Happy mother's day, dad
Phorum Dalal meets fathers who play a dual role in the lives of their children
‘From day one, I have been dad and mom’
Walk into 62 year-old Anil Mani and his 22 year-old son Nikhil’s home and you will spot colourful fish swimming in the an aquarium and a well-used carpentry workstation near the balcony door. Laughter, light jokes and back slapping fills the room as the father-son duo poses for the camera. Slowly, they forget we are there, and indulge in a game of arm wrestling. Nikhil inspects a chair seat that Mani has fixed and points out mistakes. “You haven’t stapled the felt properly on the sides,” he tells Mani, who is a voiceover artiste. Mani then proceeeds to teach Nikhil how to use the stapling gun.
“I had to assume dual parenting responsibilities from a very early age, as my wife was going through a severe case of postnatal depression and was quite disoriented, and often unpredictable. I even took two years off from my job in the merchant navy,” says Mani, who did everything from sterilising bottles, feeding the baby, changing nappies and giving him a bath.
“My late wife, who expired 15 years ago, was an airhostess and had to resume flying six months after our son was born. I was home with the baby alone most of the time. Reliable domestic help was difficult to find,” says Anil, who then became a stay-at-home dad. “Fortunately he was a cheerful and healthy baby,” says Mani.
Two years later, Mani had to reluctantly go back to sea or lose his job. “I had become attached to my infant son and was not comfortable with this situation. Mani’s eldest brother and sister-in-law in Bangalore volunteered to take over the parenting. Nikhil, who was now eight, stayed with them till he was nine. “That’s when I decided to quit my job and take up voiceover as a full-time career,” says Mani, who later parted ways with his wife.
“Nikhil chose to stay with me. He was quite fascinated by my storytelling skills. He was also a great fan of my cooking,” smiles Mani. He woke up early to fix Nikhil’s breakfast, pack his tiffin and iron his uniform. “The most stressful task was winding up my work and making it in time to pick him up. Clients were not always punctual about appointments,” says Mani. Today, Nikhil is a 22 year-old youngster and Mani is aware that he spends more time with his friends or on the computer. “Getting him away from that computer is quite a task now. This is normal with kids that age so I need to accept these changes as he grows up,” says Mani, adding that in an emergency his son is always by his side.
‘I fill the void with unconditional love’
What 12 year-old Alison loves best is when her father, 44 year-old Glen Fernandes, sings Hotel California as she strums the tune on her guitar. And this is an activity they indulge in almost every evening. “My wife expired eight years ago when Alison was just four years old,” says Fernandes, who works in the administration department of Standard Chartered. This father-daughter duo lives in Bandra with Glen’s 60 year-old mother. He wakes up at 5.30 am every day for a morning walk. By 7 am, he prods his daughter to wake up and then rushes to the kitchen to ensure her breakfast and tiffin are ready. “We have a full-time maid but I oversee all the activities. Alison tends to bully her granny in my absence,” he grins.
Fernandes drops her off to school and heads to his office in Bandra Kurla Complex. “I call her at 4 pm and she tells me all about her day,” says Fernandes who tries to make it home by 7.30 pm. They bond over a game of carrom or a cooking session in the kitchen; sizzlers being their favourite pick.
“Positive reinforcement works wonders with kids. I am never strict with Alison,” he says. Sometimes, when it’s difficult to have a confrontation, Alison uses Sticky Notes, a software her father has downloaded on the computer. “She leaves me a virtual post-it note, and I leave a reply on the same,’ says Fernandes, who recently left his daughter a note when she wanted a puppy. “I left a reply explaining it would need a lot of care and that dadda would go mad with another responsibility,” he laughs.
Two years after his wife’s death, when Alison was six-and-a-half years old, Fernandes took her for an outing. During the conversation, he gently asked her whether she would like to have a new mummy to take care of her. The reply was something Fernandes was not prepared for. “She simply told me, that just like she didn’t know what the poster of Finding Nemo said about the film, she didn’t know what it would be like to have a new mummy in her life. That’s when I knew that she was growing up fine. I had managed to fill the void with all my love,” smiles Fernandes. “And did I tell you Alison also sings in the choir,” he adds, beaming with pride.
‘For the past two years, I’m on diaper duty’
When Gia was born to Amrita and Vir Nakai in 2010, they promised each other one thing — they would never leave her alone with a nanny. Six months after Gia was born, 32 year-old Amrita resumed work as a production designer. “During that time, I was fed up of my by stressful job in an ad agency. I finally quit my job to work on Helmet Stories — an adventure motorcycling travel company. I was at home a lot, while Amrita travelled out of town very often,” says Nakai, who just returned from Thailand, where Amrita is working currently, after 45 days. “I was the nanny on this trip,” he smiles.
And the story has stayed the same since. “I feed her meals, change her diapers, bathe her, watch TV shows with her and draw with her. It is very rare that Amrita and I are travelling for work at the same time,” says Nakai, who has been on “diaper duty”, as he calls it, for one and a half years. “Infants don’t move and just stare into space. This would freak me out,” laughs Nakai, who had never been around babies for more than few hours; leave alone taking care of them. A lot of friends and family told Nakai that it was okay if he wasn’t around all the time. “But, the pleasure of seeing her grow up is all mine. I cannot explain what this satisfaction means to me,” he concludes.