“Stay-at-home-father! What is that?” This is the response I received from countless people as I began to research for this feature. “Fathers who stay at home to raise the kids?” I elaborated on what I thought was a self-explanatory phrase. “Willingly? who does that?”, “Where? Here in Pakistan, are you crazy?”, were just some of the astonished reactions I was met with and so the conversations would end in awkward silence where I realised the futility of my attempt to convince them that it was very much a “real thing” and such anomalies, just like women who don’t want to get married, couples who don’t want children, were very much found in Pakistan. Nonetheless I scoured the length and breadth of our society, trolling strangers on Facebook, over text and in real life to dig out their stories which will at the least give a few answers and plant some new ideas in people’s minds.
[quote]He made a conscious decision not to be a guest in his new role[/quote]
“So you’re going to cook, clean and do pocha now?” is what many of his so called friends said when Adnaan, who restores cars and tutors young students, decided to stay at home to raise the kids. Adnaan came to this momentous decision due to a series of unfortunate circumstances in his life. Once a full-time corporate professional with a driven and accomplished partner, Adnaan recalls the struggles of being a set of working parents with small children, relying on retired parents for support, cherishing the few quality moments they caught as a family, which is true for many young couples in Pakistan today. In 2009 whilst the children were still young, Adnaan met with a car accident which resulted in 70% burns on his entire body. Thus began a lengthy and demanding recovery process which entailed 3 months of hospitalization and a further 12 months to be functional again. When it came to deciding whether to restart life as it was before the accident, the couple took stock and found themselves at a turning point. Adnaan made a choice, one parent needed to be home as the kids were growing up and it would be him. He had to reprogram his own daily practices and activities and he began to work through the feelings of emasculation that were further fuelled by negative attitudes from friends who could not reconcile with his new life. He also made a conscious decision to not be a guest in his new role, if he was going to do this, he was going all in. He began cooking for and with the kids, meeting their school related needs in terms of picking, dropping, homework, parent-teacher conferences as well as the finer details such as hygiene, habits, routines, emotions and challenges. He happily recalls the countless hours he has spent over the years playing house and dress-up with his daughter or outdoor games with all the children, hours of reading, talking or watching deliberately chosen children’s movies and witty sitcoms like Modern Family, all of which are meant to provide them with valuable talking points and simply let his children know that he is there.
In patriarchal societies such as ours there are some general truths such as the predefined roles for men and women that have been passed down to us through the ages and we adopt them as part of our moral schema, rarely questioning and hardly ever changing them. But as Bob Dylan sermonized so eloquently, “the times, they are a changing”. There is a global shift in priorities, financial obligations and parenting techniques which has impacted even the most traditionalist societies. Even though more and more women step out into the workforce, motivated by need or a desire to maintain a career, they are still met with judgement from family and strangers at large and even more so when their husbands decide to stay home so they can step out.
[quote]A father received backlash for starting a kickstarter campaign to become a stay-at-home-dad[/quote]
“It’s not the natural order of things”, is just one of the things that elders have said to some of the fathers I spoke to who are taking on more and more responsibilities as a parent. Restauranter Babar talks about being home and heading to work and then back again and then returning to work to wind up once the kids are in bed. “We have triplets, so it was obvious that we were going to be different to other families. I am there for the morning routine, the baths and the meals, the afternoon lunch and bedtime and anything else that needs getting done I do”, says Babar. “But I feel extremely blessed that I can do this due to the flexibility of my work, along with my extraordinary wife who carries out multiple roles in the home and in business”.
As a consultant in the development sector, Silal works from home and finds that most of the fathers his age in their social circle are either following a similar hands-on pattern or are envious of the time he gets to spend with the family. He finds that with working parents who prioritise their children’s needs whilst remaining productive professionally, the children are far more self-reliant and independent. According to a research by author and training coach Dr Randell Turner, fathers bring different things to the table – they tend to offer less immediate support to children’s frustration and struggles, thus promoting what he calls adaptive problem-solving skills. Silal agrees, “My 6 year old son is extremely independent in terms of entertaining himself and doing many of his things on his own. As parents my wife and I try to support each other as much as we can and we prefer to set rules and establish discipline in his routine. Also neither of us are regimented or inclined to scold and so far it has worked out in making him well adjusted and at peace, most of the time”, explains Silal.
Osman who also works from home, seems to have taken a leaf from the same book and doesn’t want his children to be afraid of him. “I’d rather talk things out with them and I find information from the Baby Whisperer resources quite useful. But when I’m not getting through or feeling frustrated, I hang back and let their mom do her thing. Even though I’ve been around from day one there are just some things that they need her for. It goes to show what a wholesome job these mums do”. Osman is amongst the lucky ones whose family dynamic has elicited mainly positive responses from those around, with the elders urging him to do more and peers enviously referring to his home office as ‘daddy-day care’. His motivation is simple, “I just hope me being around so much at this point in their life would mean that when they are growing up they can think of me as a go-to person and not just a distant authoritative figure”.
Babar is aware that very few fathers, particularly in our part of the world, have the luxury to do what he does. “I have immense respect for the father who works 12 hours a day and still takes time out to be with his kids, but I have a unique situation in terms of profession and family needs and it has given me a lot to be grateful for. My wife and I are friends first and parents second and every decision we take in life, we take together”. Silal can second that and finds that as fathers there should be no limit to how much or what they can do in their children’s lives. “Regardless of the fact that I am present at home more than other dads I find that we can never do enough and drawing boundaries is pointless. There will always be things that children seek from mothers, such as comfort and solace when they are sick and a sense of warmth and security that we fathers cannot replace. But to be an integral part of their lives in their future we have to make ourselves more available and do more for them now”.
Adnaan lives by this philosophy and has open roads of communication with his children choosing to be their guide through life, carefully exposing them to different cultures, schools of thought and activities to give them a wholesome life. “Our maid has a disability, she is deaf and that has helped my children learn respect and sensitivity towards people who are different. It also makes them resilient and tenacious as it requires them to change the way they do and ask for things. We are surrounded by an increasingly materialistic society and to keep children grounded and balanced is becoming harder. But as parents we have to do the best we can. We make lists, as a family, 10 things that are important in life, 10 things we can do without, 10 things we need to be happy and these kinds of projects help us find perspective”.
In contrast to the general opinion, the financial situations of families with stay-at-home-dads don’t differ drastically to others, atleast not in Pakistan where the stay at home dad differ drastically from the one abroad who has to forfeit an income and therefore adversely impact the family’s finances. This would explain the negative backlash Adam Dolgin has received, in response to his campaign asking for people to fund his social experiment, where he can stay at home for a year to blog about being a stay-at-home-dad. On the other hand, flexible work routines and hours available to the self-employed fathers in Pakistan allow them to remain productive financially but also be available to parent their children whilst the wives are able to either study, work full-time or in some cases co-parent.
Hassan who manages his own business commends the open-mindedness of some of the people who work for him. “Some of our staff choose to send the wives out to work realising that they can be more productive than the husband who for whatever reason, health, injury or lack of skills cannot earn enough. So they take on the role of active parent whilst the mothers earn. The days of cold and stoic fathers to be feared and admired from a distance are long gone. One day we might wake up and realise we have no role in our kids’ lives and that would be a tragedy. It’s the fathers that are subconsciously teaching the sons how to be when they grow up and have families of their own and the daughters what to expect from the men in their future. If we lay the wrong foundation we are causing much more harm than we can know”.
This is why Adnaan and Osman are teaching their kids to be more holistic in their approach to the world around them. “My parents never shared their life stories and experiences with me, so I felt a great disconnect from who they were and what their lives had been like. With my kids I’m building memories with them today but also narrating our life experiences to them as we go along so they understand how we got here. It gives them a sense of their history, a sense of belonging”, admits Adnaan.
According to Dr Randell’s study, fathers’ parenting styles are also a lot more unpredictable and physical. This theory is certainly lent support by how most of the fathers in this feature interact with their children. Osman, for example, likes to roll up his sleeves in the garden, go on hikes and partake in craft activities with his kids, letting them know what good parenting is, without saying it, which is yet another conclusion Dr Randell has drawn. “I cherish the opportunity I have to do these things with them and expect that this will set the tone for what they will expect from themselves and others in the future”.
Dr Randells’ research also found that fathers tend to challenge their kids to a level higher than their age and physical capacity, which can at times be crucial in helping children excel. As Adnaan points out, “My son gave some GCSE examinations at the age of 9, because he felt he wanted to give it a try so I supported him. He scored a C which was rewarded with a Macbook Pro for effort and hard work. I did not have any expectations of how well he should do and never ever compare any of my children to others. I simply acknowledge and appreciate the goals they set and strive towards”.
The last point Dr Randell makes is that fathers tend to discipline their children more in terms of societal expectations so they can be successful in the world. “We live in the real world, so my kids do have questions about why we are different from other families, but I don’t want my kids to feel like their life is lacking or odd so I help them understand why we do what we do and I’m there to talk them through the peer pressures, bullying or lack of understanding from people around them, admits Adnaan, “It isn’t easy because young kids can be cruel in how they deal with a peer who isn’t conventionally sporty but instead likes to cook and excels academically. So I help my son realise his strengths and be aware of them and the price they come with and thus be immune to the jibes other kids make”. Another large-scale study conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that in families where fathers were actively involved in parenting the children showed enhanced language abilities and cognitive development as well as lesser behavioural and psychological problems. There was a lesser likelihood of them engaging in criminal activities and were able to develop better social relationships and healthier marriages. Adnaan cannot emphasise how strongly he feels the role of the father matters, “These days, parenting is more of a social contract between kids and parents, technology is widening the rift and increased commitments that both parents take on means they are around less and kids are raised by remote control. I make a conscious decision every day to not do that. I choose to be the best kind of father I can be and I have no regrets”.