Five Questions on Fatherhood with ‘Daddy’ Author Tuhin Sinha
Three years ago, Tuhin Sinha wrote a book on the changing face of Indian fatherhood. Daddy: The Birth of a Father was a first for India, a fatherhood memoir-cum-handbook from the perspective of a primary caregiver who happened to be male. But as any parent knows, each passing year brings new challenges and joys in the business of raising kids. On the occasion of his son’s fifth birthday, Tuhin chatted with The Swaddle about how parenthood — life — has changed since.
The Swaddle: Your book came out in 2015; in it, you say you saw few dads going about parenthood in an equal way, and even fewer resources for those who did. It’s not been long, but in two years since, have you sensed any change in how men think about and approach fatherhood?
Tuhin Sinha: The only change, even if it’s a gradual change, is the reversal of traditional gender roles in the country. With every passing year, I see more and more dads challenging the conventional gender role play which they thought they were supposed to respect. In India, in our previous generations, men had been led to believe that indulging a child was the job of the mother. Every passing year, I see that role reversal happening. I see dads taking time off work, taking kids out for extracurricular activities, initiating them into new skills etc. It’s much more common than it was 20 years ago.
TS: In your book, you talk about how many of the feelings/thoughts that are stereotyped to mothers – feeling both burdened and blessed by your child’s closeness; always thinking about your child with part of your brain, even while at work – actually have more to do with being the primary caretaker, which you were at the time. Now that you’ve returned to work outside the home, have you noticed these feelings/thoughts equalizing between you and your wife? Or do you feel they still take up more of your mental real estate?
Tuhin: For the first one and a half years after Neev was born, I had consciously taken up the challenge of role reversal. As a writer who likes to experiment with new experiences and is maverick by nature, I wanted to experience being the ‘mother’ for the first 1.5 years. But I also have a tendency of moving on from a role. So, by the time my son was one and a half, I realized I had to get back to my career in a big way.
The basic thoughts or feelings or level of involvement remain the same, though. Because my physical presence around him is less, now, it’s difficult to get into the details of everything. But I still have a macro perspective of what’s happening with him on a daily basis. And the thoughts are there at the back of my mind. Even if I’m in an important meeting, if I know it’s his parent-teacher meeting and his mother would be attending, the thoughts are there at the back of my mind. I would immediately make a call and find out how it went after the meeting.
TS: The book is a very practical commentary on controversial topics like C-sections and formula, which many new parents, without the right information, experience or guidance, struggle to navigate. What are some of the difficult/controversial parental decisions you’ve faced in the years since?
Tuhin: Today, my primary concern is education: Of all the schools I see in Bombay, I tend to be somewhat dissatisfied with what a school is offering in terms of education and extracurricular activities. I feel schools should be equipped with lavish playgrounds, because that’s how I grew up. Even the best schools here, because of lack of space, are cramped.
Also, the kind of activities he takes up beyond education are my major concerns today. Today kids are growing up in a very lonely environment, thanks to nuclear families and single-kid families. I see 5- or 6-year-olds battling with loneliness issues. It’s a big challenge for parents today, because either you let them watch TV or play video games – which isn’t a good thing – or you leave them with nannies, or you juggle roles with your spouse and squeeze in time. One way to tackle it, to me, is to introduce him to new hobbies and new activities as much as we can.
TS: You share in your book your wife’s comment on your pursuit of many things at once. It seems that is the case more than ever; you mentioned several new projects in our first conversation. How has your more hectic, multi-tasking professional schedule affected your role as your son’s primary caretaker? Has it changed what you think it means to be an involved dad?
Tuhin: Despite my best intentions, and wanting to be there as much as I was, the only thing I don’t manage is the amount of time. But I try to make up for it in other ways. That’s how my wife and me have divided parenting responsibilities. The daily assignments, chores, etc. I don’t get into it, because I can’t maintain that continuity because of travel. My simultaneous responsibilities as a writer, a politician and other professional commitments can be pretty taxing.
These projects take a toll on the amount of quality time I spend with my kid. But when I travel, I try to be back after only two to three days. I try to plan my outgoing flight in such a way that I drop Neev to school and then proceed straight to the airport. At times, I’ve planned my return flight such that I can go straight to the school and pick him up. Besides, technology has reduced physical distances today. So, we do a video chat once in the day on days I am away.
What I’ve realized is I’m happy spending time that is qualitatively rich with my son, and that helps me avoid the guilt of not being able to spend as much time as I’d like.
TS: If you were to write a letter to your son, Neev, now at age 5, like the one you wrote to him at 8 months, what might it include?
Tuhin: That letter was written when he was 8 months old, but the letter largely concerns his whole life. There’s not much I can add, except that every year and every passing day, the morality paradigm in the world is getting more and more confusing. That’s where every individual needs to be more sorted, or evolved, in finding out the right ways. There’s not really much I can add to it except he needs to be strong enough to shield himself from negative influences. When I hear about teens contemplating suicide getting ideas from internet games. I find that very scary.
If I were to tell him something today, I’d tell him to treat his parents as his best friends and to confide as much as he can in us, so that we are aware of all the influences which are working on him – positive and negative – and we can help curate him the best way in his life choices.
Tuhin Sinha’s Daddy: The Birth of a Father is available through Harlequin India.
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