, why don’t you simply answer the following ‘How does it feel’ quiz below:
I) How does it feel – to suddenly realize that you are merely a penny-earner who can’t really afford anything?
Fatherhood is a kind of reality check of your financial soundness. Don’t believe me? Walk into any of the specialized kiddie stores that are opening by the dime and dozen. These days, there is a whole host of things that are available for kids right from a gym in which they can lie and play to a small rocker on which they can take a bath. But, mind you it comes at a cost, a big one at that. Typically, the cost of a baby’s cot is almost equal to a double bed and the pram is almost comes equal to a lowly two-wheeler. So, standing there in the shop, wanting to buy so much for your kid, it suddenly dawns upon you that you bloody can’t afford it. Simply, because you don’t earn enough. I have known many instances of newly made fathers changing jobs only out of the urge to earn more. It’s a pitiful state to be in.
II) How does it feel – to keep awake till early morning and not being able to stop the bawling kid?
One might be accustomed to waking through the night for gossiping, partying or even for work, but trying to console a wailing child who just is not in the mood to be consoled is a totally different ball game. The trouble starts, when it keeps happening night over night with the little one waiting for sun to rise and then going into sweet slumber, while you move around throughout the day as an irritable, sleep-deprived junkie who keeps yawning and guzzling tea and coffee. The only hope that you have is that it tends to change as the child grows up, but till then heaven help you.
III) How does it feel – to have your partner turn into a person you dreaded she would not?
In the childhood times, when it came to animals we were often told to beware of suckling mothers, be it cow, dog, or even a pigeon, since they are very protective of their kids and ready to charge at you at a moment’s notice. Well, what your mother’s forgot to tell you that it is quite the same in humans as well. A woman before and after childbirth, is as different as Swami Vivekananda and Mike Tyson, most of the times she will be tired and irritable and the rest of the times she will be plain tired being prone to irritability. At times, it seems as if, the person you married and the person who is caring your baby in her arms are two different people. Hopefully, this too is a passing phase and you can only hope that it passes away soon enough.
IV) How does it feel – to have your home turn into a refugee camp, with cloth nappies and cotton clothes drying all over the room?
My home currently is humid and cluttered at the same time, no matter where I look, I see clothes hanging. The bed stinks of pee and sofa has a fecal aroma too. Old saris, bed cloths, dhotis, etc have been repurposed into various clothes and often they are stacked all over the place. And then there are the numerous diapers added to the conundrum. The best deal is that even all these clothes don’t seem to suffice, as when Wifey keeps changing the cloth nappies patiently, we often run out of all the clothes. And the cycle starts all over again. In fact the home not only seems like a refugee camp but also smells like one.
V) How does it feel – to be no longer plan evenings out; no dinners, no movies, at least not for the next few months or possibly a few years?
One of the things that I most detested while watching a movie in a theater, was when in between an intense scene a kid somewhere will go bawling for no apparent reason. There would be some frantic efforts made to quiten the baby followed by a hushed consultation between the toddler’s mother or father as to who will make the sacrifice and move out of the theatre. All this drama would go on for 10 minutes, with voices (mine included) erupting in the dark belaboring the couple. In fact, I also believed that couples accompanied by small ‘bawlable’ kids should not be allowed in. Sigh, now am on the other side of the table. I haven’t seen a film in a theatre for the past 6 months, and going by the trends (kids tend to be more uncontrollable with every month) I don’t think so I will risk the same embarrassment that I wrought on other couples. So, I had to miss Wolverine, no Star Trek, no Hangover, no Transformers (missing Megan), etc. For someone who loves recoiling on a cushy seat with a pack of popcorn watching a special-effects extravaganza, this is a huge setback. My evening or weekends are just not the same anymore.
VI) How does it feel – to have suddenly aged, with family and folks expecting you to be responsible, sane and sober?
Finally, the biggest issue with fatherhood is that you are expected to behave like a father. Suddenly, every action, comment or gesture is weighed on a maturity scale and there is just no escape from it. Grand moms will become sentimental if you admitted to hoping that the child is naughty, grandfathers will stop you from being too much cootchie-cooing with the kids, uncles and aunts will be loaded with advice. In fact, there is just too much of it. And the worst part is, that you are at the very center of it. Somehow, the mothers seem to take to this advice season like a frog to monsoon, but for someone who is accustomed to doling out them dime a dozen, it is a bad season. You almost feel like a criminal, with so many eyes on you, it is quite unnerving.
Now, if you were with me through all the queries and could empathize for a moment, try and amalgamate all of those and that is how it feels to be a father with the following addition:
Being a father is totally out-of-this-world experience, it is just too big to really be expressed in words, looking at the angelic face when one returns from home there isn’t anything more calming. And yes, that cherubic smile, goodness, they just go straight to your heart. The best part is children laugh with their eyes as well, unlike we grown ups, their tiny eyes light up when they smile. The lesser said about the pips and squeaks, it is then you understand how we learn to express ourselves. The every-so-tiny pinkish hands and feet that fit in your palm It is plain heavenly, beautiful, amazing, all the rest at the same time…