True Adventures of a Stay-at-home Dad
Our household is one of equals, but equality means different things to different people.
It’s 6:15 pm on a cold April day in London, and my wife is about to get home from work after picking our 11 month-old-daughter up from the nursery.
Yet the chicken is still defrosting and my first-time attempt at Laksa will probably not be well-received by my hungry, hard-working wife if she has to wait another hour for dinner.
Our household is one of equals, but equality means different things to different people. My wife was raised by a single father after her mother passed away, while I was raised by my single mother who took care of me after her divorce. As a result, both our strengths lie in different areas, almost the inverse of most conventional couples, but with the same intuition as every other couple.
After my wife leaves for work around 7 am, my near-one-year-old daughter wakes up a few times looking for her mother since she’s still breastfed through the night.
The first time she wakes up, she keeps crying until I give her a tour of the house showing her each room so she can see I’m all that she’s got. Sometimes she goes further and pulls my shirt down to further verify I can’t give her the comfort she seeks. At this point she usually stops wailing and goes back to sleep. If she wakes up again, I give her a cuddle or a few gentle taps and she’s back asleep. This goes on until she wakes up fresh (and happy) around 9 am.
Then it’s breakfast time!
I aim for breakfast at home as it is good for bonding. She loves observing the steam waft from the kettle as I make my coffee, or watching how I fry her an egg single-handedly, or pop some slices of bread into the toaster, and babbles precious unintelligible words to show her excitement for the food she’s about to have. For example, she has learnt to mimic when I say ‘yummy yummy’ with a ‘mmm, mmm!’.
A day in the life
Today however, she was up when her mother left for work, and even though she was waving her goodbye quite happily, she cried for half a minute when the door was shut and her mother disappeared. Then she hugged me tight, burying her head into my shoulder, which is a cue for me to get her to sleep. After failing to do so I decided she could go to the nursery earlier for a change, giving me more time for my projects. Besides, playtime at nursery would be much more exciting than me singing her “Old McDonald had a Farm” in funny animal voices. So I diced half an avocado, and found some butternut squash cubes lying around to make a little ‘cube fest’ for my daughter to enjoy.
She loves feeding herself using her hands but it’s quite a messy business. For a one-year-old, some of the half-eaten or squished pieces fall down on her clothes, on the chair, or on the carpet. Her signature style to proclaim her tummy is full is to grab food and smear it all over her table, throwing stuff in every direction. Secondly, as I pick her up (because clearly she’s done) the food soils my shirt and my jeans too! I manage to wash her hands, face and feet (yes, they too were smeared with avocado), but it takes me another twenty minutes to clean up, only to realize that now she’s grunting! Oh God.
Some people think I’m a very ‘hands on’ dad who helps out with the baby, but if my wife hadn’t picked and ironed my daughter’s clothes the night before (and fixed my lunch!), I would be shipping my girl to the nursery in a sleeping suit. (Apparently nobody does that!)
The nursery trip can take an hour on most days but it’s still 8:15 in the morning so I’m optimistic about a quick return home and an earlier-than-usual start to my home-based work. On our way, we make a quick stop at the grocery store that offers free coffee and get my daughter’s first (and second) toothbrush — one for the nursery and one for home. It’s a special design for her tiny milk teeth and I’m a little sad that I won’t be the first to brush her teeth. (I did the first ‘kulli’ though!)
The drop-offs at the nursery have gotten better only very recently. In the past, the moment I handed her over to the caretaker she’d start crying hysterically. It was extremely difficult for me to leave in that situation, and then I’d spend the whole day wondering if she was okay, dying of guilt.
It got to the point that I had to ask (or rather ‘force’) my wife to do the morning drop just so she can also experience the pain I go through each morning and day. It was tougher for her to handle when she did, naturally.
But for three days now, she’s happy and smiling when she’s with her nursery friends and caretakers. She still resists letting go of me (did I mention she has a strong grip?) but she doesn’t cry now. Whew!
Today she was a little more clingy than usual. Maybe because she got less bonding time at home today? I can’t be sure. So I sat down on the rug with her to assure her she’s in a safe space. It only took a minute for her to crawl away from me and find a toy before she turned around and smiled at me, verifying my presence. I took that as my cue to leave and waved goodbye, and went on with my day.
My wife has a knack for cooking that I don’t (I tend to scientifically measure stuff), so she makes the food on most days. I am a big fan of flatbread, roti, chapati — whatever you call it and I try to ensure that we always have kneaded dough in the fridge, which I turn into fresh rotis to go with whatever my wife has made for lunch and dinner.
Yes, when my daughter grows up, she will rave about her ‘baap ke haath ki roti’. Suck it up male chauvinists!
Today, however, I made the mistake of stepping out of my comfort zone in an attempt to make Laksa, which is a Peranakan spicy noodle soup dish that I tried only once while I was at university in Singapore (and also once again, more recently, when my wife and I shared a bowl at the Hare and Tortoise in Bloomsbury, and loved it). The source of the recipe was completely alien to me, and as I found out later, they completely lied about it taking 20 minutes to prepare — the meat defrosting process itself took three hours — they didn’t mention that!
Luckily, I had started my day early and got into the kitchen at 5:45 pm. My wife messaged me about dinner saying she had an early lunch and was therefore not only hungry but also exhausted (and she had yet to feed the baby, which would make her feel even weaker). She asked me if she should grab ready-made dinner instead of cooking at home tonight, but I relieved her by saying the recipe only takes 20 minutes and I had already started putting stuff in a pot. I don’t know how or why thirty minutes passed so quickly (some theory about rush hour?) but the Laksa hadn’t even come to a boil when in strolled my wife and daughter.
The ‘last bit’ turned out to take 40 minutes instead of five, so you can probably understand why I was under pressure to have dinner ready on time. In the last ten minutes before I served my Laksa reserves of patience were running low.
My daughter stretched out her arms to me so I would hold her (she wanted food and could tell I had a pot full of it), but the moment I held her my wife scampered off to change her clothes and seeing her mother go, my daughter started crying, shouting and kicking.
My wife shouted back saying she only needs a couple of minutes, and then I shouted back saying I need to take this stuff off the stove and add the onion garnish (that’s ‘tarrka’ for you, my South Asian comrades). My daughter also let out another shout which was more like a yawn because we were fast approaching her bedtime — and we still hadn’t served her dinner yet.
Somehow, it all came together a few minutes later. The Laksa turned out to be great. Here, I even photographed it:
Making Laksa, cleaning diapers and wiping tears are what being a father can be about. It is commonly understood that manhood is defined only through work and a man is made through his job and financial contributions to family alone.
However, it is time to set examples challenging this notion and highlighting that these socially constructed gender roles are limiting for parents as well as children. In all these years societal pressures and norms have not allowed men to experience parenthood in all its glory and have overburdened women with all responsibilities of care and nurturing.
I have realized that paying for groceries is a very minor contribution to a child’s life. By contrast, planning the grocery items, selecting dishes to cook, cooking with your child’s preferences in mind, and then spending quality time to feed your child creates a much deeper understanding of who your child is as a person. Now that’s proper parenting — ask any mother.
Originally published at www.mamasaysso.pk on May 23, 2017.