Of all the discriminations meted-out to various sections in the society, this one counts for the least publicized. It is so less talked-about that many refuse to believe it actually exists. "New Dads" often live with the stigma (at least in India) that a Dad is just the sperm-provider in the conceiving stage and latter as a food-shelter-and-clothing provider for the rest of his life. The father-child relation is not held same regard (or even close) as a Mother and child relation. Granted that a mother and child are one entity for roughly 35 weeks but in the process of glorifying the mother and child relationship the father is often ignored.
For starters, in most Hindu customs the daughter-in-law is packed off to her "maike", some 7 months into her pregnancy only to return after the baby is around 3 or 4 months old. So the discrimination starts even before the child is brought into this world. In my custom the would-be-father's contribution is restricted to sperm-donation and settling the bills for the delivery. But the MCPs that (previous generation of Fathers of) the Mallu Clan were, it serves everyone right that they stay from all things good in life. But times are the changing. And with micro families and working women being the order of the day, most deliveries happen with the husbands by their side. I was lucky enough to be next to my wife (though not in the OT) when she delivered our bundle of joy. But again for reasons known only to the Hospital staff, the expecting father is not allowed inside the OT unlike what is practiced in other countries.
Whether by their own will or bending over for the sake of customs and traditions, it is almost criminal to miss the first-look of your own flesh and blood. It is not a sight you see every day or every year. For all you know, you may see it only once or twice in your lifetime. But more than the frequency it's the emotional gravity that's worth cherishing for a life time. The anxious 9 months suddenly gives way to overwhelming joy and complete nothingness. If ever there was a moment when I felt my legs wobbling with excitement, it was this! I could sense my brain sending signals to the eyes to well-up but this was not the time, because if I blink, I know the baby would be whisked back into the OT to dress-up. I only had enough time to enquire about the sex of the baby and that too after an after-thought. A girl it is - just as we both secretly wanted, but never revealed, should it be a boy. Not that we would be disappointed but we just were preparing for it to be either.
As I get busy calling people who matter to spread the news the mother and daughter are wheeled-into our room. I quickly wash my hands and pick-up the baby before I face the next stigma - new Dads don't know how to pick a just-born. There is surprise, shock, awe and instructions pouring-in. I’m too pre-occupied to heed to any of that talk. Looking at those sleepy eyes, I could hear myself repeating in my head - You are My Baby. I was reveling in the fact that I am now a life-creator, care-giver and protector - synonyms usually only reserved to the mother. So, with all the emotions that I was feeling at that time I would like to ask would any New Dad feel comfortable missing out on such joy? If they do miss it voluntarily - God save them and if they miss it by way of customs and traditions, I’m bound to ask if we really need such customs and traditions?
My grouse here is that New Dads are often relegated to the task of being a financier or sperm-giver and never credited with the role of a life-giver and protector that they rightfully can be. It’s about time these traditions and stigma are thrown out of the window and usher the New Age Dads who not only take care of their little ones but also be the emotional handle of their better halves.
Picture Curtesy: Essential baby, Comedy Film Nerds