I Refuse to be a Rubber Stamp Daddy

Dev J Haldar, on dealing with separation anxiety and on the importance of being there for precious growing up moments.
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After a 10-year long picnic in Dubai, the wife and I decided to call it a day and head back home to India. We had it planned in a tiered way. Wife and child would go back to India first. I would follow a few months later, after having tied up everything.

I recall the moment when I was waving my bye-byes to my wife and son at the airport. While they both stood in line, my little cub turned and saw me standing behind a huge glass wall. He came over to the wall, looked at me and said, “Papa come! Jump like this and come!” I knew this separation was not going to go down well. For both of us.

And then 6 months later, as I walk back into Delhi, I remember my kid running into my arms, with a wide grin, squealing “Papa” and hugging me and not letting go of me. My mission was complete. But here’s what happened in those 6 months; something that could have turned me into a rubber stamp daddy.

While my wife was grappling with a different city and its dynamics, getting a job and fixing up a school for our little cub, I was slowly wrapping things up in Dubai. I was closing down connections, paying final bills, collecting security deposits, filing ‘no liability’ letters, selling off my car, and shipping our essentials to India. In the middle of all this, my 3 and a half-year-old was coming to terms to with a different reality.

He was in a different space; a different country. He vocalized missing his playroom, his toys and his ‘home’ that I was wrapping up. Times aplenty when he behaved crankily and all of this found expression on his mum. He became a baboon baby, sticking to her all the time. Although he had his grandparents fawning over him, he missed his familiar space. And on top of that, he was missing his father.

My son Advait hates goodbyes. He refuses to talk to the person bidding farewell. For the first few months, he refused to talk to me. I would send voice notes and he would cancel them. I would call my wife, mother, father-in-law and they would coax him to talk to me but without success.

About 4 months later, my son surprised the socks off me when he spoke to me. His sweet, little voice sounded imploring as he made up a story of how unwell he was. He then asked me if I would take him to the hospital, saying, “I don’t think I feel too well.” Basically, he’d say anything to get me back.

Nothing mattered more to me than to get back to India.

Of all this, what is then that made me feel like a rubber stamp daddy, you ask?
• Missing out on waking up and pulling the other person out of bed
• Missing out on going out to play in the evenings
• Missing out on readying them for school
• Missing out on picking them up
• Missing out on watching him go to school for the first time
• Missing out on running behind them to finish the last bite of lunch
• Missing out on checking out the ‘new place’ where the gorilla stays
• Missing out on playing weird games
• Missing out on watching a Michael Jackson video and watch him trying to match steps
• Missing out on singing him to sleep
• Missing out on telling another edition of a story of 7 elephants, living in the jungles of Africa.

When it came to the last 10 sleeps in Dubai, I sent him voice notes daily as a countdown and then 5 short videos on when I would be back and when I would be seeing him. It made all the difference to him when he would see and hear me ‘share’ my plans. It made him feel cared for and more like a friend.

Fathers can choose to be away from their families; like many do. Some do it out of choice; some without. Those that do it out of choice are the rubber stamp daddies. They would make their obligatory family phone calls, speak with their child/children and also spend a few solitary moments looking at their pictures and thinking of them. Truth is that their child is growing up, day by day, without the presence of the father.

Thankfully, I knew I was coming back. Thankfully, I could tell my child that I was not going to miss out on him growing up, daily. Thankfully, I was going to be with my child to see him do all that he does and will do.
And I am thankful for the powers that be when I see him play and suddenly turn to me and say, “Papa, I love you.” Thankfully, I am not a rubber stamp daddy. And I shall never be.

About the author:
Dev J Haldar is a full-time father and employee to his son Advait. Outside of that, he is a media man and a popular food writer on his food blog. He blogs on fatherhood, a space dedicated to his son and his journey as a father. He also contributes writing on parenting internationally.

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