From provider to parent for all occasions: How single dads see fatherhood

Features Parenting Sunday, June 19, 2016 - 13:52

Being a single father brought a whole new understanding of love and of parenting for 36-year-old Bhaskar Palit. Ask him what he means, and he says: “When you’re half asleep or have just woken up, the person you automatically reach out to is the one you truly love and rely on. Every morning I wake up at 6 and before I go to work, this little guy will do that. That feeling is worth every challenge I face,” he says.

As a single father, he says, he’s figured out something that might shock some people. Being “mother” is just a synonym for someone who’s there when you need them.

“If the child knows he can depend on someone completely, that person becomes the ‘mother’ for him. We just think of it this way because usually it’s the mothers who are with the children all the time while the father provides. The word ‘mother’ doesn’t have to do with gender, it’s actually a set of emotions put together,” he says. 

Delhi-based Bhaskar’s journey as person with “an adventurous set of responsibilities” (read single father) began around two years ago when the proceedings for his divorce began. His son Ishaan was two years old at the time.

“All of a sudden, I didn’t just have to provide. Luckily, people at work were very supportive of what I was trying to do,” Bhaskar says. He works as a fundraising officer (for individuals) at UNICEF.

“I like cooking so that was fine. But the hardest part about being a single father is,” he said, hesitated for a moment and finished sheepishly: “finding good house helps.”

Finding women domestic helps is difficult for him. Often, he has male nannies babysitting his four-and-a-half-year-old son after he returns from school. “This also means I have to be very open to everything Ishaan is saying,” says Bhaskar, and listen carefully to his son’s words, in order to ensure that nothing untoward has occurred in his absence.

For 63-year-old Varun (name changed on request) it was his female cousins who helped him with his two young daughters when his wife passed away 16 years ago. The hardest part for him was to deal with his own as well as his daughters’ grief. They were in class 3 and 6 respectively.

“I put my career in the backseat and started to spend more time with my daughters. The younger one was a bit of an introvert. I spent a little more time with her so that she knew that she could talk to me about anything,” he says.

He ensured that his daughters could talk about anything – including puberty – with him. But he noticed that they sometimes felt the loss of their mother, especially when they saw other kids’ mothers at school.

“That’s when I started attending all their PTA meetings too,” recounts Varun. “Although I made it a point to be open with them about everything without shame, I have a niece who is a doctor. I would ensure that my daughters could turn to her if they ever wanted to talk about something they would otherwise have spoken about with their mother,” he adds.

When 46-year-old Prithvish Rajamani was divorced in 2007 he found he had to look after his son, Talish, who was three at the time. 

Like Bhaskar, Prithvish too had to learn how to look after someone in ways that involved cooking and cleaning.

“I didn’t know how to run a house. I didn’t know how to use a washing machine. There was even a time I did not know how to make rice!” he exclaims.

Then he discovered edible food wasn’t good enough. “Just food wasn’t enough. I had to make it well, present it well. And shows like Masterchef didn’t help my case either,” he laughs. 

“The microwave became my one stop solution. Once he wanted his Winnie the Pooh socks but they had just been washed. I dried them in the microwave so he could wear them,” Prithvish recalls.

With help from his mother and sister, he ensured that Talish never lacked a mother-figure in his life.

Although full-time dads are few and far between, there are some who are once-a-month-dads. Ashok Acharya, a 46-year-old entrepreneur, is one such man.

Estranged from his wife, Ashok did not get to see or have any contact with his son, Adit, between 2010 and 2012.

“He was eight when I saw him in January 2012. He just burst into tears, jumped up and hugged me. I can never forget that moment,” recounts Ashok, who has struggled for many years to have visitation rights to his son. Since then he’s been allowed one weekend a month with Adit but no contact otherwise.

“When I met him after two years, things were a little uneasy at first. But after the first 4-5 visits, they fell into place,” he says. For the first two years after he got visitation, Ashok took Adit to a different place each weekend they met. Over time, Ashok and Adit bonded over sports. Ashok taught Adit how to play squash, table tennis and to swim.

“The hardest part about being a single father in this situation is to use that one weekend to the fullest,” says Ashok. “You don’t sleep for more than four hours. You use every inch of the time you have,” he adds. Things get especially hard on Sunday evenings, he says, when they know time is running out.

What keeps Ashok going despite all the struggle is the hope that one day Adit might live with him.

“I could not have done all this for myself,” he says. “A soldier dies for his fellows in the platoon. I guess Adit is my platoon,” he smiles.

For Prithvish, what makes all the challenges of being a single father worth it is what he calls “morning hug-time” with his son. “Every morning, without fail, we have a 5-8 minute hug when Talish would put his leg over me and hug me. That’s worth everything.”

So, what do these single fathers want this Father’s day?

“I had told both of my daughters that when they start earning well, I want them to give me a BMW. So that would be nice,” laughs Varun.

Bhaskar meanwhile imagines a hypothetical scenario where his son would grow up a little faster and he, a little slower. “So hopefully when we’re at a similar age, I’d like to share a couple of beers with my son,” he says.

When asked what he would like for father’s day, Prithvish hands the phone to Talish. “I think what he (Prithvish) wants the most is a good report card,” replies Talish after a lot of thinking.

Meanwhile, for Ashok, an ideal father’s day would be spending the day with his son with the rest of his family at home, in Bangalore. “It won’t happen though,” he says. However, there’s a silver lining for him. “We have been planning the meeting next weekend though. So I’ll see him soon!”