Corona Diaries 34: Of Men, Parenting & Gender Roles

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“Certain species of animals eat their young. Some abandon them as soon as they are born,” the friend said with a sardonic smile, “Now I understand why.” Known for his wry sense of humour, he was talking about his experience with children — one in early teen, another a couple of years younger — during the long lockdown. “It is like being trapped in a cage with pesky animals whose demand to be entertained all day never wanes and they don’t even tire.” He added with faux exasperation, “Males were never made for the child-rearing role. Watch lions, tigers and snakes on Animal Planet, you would understand better.” Of course, there are better examples around and he was being selective about his choice from the channel.

The parenting skills of the male of the species have been tested in the last two months, and only a few have cleared it with flying colours. Most, like our friend here, have shifted the blame to genetically determined gender roles or human biological legacy. None of them, it must be noted, has given credit to the woman at home for being extremely competent at managing restless children and household chores and juggling many responsibilities with ease. The responsibilities included a grown-up man idling on the sofa in front of the television for long hours and forwarding tasteless jokes to friends with juvenile glee.

Well, mankind has been through this debate before. Ancient man hunted big game animals, woman gathered vegetables. He brought protein to the table, she carbohydrate. Man was reckless, hence a risk-taker, woman a preserver. Man had to be so because he had to compete for reproductive rights, like all animals. In short, gender roles were pre-wired and thus an immutable genetic inheritance. Thus men will be men, lousy at bringing up children and household chores. If they were pathetic at handling kids during the lockdown, it was not without reason.

Of course, it is bunkum. Most of them were so occupied with life outside home that they had little time to watch children grow and develop a better understanding of them. Some never thought it was their responsibility in the first place. Those who have bonded gloriously with children get full marks for intelligence and adaptability. Pre-assigned gender roles, they have proved, is just a fiction perpetuated as truth by escapists.

THE FLAWED SOLUTION

Not too far back in time, fathers screamed at children for staying glued to the mobile phone. They hated it when the kids indulged in stupid games that involved notching up points by shooting funny enemies or racing bikes on obstacle courses on the screen. Such games, they maintained, stoked violent tendencies besides robbing childhood of innocence. Now, many of them have shifted position rather dramatically.

After putting up with the non-stop antics of children, they have found a solution in what they considered a problem earlier. Those working from home are encouraging children to play mobile games as much as they pleased during office hours. Violent tendencies are no longer an issue; innocent joys of childhood can wait so long as they keep busy.

This, much to the consternation of the mother, who never found the need to bribe children into silence. Her ‘carrot and rod’ policy worked without fail. She could be the Tiger Mom and Dolphin Mom at the same time, growling and cajoling as the situation demanded to bring order to chaos. Now, some of them are convinced, it’s a job that cannot be left to the man of the house. They are back in charge.

THE TREASURE HUNT

This friend had a great idea to engage kids aged five and seven. Let’s go on treasure hunt, he told them, against the good advice of the wife, and soon they were raiding cardboard boxes full of items stashed away years ago in the storeroom. Full of broken and discarded toys that had somehow escaped making it to the raddiwala, these boxes were a trove. And how the children loved it!

The bedroom and the living room were soon flooded with mangled and mutilated versions of everything — Spiderman without legs, Superman without head, camel with the hind part gone, aeroplanes without wings and so on. The lady of the house, of course, was not amused. It would take not more than one hour, she yelled, for the love for the toys to vanish. Who would clean up the mess after that? To the shock of the friend, the kids had forgotten the toys and moved on to other things in no time. While putting everything back into the boxes, all alone, he cursed himself for getting wrong ideas all the time.

THE KID & HIS TRUMPET

Never let a kid blow his trumpet. We mean it literally. Here’s this friend who thought handing over a pair of trumpets he discovered among old clothes and shoes to his four-year old was a great idea. He is regretting the decision now. His bosses are complaining about the deafening noise of the trumpet during video conferencing. At times it is really ill-timed. There shouldn’t have been a loud blowing after the big boss announced big revenue loss to the company due to the pandemic.

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