Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
The dynamics and representation of father-son relationships in India need a complete overhaul- from Bollywood showing fathers who exert pressure on their sons to succeed in a limited-term (think Farhan’s father in 3 idiots among many others), or as someone who was not involved in taking care of a child. Of course, this article does not apply to every single father-son relationship but is written from personal experience and from my observations of father-son relationships in and around me.
The overall family dynamic in India is invaded by the roots of patriarchy. An Indian family, according to misogynistic societal standards, will be a father earning, a mother caring for the children, and the male child enlisted with the purpose of ‘carrying forward the family name’.
The obvious implication is that this set-up does not allow the father and the son to bond for much of their formative years. However, even if the father is not the one earning, there can be situations where fathers might not be involved in bringing up their children.
In my case, my mother used to work while my father was unemployed. I only lived in the same house as my father for the first 16 years of my life, but I cannot recall a single instance where either of us tried to put in an effort to bond.
The point that I am trying to make is that Indian society tells Indian fathers that being close with their son, taking care of them, or interacting beyond a ‘carrying forward the family name’ isn’t necessary.
Here, we come across a vicious cycle, a father who does not find it necessary to establish a holistic bond with their son, to the son growing up to perpetuate the same cycle. A lot of my male friends, and I too never had a holistic relationship with their father until they turned 18 or were in their late teens. Of course, here I have to acknowledge the privilege of growing up in a liberal environment where when I got older, I could discuss things with my father that many wouldn’t be able to.
Many grow up without ever having a holistic bond with their fathers, even when they grow older. The love in the relationship is based on the love that one has for their kin and offspring. I think it’s time that both Indian fathers and sons tried to break this cycle and change what a father-son relationship looks like.
To Indian fathers, try speaking to your child about what they want and like to do, and what they see as their future. Don’t restrict their future to what you want them to be. Your son might make mistakes, and you should always give them advice, but do not try to burden them with rules and punishments for not following the exact path you envisioned for them. And for god’s sake, be involved in housework and caring for the child as much as you can.
To Indian sons, acknowledge the generation gap that you have with your father. They might have grown up in an environment and society that allows for and romanticizes the absent hard-working father. Try to bridge that gap by communicating with them (if you can, considering there are factors of conservatism and bigotry that your father might have), and by asserting what you want.
When we think about what it means to have a father-son relationship, let’s stop associating it with parental pressure, anger, and a lack of bonding and associate it more with holistic bonds and love.