Sunday, June 19, 2016 was Father’s Day. To me it is just one more “Day”. I love my father and my mother (I hope they know it), my kids and my dog (when I get one). I don’t need a Day. Social media was abuzz with the usual flutter of activity- photos, selfies, scans of old albums, ads and videos doing the rounds, being liked, shared and commented on.
With over 2.5 lakh views, one much talked about ad was for a brand that has redefined what it means to be a "complete man" through its gender sensitive portrayals in recent years. It has once again shown great sensitivity by saluting the single mother. The digital ad film for Raymonds has a child thanking his mother with a "World’s Best Dad" mug even as it steers clear of showing the father. I thought it gave a great opportunity for the viewer to think and visualize, “What has she done to earn the title?” Cleverly, the ad allows the viewer to reflect and think about the role of father, rather than projecting the mother as the "provider", therefore the “father”, like in this short film.
I do feel this “Day” helps to give one more opportunity to talk about the role of fathers, and mothers. Do we really have a role?
When I became an eager, anxious first-time parent, so did my husband. We both didn’t know how to hold the baby, whether his neck would hurt, how to clean pee or poop, how to make him stop crying, whether to sing loudly or softly. It was all too confusing, overwhelming for both of us. The realisation soon dawned that the only difference between a mom and a dad was biological - I could give birth and breastfeed. Simple.
Once we got a grip on the role, we did everything together for the baby. Be it playing with his teddys or cars, football or dancing, we never discussed who does what as a parent. But we often discussed how it has been life-changing in every sense of the word. The hugs, the affection, the one-to-one interaction during diaper changing, the soft humming and gentle patting while putting him to bed… aren’t these some joys that some fathers miss out on simply because according to some weird traditions, fathers/husbands should stay away from the baby/new mom. And then we feel our men are not soft enough to understand feelings? How will they know how to be “caring and nurturing”, if they have never shushed a crying newborn? The same goes for mothers who are not given the choice to go out and earn and be the “providers”.
It is these changing realities that need to be reflected in Indian advertising and films. They will play an important role in changing the gender equations within families and shaping the mindsets of our little ones.
Today there is a greater dialogue on parenthood than ever before. There’s the apologetic, yet optimistic father in Ariel’s “Share the Load”, who wishes he had helped his wife in the household chores. The ad for Midea appliances cleverly addresses the question that is asked of stay-at-home-moms, “what work do you do at home anyway?” I take it is an encouraging sign that as communicators we are rethinking the norms. In doing this advertisers are creating a vibrant conversation on sharing the responsibility of childcare and earning for the family.
That said, many ads still show the woman working in an office, but cut to home and she goes back to being a mom or a wife. Clearly advertising is holding a mirror to an evolving Indian society, but we have a long way to go before that becomes the new norm.
Written by Preeti Gopalkrishnan, Programme Director, Population First. She's a mom of two kids, aged 7 and 2 years.