It seems like ages ago when my daughter was born – I was just into my thirties, still young enough and naïve to the duties and responsibilities of being a father – a good father actually. Believing I could change the world of parenting and come up with my solution to what ails the world. It has now been seven years and I am not sure if I have been able to find the fix to all parenting problems. I, now closer to forty prepare for part deux. As this realisation dawns on me, I pause, look back at my years as a father and what it has taught me. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now make the choices to do what I did well in raising my daughter and avoid the mistakes. While I have so much more to learn, I continue everyday as I watched my daughter grow from an infant, to a toddler to a very pretty young girl with the ferocious mind of her own. Putting all this down to what I believe is sacrosanct and clearly non-negotiable, I get ready for the back nine. So what have I, the ‘wise one’ really learnt….
Firstly, always respect their mother. And I mean always. It may seem easy and maybe even surprising to many who read this, after all isn’t that the bedrock of raising a child and having a family. But life is not as simple as it seems – especially if the parents are no longer together and sometimes even when they are. You may have had your reasons to break up which you believed was for the best for everyone. You may have many moments when you both disagreed and made it unpleasant for each other and said things you regret but we are human after all. As I write this now, I realise it’s not single parent families that need to deal with this and even regular couples have their moments of disagreement. But your child need not see any of that. Your views about each other are personal to you both only. All we need to do is to ensure that we respect each other in front of them and they know that. After all, the way you treat their mother will set the benchmarks for how your son should treat women in his life or how your daughter will expect to be treated and vice versa.
Secondly, learn to let go and de-control (is that even a word). Let them be children, that’s what they are. There will be enough time for them and you to grow up and you will be very soon reminiscing about the wonder years and what they did when they were at different ages. We need memories of their childhood as much as they do and losing it by making them grow up too soon. Encourage them to stop and smell the flowers as Robert Frost would say J Let them make mistakes, after all we will always be there to pick them up after a fall, but they would have learnt so much. We cannot protect them from everything in life, and rob them of life’s experiences. Let go as much as you can, little at first and more later.
Thirdly, be their friend but always a parent first. This is a cardinal rule that I live by. I would love to be their best friend and maybe someday I will be, but I am the father for a reason. The forty years of my existence do chalk up to quite a few experiences myself and I will make sure that some lines are not to be crossed at all and there I will be the father whether they like it or not. I may not win the popularity contest at that time but I will have the satisfaction of doing the right thing – something I believe all children do inclulcate in them at some time or the other.
It may appear that I contradict myself by advising to let go and let them have their experiences and yet choose to play the father card when it would suit me. But I disagree and believe that with my experience as an adult and a father I can make a more informed decision on when to let go and when to be the father they hate. I know when they are older they will appreciate the vetos I did as much as I appreciated when my parents did it for me. Life is all about the choices we make and sometimes more experience just determines when to play which role.
Fourthly, make them sensitive to others and the environment around them. Life has changed and simple concepts that we knew so well are now so different. The family as we knew it is not the only one – there are single parents, divorced parents, step children, half children, parents of the same sex. There are people not as fortunate as us, people with special abilities or less fortunate than us materially. Teach them to understand everyone and appreciate what God has created. Let them now always say ‘Why me’ but understand ‘Why not me’. There are so many things to be grateful for and our children need to appreciate what they have and also be sensitive and aware of the world around them. Let their best friend be the girl ‘who sees with her hands’ or those who have two mommies and two daddies. The world is not what it used to be and children are quicker to understand that – if only someone would show them that.
Lastly and most importantly, the greatest bequeath we can leave our children are roots and wings. I grew up in a middle class Indian home, with an army officer for a father and a teacher for a mother. I have seen the effort they have put in to give us the best of what was possible, often at the expense of their own desires. We got what we needed and we appreciated what we got. Today I may no longer be seen as a middle class person but I live by the ethos of my upbringing – values of integrity, honesty, respect and responsibility. As a father I want my children to know where they come from and while they may have a lot more compared to me, they must always be guided by the values of the Indian middle class. Always appreciative of what we have and at the same time being fearless enough to chase our dreams.
I am the one that shall give them the confidence of being grounded yet daring to fly.