Last Sunday was Father's Day and while some of you may have received a ping, a gift or a call on the occasion from your kids, one of the notable changes of the digital era is the shift in parental relationships. When I was a lad, I wanted nothing more than to impress my dad. This took some doing, since he wanted me to become a CA while I had my sights set on becoming an actor. The Madras Players staged Peter Shaffer's masterpiece "Equus", and I managed to snaffle a meaty role. My stars seemed perfectly aligned since Girish Karnad was in town casting for his film, "Ondanondu Kaaladalli", inspired by Kurosawa's jibe about the pathetic quality of action films made in India. Karnad took it as a personal challenge: he scripted and directed the film which was shot on location in Saundatti on a shoestring budget of 5 lacs.
Unfortunately the shooting dates clashed with the final exams prompting a showdown with my dad. After several acrimonious arguments, we decided to leave the decision to the college Principal, Rev Fr Kuriakose. In his chamber, my father made a compelling case for academics taking precedence over art films and just when I had abandoned all hope, a pearl of wisdom dropped from Kuri's lips.
"If it had been Bollywood or Tamil movies, I would have put my foot down, but Karnad is a genius. He won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and then ran the Oxford University Press for many years. I think your son should take this opportunity, he can always do his exams with the September batch," said Princi. My father and I left in shock: he shaking his head over the perfidy of Jesuits, while I wondered whether the second-hand marijuana smoke drifting in from the car park had somehow magically opened up his mind…
But I digress: the fundamental difference between then and now is that modern dads crave the admiration and approval of their children who don't seem to care. As Cosmo Landesman observed, "In fact, our teenage children are just like our dads were - distant figures who are busy getting on with their own lives."
One of the by-products of feminism is blaming dads of yesteryear for being aloof and distant. For being crappy nappy changers, lousy cooks, no-shows at parent-teacher meetings, besides being slow to praise and encourage their progeny thereby enabling them to mature into well-balanced adults. Dad Anxiety is a modern day phenomenon which requires them to not just provide housing and education but a refuge from ennui. We were taken to supremely dull parties and museums and god help you if you whined. Today's parents are so terrified that their little darlings might have to endure the torment of boredom that they invest in digital pacifiers, say an X-box, and then double down with an i-phone 6 or a Mac which costs a hell of a lot more than a big Mac, if you will allow a horrible pun.
In my day, Dad and various uncles could repeat a story 22 times before you were allowed to object by saying, Catch 22. Millenials reserve withering scorn for those dads brave enough to entertain their friends over dinner: you think your LOL moment about what happened on graduation day when some yobs egged the chief guest is funny? Seriously, dude, give it a rest; you're likely to get an eye-roll, not a drum roll. Youtube has like 7 million videos with variations on this theme. "It's so lame, so yesterday, geddit?"
How many of us grew up thinking we would be better men than our fathers, enlightened souls capable of caring and sharing. Duh, the rules have changed. Don't get me wrong: parenthood is by far the most richly rewarding thing I've done, but I would be economical with the truth if I assumed I aced it. Fatherhood is a lifetime exam in which you never really graduate.
Landesman talks of the New Man - remember him: "That caring, sharing figure totally in touch with his feelings." David Beckham was the poster boy of the movement with New Age feminists chanting that the "father" concept was the route to modernising ourselves. And so men went to Lamaze birthing classes and morphed into the mirror image of the tiger mom: the helicopter dad. This has had disastrous consequences for a generation of millenials, considering the current rate of mental health issues. I think the solution lies in striking a happy balance between being a cold, unfeeling disciplinarian and a hand-wringing ninny in hover mode. Of course, it's easier said than done.