Shake well before use

Hands-on or hands-off?Something changes irreversibly in men when they become parents. They start asking for directions. They start saying “I don’t know”. They start including words like ‘how’ in their vocabulary. Yes, the same men who were from Mars, the same men who read maps, the same men who would rather drive into another state/country than ask where they were, the same men you married despite the idiocies of their gender.

Around the time that words like ‘parenting’ evolved, another treacherous term made its appearance to vindicate all those men who did a little more than donating sperm in the bringing up of a child. It was called “hands-on fatherhood”–  a term many men would like to add to their resume, but don’t quite know how.

Rather conveniently, a whole species of women also evolved who christened their men with the aforementioned term even if they so much as changed diapers for one week (under supervision) or dropped the child to school once in a while or walked the baby in a pram, with the entourage of maid, driver and whoever else they could get their hands on.

Perhaps I have high benchmarks because of the way I was raised. My father cooked, got us ready for school (even if he sometimes stapled a shirt together to camouflage a missing button), combed our hair (very badly), quizzed our geography from time to time, taught us chess and badminton and tennis and cricket, and waded through chest deep water with us on his shoulders whenever our building got flooded, although he often bungled up in public about how old we were. He didn’t know then that he was hands-on. Good for my mother, who didn’t know either.

In my book, a hands-on daddy is someone who knows what to do with child and how and when to do it without being issued instructions in triplicate.  Someone who wouldn’t ask, “What should I feed the child?”  or “What do I wipe his nose with?” or “Where are his undies?” would be a start.  Also, I can’t deal with the fact that answering the phone while changing a child is enough to give some men a nervous breakdown.

So I set some rules to keep it simple. I decided to award the hands-on certification on the basis of:

  1. The number of hours of instructionless child-management (I wouldn’t go as far as calling it parenting) that have been logged in on any given day (adding up of stray minutes over a few months to say 22 hours doesn’t count)
  2. The extent of resorting to packaged substances that are blasphemous in my culinary dictionary, namely ice-cream, biscuits, chocolate, strange coloured liquids masquerading as juices to appease the said child.
  3. The ability to know when said child needs to be changed, cleaned, washed, scrubbed.

You have one of those? I can be nice to you. Or mean, if you flaunt it too much. Or send you muffins once in a while. I like hands-on daddyhood. It makes the men look good, it makes raising a child feel more collaborative, it makes me feel less full of myself when I write on parenting and other ‘grim’ issues that cannot be trivialised.

The other parental unit displays handson-ness under duress (my mother is in hospital, the cat has to be taken to the vet, I have a doctor’s appointment to catch or some such) and usually resorts to objectionable means (most of which involve clutching a remote or staring at a moronic screen) to sustain the hours. But recently there was a twist in my tale. The child, on his own, started demanding hands-on daddyness. “Dadda will get me ready for school,” he declared, one fine day. There began an ordeal of choices. “What would you like to wear today?”  or “What would you like to watch with your breakfast?” and the resulting chaos. My smooth morning routine of getting the child to school in under an hour fell to pieces.  I have never had as much grief as the time since the joint venture. Some days I miss the OPU’s “I am so dead to the world, that I really don’t give a shit about how much trouble you are having” days.

I have come to realise that I prefer hands-off to hands-on any day. There are also days when I wish I were a praying mantis who has her male for dinner the day she gives birth.  I am not for sexual cannibalism but sometimes, it seems the only way to keep the men away from stuff they know practically nothing about.  It’s just simpler. You are the only boss, the child can never play good cop against bad cop, and it’s just less confusing. Also, once the men remotely show the inclination to be hands-on, you do the one thing you shouldn’t. You raise the bar.

 (This post appeared as my column yesterday in the Sunday Eye of the Indian Express)

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18 thoughts on “Shake well before use

  1. sneaky men…if they cant do it or or not well, then they dont have to!
    like i say, i was not taught to cook/clean a baby/raise a child in school/college/home. i took interest and learned as i went….so there, we are both professionals, so we can both learn given an opportunity. and given the genetic bias, i can allow for some superior skills in us women, but inability in men..naah! thats an excuse to get away

  2. read it yesterday in “eye”…nicely put across….allow men some time and they will surely deliver in 75% cases…:-) 🙂

  3. I think at times mothers tend to be a tad too finicky (like yours truly). On the rare occasions that I am out and the son is in the father’s custody, they seem to be having a jamboree. So much so that when I am back the OPU in my case asks me, “Why did you come back” and I suspect the child too sometimes looks at me with a similar expression 🙂

  4. I think its “bad” (like my dotter says) but yeah I agree 100%
    “Also, once the men remotely show the inclination to be hands-on, you do the one thing you shouldn’t. You raise the bar.”

  5. Great post! So endearing and funny when you say that your dad used to staple your shirt together to camouflage a missing button! Lol! My dad used to do that too. He even managed to braid my hair…messy of course!

  6. When my daughter goes swimming with daddy, it comes with a side order of a slice of pineapple cake, bedtime is a one hour process v/s a 15 minute routine, she gets way too much tv time, her clothes are ALWAYS un-co-ordinated when he dresses her and her hair is always a mess but it’s their special time and she has a blast whenever she has daddy time. I realized early that its not necessary for daddies to be mommies and it’s ok for daddies to do what they do, how they do it. I think men don’t have as much foresight as us so sometimes I intervene just to let him know that too much of spoiling will turn her into who he doesn’t want her to be and that’s helpful. But I wouldn’t change a thing about how they are with each other. It’s adorable.

  7. hey lalita, i love your articles, they make me laugh, think, read them again and laugh! the book did that as well 🙂 i ve only just started blogging about mommyhood and i wanted to refer to your book and this post in one of my posts..would that be ok? i could send you the article before i post it..

  8. Hey Lalita, i LOVE your articles, they make me laugh, think, read them again and laugh some more…the book did that as well 🙂 i’ve only recently started blogging about mommyhood and i wanted to refer to your book and this article in one of my posts, where i’ve been asked to write about gender roles in parenting…would that be ok? i could send you the article before i post it…

  9. Pingback: Two to tango | Two purple lines

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