Last night, instead of requesting a bedtime story about dragons and princesses and wicked witches, Kavya asked me to tell her the story of when she was born. It started off: “When Mama’s water broke, Papa was on the train.” And it quickly went to hell from there. I was having trouble recalling things about her birth that weren’t important to the story, but they were important to me. It was snowing that day and Sona’s mom kept telling her sister, Meena, not to take the train in because she might fall over (she falls quite often). But she insisted on coming and poof, she was in the delivery room. Who picked her up? When? We ate McDonalds. How did that happen? Needless to say, Kavya got really bored with the story of her own existence.
We never got to the part of the story when she’s born. The actual details of me holding Kavya in my arms, of her all wrapped up snug like a little burrito, her translucent eyes, and when Sona corrected the nurse’s pronunciation of her name mid-push, are all crystal clear in my mind. But it was rather off-putting that there were lapses about something so important. And that these lapses might become more frequent as time passes.
The story of my birth is very brief the way my mum tells it. I came early, during what was supposed to be a routine appointment. It was snowing. My dad missed the birth because the labor was really quick. The end. My dad is quite an active blogger now (www.PashauraSinghDhillon.com) and writes long posts with flowery language like, “India is the land of the sleeping giant,” and I bet if he had been a Papa blogger back in 1978, I would have a more filled out birth story. Stories of my childhood are endless, but they emerge over several conversations and there are significant lapses. My mom can recall details like when I lived in Tanzania as a toddler, I’d put scorpions in my mouth, or in Nigeria I would speak Hausa with the kids who lived behind our house. But when Kavya said her first words and I asked my mom what mine were, her response was, “You had so many,” pleased with herself with the intentionally evasive answer. Sona’s first word was “Ahista,” from a Jagjit Singh cassette she’d babble along to when her family lived in Iran.
In less than a month, there will be a new addition to the team. I use the word “new addition” because it sounds more abstract than “son.” In the months preceeding Kavya making our world better, we both did what we do best: we nerded. We read lots of articles and books on parenting and anything I could find on fatherhood. We researched parenting strategies. We concocted elaborate schemes to tell our families about the pregnancy through slideshows and unrelated video with a BAM! WE PREGNANT image at the end, and made decisions on how we’d handle certain situations when we were under the impression we’d have some sort of control. There were boundaries not to be crossed. Being a bloke, my big plan was to get things sorted for “the baby.” I painted all the walls in our apartment, assembled the crib.
This time, we’ve done very little in terms of preparation because we know everything is going to become chaos anyway. We’ve tidied the house a bit and made vague attempts at order. But the truth is we’ve forgotten much of the early days with Kavya. I’ve kept notes about the things she does or says in notebooks, scraps of paper, and on my iphone, which I bought two years after she was born.
When people ask me what it’s like to be a father, I feel like smacking them in the face. Then giving them a princess sticker and saying, “that’s what it’s like.” There is no book that will prepare you for fatherhood and the nominal sense of control you feel when the baby is not able to articulate itself or move goes flying out the window as soon as they can.
The second time we took Kavya to the beach, she was about six months old and terrified of the way the sand felt against her feet and the loudness of the crashing waves. She was in her spot – high above the ground, on top of my shoulders and she gripped my arms tightly, never loosening it for a second. A few months later, she was wobbling along the beach, looking back to make sure I was nearby. And now she assumes I am always there. She assumes I can do anything and fix anything, including cracks in the sidewalk and gloomy weather. Soon she will discover reality, but for now I am her Super Papa, and even managed to temporarily fix her bawling her eyes out because she didn’t have yellow hair like Princess Rapunzel or Cinderella. After scrambling to find comic books, manga, and relatively appropriate anime featuring anything with a female protagonist with black hair, I told her Princess Kavya was my favorite princess. Somehow I don’t think this is the last I’ve heard of the yellow hair, but for now things are okay.
I’ve been reluctant to include parenting posts on my blog as a regular feature, in addition to my main focus of craft and fiction related content because I began this as a static portfolio site for my freelancing and fiction. But it’s evolved to become a place I can write about what I find interesting that I don’t publish elsewhere. And it’s a site with very supportive readers.
This Argentinian ad by Coca Cola beautifully captures my feelings on being a Papa again. Fathers in the media are generally shown as being incompetent in the kitchen, with combing their daughter’s hair (I am a fucking boss at both, even if Sona says three pigtails are not a thing), so this ad was quite refreshing.
How well do you remember these moments?