Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fatherhood for the Uninitiated

Disclaimer: This is not a blog aimed at giving advice, gyan or to act as self-help medium to guide you through fatherhood. My own tryst with fatherhood is short enough to be statistically irrelevant. This is more of a general observation, thoughts and “feelings” which needs an outlet much like the dark poop from my baby’s bum.

I am part of Xennial and Millennial confusion. Born in ’84, I am technically a Millennial but I relate to the confusion of Xennials. Having seen the whole spectrum from trunk calls to Skype calls, my existence has been about striking a balance – between the optimism around the things yet to come, and pessimism that well things never really change, while making that full circle of no social media – yahoo messenger – Orkut- Facebook – no social media (well almost). However, when it comes to Men and emotions, I feel the journey has been rather different and perhaps I have missed my train somewhere – let me explain.

“Men learn to express their emotions not from their parents or brothers but from the movies”

Movies have had a deep impact of what is considered “manly” among the masses. Not to say that there weren’t enough variety of what was V-EQ (Visible Emotional Quotient) at all times, but it is fair to say that men during the era of Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna and Uttam Kumar (Bengali actor) on an average is less likely to fit the song – Main Laila Laila chillaunga Kurta Phaad ke, in comparison to Govinda, Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan. There was a higher appreciation for poignant pauses than loud monologues, and longing stares than pointed questions like – “aati kya khandala?”. In short, adding to the overall confusion created by hard choices around status messages and profile pics, I often found my V-EQ rather inappropriate given the contemporary levels of the same. Hence in all such situations where the man is expected to give an emotional response, I have largely resorted to humor, often at my own peril. For example – when the radiologist showed us the scan and said that the baby looks like the father, I sent out an audible prayer “Oh no! I hope that’s not a girl”, and ended up getting a stern look in return. Needless to say, that questions around feelings have been my life’s in-swinging Yorkers.

How do you feel?

Last Wednesday, I got my life’s most important promotion – fatherhood. It has been a great ride so far, but nothing in my ride prepared me to succinctly answer the question that followed – how do you feel as a father?

In my attempt to fill in the conversation and to respond specially since the tick had turned blue on WhatsApp I would answer in one, more or combination of lame responses – relieved, feeling more responsible, great or the one which was probably closest to the truth – still sinking in. It’s been 5 days and I don’t have an answer. It’s often said that a man’s life changes when he holds his baby for the first time in his arms – I am quite sure now that there is no such epiphany which follows that experience. My lack of V-EQ didn’t help the cause, - I had no ready poems to share or no pre-saved FB status message to herald the arrival of the new born to far and beyond. I am afraid that my son will judge me in my future as a father and criticize me for my apparent lack of emotions. But in this moment of yet another confusion, I decided to at least answer to myself- how do I really feel?

Mothers form a deep biological bond with their babies during pregnancy. Babies can recognize their mother’s heartbeat, her smell and her voice. For fathers, it’s the proverbial “Day 1” of a start-up. I think the first feelings of a father are fear and apprehension. That little thing smeared in amniotic fluid – is he alright? Is this how he is supposed to look? Apprehension is when the nurse asked me to hold the baby in my arm right outside the labor room – there was no fiber in my body which was not tense. Before the baby is born all the things that we purchased seemed like an elaborate shopping list, and like many times before, we were sure 80% of these would go un-utilized. It’s been just 3 days and I already know that what we bought isn’t half the things that we are going to end up needing and new things are arriving on a daily basis – each with a unique user manual. A feeling of awe follows soon after. I have always been a strong believer of – if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger, especially when it comes to things pertaining to immunity. Except this time, I was secretly losing it whenever anybody touched my baby’s cheeks or was within 5 feet radius without using industrial grade hand-rub. A feeling of overwhelming protectiveness (read paranoia) slowly gripped me. And the moment when our baby passed motion for the first time, I almost conducted a footballer style victory dive celebrating that great achievement. My feeling of pride and sense of achievement was soon shared with all the doctors and friends with much enthusiasm, while the response received varied from a confused look to a matter of fact – OK.  In the last couple of days my primary source of entertainment has been the ever-changing expressions of this new born, beating all the OTT subscriptions hands down- just a sense of wonder in everything he does.

So, what do I really feel? All of the above and more. It’s all of the cliched and the non-cliched put together in one whole ball of emotions. Its everything and yet it’s nothing in comparison to what a mother would feel about her baby. It’s just the beginning – the beginning of an evolution of me.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Looking back

Life as we live it is quite funny and sad in ways. Work- travel- sleep- chat-repeat. On a daily basis we spend more time thinking about our career and that of others in contrast, than what we would have wanted to be, say about 15 to 20 years back or say what we want to leave behind 15 to 20 years from now. In the process we take a lot of things for granted- friends, health, time and sometimes life itself. Kapil passing away, for me, was a shocking reminder of the eventuality and the fact that 'eventual' needn't be too distant in future. Standing there in the burning ghat, I saw so many familiar faces. So many people who have been and are part of my life for the last 10 years. Many of who don't know how much he or she has impacted my life and changed me over the course of time (hopefully improved me). Most of who also looked more aged than I last remember.

When I joined as a management trainee, which seems like yesterday, I had a lot of expectations and apprehension as to what would be the next phase of my life - corporate life. And I was pleasantly surprised, because it seemed so much like the college life I had been leading. On one end of the spectrum were seniors (like Ajit, Palit, Gandham, Murari) who much like sophomores, first would start by giving you a bit of grief, and soon enough turn into your close friend and confidante. On the other end, were the then crop of MMs and RSMs (Kapil, Bangy, Manoj, Harsh, Lingo, Nafisa, Ajay), who were the "been there done that" seniors from college- who stand out as role models for you to emulate and were part of the J&J "hall of fame"- often quoted as examples to the bright eyed new joiners from campus. And then everyone in between playing their roles from being supportive senior to hard task master. Among campus joiners batch of '99 always held a special place, and all of us wanted to be the next '99 batch, though I doubt if any other batch will ever come close. Back then, even the smallest of the interactions with the likes of Kapil left a lasting impression and taught us so much. Yes, whenever we could we would join in on the chorus shouting -"Journal Trade" behind some of our more courageous seniors, and in other times have a smart-ass pun on the name put in conference videos, but  behind all of it there was an innate desire to connect with the 'stars' of J&J at a different level. As the days went by, it happened. Sometimes during work hours and sometimes post work hours over a drink- we would trade valuable information about places to eat, liquor to drink, batch gossips, old J&J folklores, and sometimes will be welcoming the younger blood to the hallowed portals of J&J.

"Under-stated" was probably the style statement of erstwhile J&J, where Kapil would always stand out as one boisterous persona- be with his choice of car, fashion or just his looks and laughs at times. He believed in making his presence felt however in the most pleasant and endearing sort of a way. He might be cheering the loudest for the North Dabangs before an award would be announced but he would also be the first to congratulate the other team, if it didn't go to his team. He would be up for a good fight any day, no matter the results. It's probably far easier for me to write it than for anyone to practice it, but Kapil did it effortlessly. It's easy for us to lose the other dimensions of life to the corporate life, but fortunately in J&J I found several examples of people who lead a wholesome life outside work as well and are as inspiring outside office as they are inside. Kapil was definitely one of them- with his stories of bike rides, his travels , his literary interests he inspired a lot of us to have a life beyond the work life. One of my last conversations with Kapil was when he had called me after I had moved out of J&J to enquire as to how I was settling in my new role and shared how Karishma was starting her line of designer wear, and in the end wished me all the best for my next phase of career. I remember boasting to someone from my team, that I just spoke to the Sales head of J&J. He needn't have called, but I am glad he did, because it made a world of difference to me knowing that there is someone I can reach out in case something goes wrong in my "all important" corporate career.

Kapil is no more, and while I might blog about it and spend time thinking and reminiscing about it, I can't fathom the loss for his family and close friends. I can only wish them strength and hope that in Kapil's memories they find the inspiration to build a future they deserve. For me, I am about as old as Kapil was when I would have met him for the first time in J&J. I doubt that I am in someone's hall of fame list, or if I am impacting someone's life as he and others did. But I am hoping that I would someday and that I would be a better person than I was yesterday.