It was Vedu’s kindergarten “graduation” day last weekend. That, in itself, could be theme for a whole other blog about how this culture of “graduation” for every single grade, not even separate phases of school – like kindergarten, primary school, middle school and high school, is starting to become rather over-the-top these days. Hari and I joke about how we both did our graduation and postgraduation and never once had a convocation ceremony, while these little tots get the whole package of graduation robes and caps and the walk for writing “tin, bin, pin”. Sometimes I wonder if we are bringing down the importance and the “Wow” factor of actual graduations by doing it every other year from the time these kids are 4 or 5. Don’t get me wrong. I do believe in celebrating achievements – little or big, cheering them on in their tiny steps towards something. But I also believe in not overdoing it to the extent of making them feel that celebrations should be in order every time they meet the basic requirements, or that mediocrity is the best they can/should aim for. I mean, if not in everything, at least in things that they really are good at. But hey, kids have fun, most parents feel it is a big deal, so there’s no reason to be a spoilsport. So, we went and had a rather fun time, watching the kiddos do their thing.

After the first half of the function, which was mainly dance performance by kids of different grades, the teacher who was the emcee suddenly started talking about mothers. Not just one or two sentences, but a whole speech about how mothers are everything in a child’s life, how everything begins and ends with mothers, how the entire life of the kids is shaped by their mothers and so on and so forth. And then she sprang a surprise on us. She asked all the mothers to sit on chairs facing the audience, so that our kids could touch our feet and seek our blessings as part of Matruvandanam, mainly as a way of saying “Thank you” for what we do for them every day. It was most certainly an awkward thing for a person like me who doesn’t like facing a crowd, unless I am in a training room, and even more so as a person who doesn’t do the whole feet-touching, blessing-seeking stuff. I understand that it means a lot to people who follow these traditions; it’s just not the way we do things where I come from – no disrespect there. But the eager look in Vedu’s eyes was enough and more for me to play along, and even enjoy it, thinking of it as a pretend-play that we do together.

However, all I could think of from then was how problematic and unfair this whole exercise was. Seeking blessings from one’s mother is fine of course. But what about all the dads who were present there? If there is a Matruvandanam, shouldn’t there be a Pitruvandanam too? My point is that what looked like a seemingly harmless and rather amazing showcase of our culture, is exactly what is wrong with our society, where fathers are either not given their due for being equals in parenting, or made to feel that parenting is a mother’s job and a father is only the ‘provider’.

Back in 2018, after being sick and tired of “Mommy glorification” posts on a Mother’s Day, I wrote the following blog as a tribute to all the fathers.

That was just a year after Vedu had come into our lives and I knew what a terrible injustice it was that not just on Mother’s Day, but also on every other day of the year, we paint mothers as the only indispensable part of a child’s life, the one around whom the child’s entire being revolves, her sacrifices and all that shit. It has always made me so damn angry because I live with a man who is in every way an equal parent to my girls. And to see his role and that of so many other amazing dads like him downplayed in the never-ending glorification of mothers is just infuriating. Yes, pregnancy, giving birth, breastfeeding and all the physical and mental agonies we go through as women are incomparable. But just because men are physically unable to do any of these, doesn’t mean that they are any lesser when the child comes into this world. For that matter, from the time the child comes into a mother’s womb, the kind of dad we have with us makes all the difference to how we go through the difficult journey.

And as I have written in the other blog too, this whole exercise, especially the emcee’s speech listing out all that mothers do for their kids, was glorifying the norm that mothers are the only ones who are completely involved in the child’s life – be it helping with studies, or cooking yummy food for them, or taking care of them when they are sick, and doing just about everything for them. I am not totally surprised by this though. Back when Taaru was just a year old and Vedu’s online classes were going on, Hari’s father had a surgery and he went to Kerala to be with his father and take care of him. He was gone for 10 or 11 days. Obviously everyone wondered if I would be able to manage everything alone, but we didn’t have to even think of whether he should go or not, because Achan’s surgery was our priority. The day after he left, Taaru started a fever of 102 degrees and a day after that Vedu as well. That stayed on for almost the entire time he was gone – high temperatures not even coming down by a degree, sponging them every two hours, handling the vomiting and cleaning up, getting them to eat or drink something, online consultations with their doctor – you know the drill. Somehow, I got through all that and finally crashed after Hari got home. And that was the end of the story.

Cut to last year when my mother had a surgery and I went home to be with her for a week. Suddenly my family and everyone else, except for my wonderful in-laws, were like “Whoa! How will Hari manage home and the kids if you are not there? Maybe you shouldn’t leave.” When my oldest aunt, my darling Appachi, who I consider my grandma, asked me the same question, I told her “Why is this such a concern for everyone? He is their father. He is raising them too, not just me. And if I could handle two sick kids and take care of home all alone when he was away, why do you assume that he can’t do the same thing???” Her immediate response was “No no dear!! You are their mother and it is your duty to take care of them. Alone or not doesn’t make a difference and it is not nice of you to talk about it. We have all done that for our kids too, when our husbands were working elsewhere.” Being extremely close to her, I chided her jokingly for the lecture and ended that conversation.

In the week that I was away, Hari did everything that we both normally do together. He woke up early, got Vedu ready for school – which even included his weak area of doing her hair, sacrificed his sleep to go with the different schedules of both the girls, fed them, played with them, kept them so happy that they didn’t even miss me a little (so much so that I started wondering if I meant anything to them at all :-P). And once I was back, every single person I talked to was like “Oh my God! We have no idea how Hari managed alone!! He really needs to be bestowed with an award for this achievement. You are so lucky!!” In fact, this “You are lucky Hari helps with the household chores and taking care of kids” is something I get a lot – despite me simply having a conversation about something that happened at home, and never bragging about it as if it is an abnormal thing to happen!

Well, duh!! I know I am lucky to have him. But not because he can take care of his kids by himself or handle the chores in his own home! He is not “helping” – he is doing his part, and doing it very well too. You feel someone else is “lucky” to have this, only because you are enabling this shit in your home. Don’t call others lucky, make this the norm! If your partner is stuck with the obsolete version of “Father’s job description”, give him a wake-up call instead of looking at some other household as an unattainable Utopia or something! We have really got to stop acting like a father doing his part in raising his kids, or a man doing his part in managing his home, is so unimaginable that any such instance has to be met with shock. And we really really need to stop giving all the Vandanams to mothers alone on special days and social media posts, just to keep this idiotic norm intact. What’s even worse about it is that we are trying to pass on the very same mindset to our next generation too by giving them a speech about how it is their mothers (and mothers alone) who do everything important for them, having them thank their mothers and seek their blessings on a public platform, when their fathers are sitting right there – not getting even a hug! What the hell! I don’t know about the others, but Vedu got an abridged version of this blog as a life lesson and Hari got a Pitruvandanam from her right after getting home. No way I am letting my girl grow up believing all the bullshit people throw at her! 😉

A big shoutout to the mother who was invited on stage to speak about the school after the Matruvandanam and chose to dedicate two whole minutes talking about how her husband is the one who fulfills all the stereotypically-mother’s duties for their daughter and how fathers need to be thanked equally for all they do. Thank you, fellow-mommy, for speaking my mind!! 🙂

Also published on Medium.