Father's Day 2021: Meet the new tribe of do-it-all 'penguin dads'

Penguin dads are redefining the rules of parenthood by ‘mothering’ their children. We caught up with a bunch of new-age fathers, who are busting the pre-defined and gender-dictated notions and social norms

Shillpi A SinghUpdated: Saturday, June 19, 2021, 01:04 PM IST

Bengaluru-based IT professionals Abhinav Sitesh and his wife Natasha welcomed their twin girls — Abhisha and Naysha — into their lives in December 2016. The couple’s joys were doubled, and so were the duties and responsibilities.

“Natasha’s post-delivery complications had left her bedridden. We had no family support so I was on double duty,” recalls Sitesh. “I had to take care of the little one’s feeding, bathing, massaging, cleaning poop, pee, and puke, and putting them to sleep. It was an around-the-clock job. To add to my woes was my work-from-home arrangement for an important office assignment,” he says.

Abhinav Sitesh with Natasha and twin girls, Abhisha and Naysha

He has since then chosen to WFH and is one of the many young fathers, who are happy to be on daddy duty, 24x7.

“When one of my children was diagnosed with autism, I knew that I will have far more responsibilities to shoulder,” he says. The couple relocated to Lucknow from Bengaluru in March this year so that his children could be around their grandparents, relatives and extended family members.

Parenting is a joint venture

In a traditional setup, the onus often falls on a mother to raise the child. She eventually becomes the sole nurturer, while the father’s role is that of a provider and earn.

Delhi-based sports journalist Nishant Singh, who is married to news anchor and correspondent Rajani Sen, belongs to the new breed of fathers and is happy to ‘mother’ his two boys, Adamya and Sahishnu.

“The societal norms are changing, and our generation is making necessary contributions by shattering the stereotyped, gender-defined roles at home and outside. What a mother does, a father can do too. And, a couple is in this parenting business together, isn’t it?” asks Singh.

Nishant Singh with wife Rajani Sen and sons, Adamya and Sahishnu

He is quite hands-on in raising his children — be it helping with their studies, taking them out to play or participating in extracurricular activities.

His wife recalls, “Adamya had to wear a rainbow-themed shirt to school. I was in the office for my evening shift. By the time I came home, Nishant had used his creativity to paint a white shirt and keep it ready for his school.”

Parenting coach and author of a parenting book, ParenTeen, Prakriti Prasad agrees with Singh on the shared responsibilities while raising a child.

“Conceiving a child is a joint endeavour of both parents. I don’t see why and how nurturing that infant, toddler, adolescent or even a young adult became the sole responsibility of the mother with the father acting as a mere spectator, supervisor or sometimes a visiting faculty, with minimal involvement in parenting,” she says.

Role play

A father playing an active role in raising his children becomes a talking point because it has been an exception and not a rule.

Author and columnist Pankaj Ramendu chose to stay at home to take care of his seven-year-old daughter, Sadgi, while his wife Kalpana pursued her ambitions.

“Why do people find it unusual? It is because our previous generations have been raising children with a set mindset. We have never questioned the existing gender roles in our society because we have been conditioned to accept it as a norm,” he says.

Pankaj Ramendu with daughter Sadgi and wife Kalpana

Contextualising the parenting dynamics, Prasad says that Indian dads have traditionally just been onlookers of their newborns or enforcers of discipline in their growing up years. “It’s both heartening to see this burgeoning trend of hands-on dad, what you call ‘penguin dads’, now in India too. Millennial fathers are taking paternity leave not just to revel in the birth of their child but chipping in with staying up the nights, changing diapers or bathing and feeding their infants.”

Ramendu says that a man has never been taught to shoulder this responsibility and participate in a child's upbringing because of the patriarchal setup. “It is all about gender equality, something which has been an oft-neglected issue. Motherhood is an emotion and not a gender-specific category to bracket a parent. A father can have the same emotions and fit in the role of a mother well, if given a chance,” he says.

Changing the rules 

Prithvi Ramachandran has dabbled in many trades, most notably being the Bengaluru casting director for the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film, Life of Pi. But, one role that he is content with the most is the do-it-all dad for his two boys — Mir and Arya.

“I have been a stay-at-home dad since my elder son was born, although the terminology might be disputed since the pandemic began and everyone else also began to stay at home. My wife Ruhi has had a demanding career for over 25 years,” says Ramachandran, who decided to take an active role in children’s upbringing.

He takes care of school drops/pickups, organising playdates, and cooking. The couple takes turns reading stories to kids at bedtime.

He has had to face challenges all through. “Although I’ve had to swallow my ego and deal with disapproving looks, snide comments from friends and relatives, I feel blessed that I have been able to spend so much time with my children and dogs. Watching children grow and experiencing with them the joys of the simple things in life helped me realise what life is truly about,” says Ramachandran. 

It is a win-win situation for all three parties — mother, father and kids.

While the overworked mom gets a breather, dad his share of unique bonding and children thrive in an atmosphere of love and care. “The children are bound to share a much deeper bond with their fathers. Besides, I think this will also reverse the archaic gender perceptions about fathers being the breadwinners while mothers being the nurturers, something we’ve unwittingly been passing on to our children,” says Prasad.

Work as a team 

The tribe of penguin dads is growing as the gender-defined roles are blurring. Sitesh fondly remembers how his equation with Abhisha and Naysha is in complete contrast to what he shared with his dad. “I like it this way — open, warm and affable,” he says.

Like Ramendu, Ramachandran, too, believes in gender-agnostic parenting and says, “Men being involved in the raising their children is the way it ought to be. It is challenging enough to leave it to just one person.”

But, Prasad is amused to see only mothers flocking parenting workshops and sessions. She encourages both parents to attend such sessions, their children’s PTMs and school events to keep parenting even-keeled.

“It goes a long way in boosting the child’s confidence and self-worth besides strengthening their bond. When both parents work as a team to bring up their children, the child grows upon the firm foundations of love, understanding and belief in each other. Such children grow up to display positive traits,” she says.

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