Catch the absentee dad

Catch the absentee dad - What is it like for children whose fathers don't actively participate in either their joys or sorrows, and are somewhere on the periphery of their lives?

Anjali and Rahul separated before the birth of their daughter Ria. There were many reasons for them to split up, but still the couple chose not to have a formal divorce. For Ria, her world centered around her mom, with the dad being somewhere on the periphery. She asked questions like 'why doesn't Dad stay with us like everyone else's does'...and after receiving suitable answers, she would fall silent.

Time flew and soon Ria was 6 years old and already in school. She was also at an age where kids exchanged notes on each other's parents and homes, albeit innocently.

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Anjali had many sleepless nights wondering how Ria would answer her peers about her single-parent life. But thank god for small mercies - when Ria mentioned to her friends that her father did not live with them, Sambhav, another child in her class revealed 'Oh, my mom doesn't live with us'. And so Ria felt comfortable, after all she wasn't the only one to have a single parent. And her calmness in turn comforted Anjali a great deal.

Ria is now 11 and surprisingly has a great relationship with her father. A mature child, she excels in school and doesn't have any noticeable chinks in her personality.

Reveals Dr Kamal Khurana, relationship expert, "Such kids work on their inferiority by polishing some art, developing some skill so that appear superior. They appear mature, confident by projecting their superiority. These kids are able to do all the tasks on their own which other children might find difficult. At the same time in some situations of crisis these kids loose control and need more support as compared to other kids. Also when they receive a lot of emotional warmth they are not able to believe it."

Apart from divorce and separations, there are other reasons too why a dad maybe absent in a child's life. Over-ambition and the desire to scale heights in their chosen careers keep many dads away. In this case, though the kids maybe living under the same roof, they meet their father at all odd times.

Says Kunal, 14, "My dad is a well-known advocate. He is so busy that we meet rarely, maybe one weekend in a month over breakfast or dinner. He has so little time to listen to our travails and joys - whether it is my form morning in school or my winning a gold medal for football. My mom means the world to me and my Karan, my brother, but how I wish our dad too would take out some time for us!"

Ruchi, Kunal's mom is a qualified Chartered Account who had to give up her lucrative career to be a housewife. From enrolling the kids in school, listening to their growing up problems, to taking them out for movies and football classes she has left no stone unturned to always be there for her boys. Her husband has been very generous with money, but sometimes, one needs emotional support more than anything else.

Fortunately, the boys have a good relationship with their maternal uncle, Kirat Madan. "I spend a lot of time with them having man-to-man conversations. We talk about football, friends, studies, movies, girls, the works. But sadly enough, the kids have a zero relationship with their father. They hardly see him so to expect they will ever have much to share with the man is too much. As he is guilty for not being there, he spoils the boys by being free with money, which isn't good I feel," he says tritely.

Elaborating further Dr Khurana feels that the kids in such scenario are likely to feel unloved and abandoned by their fathers. It adds fuel to fire when the mother too complains about the father's absence. Therefore, the mother has a double duty to give the kids their father's love as well, and also not complain about her missing husband.

"This on and off relationship between the father and the child deprives the child from learning the challenges of life. But when the child doesn't find the father there, he feels lonely and may end up comparing himself with other kids, which in turn, makes him even more insecure, angry, vulnerable and confused."

Rohini, 16, is an only child and both her parents are doctors - her mother, a paediatrician runs a clinic on the ground floor of the house, while her father is an orthopaedic surgeon with the Army and is posted to Mau in Madhya Pradesh. She has been living out of suitcases ever since she can remember. The first few years were spent in Lucknow with her paternal grandparents, then Delhi where her mom was pursuing her doctorate, then Bhopal for a few years where her dad was given a family station, and then back to Delhi where Rohini herself has decided to study. Her mother and grandparents make sure she is never left alone, but is it the same as having a loving home with attentive parents around you?

"If you ask me, it's a very dysfunctional family. We all are hardly ever together. My mom has done everything she can possibly for me, but what has my dad done? He has rarely ever been to any parent-teacher meeting, he is so married to his job!"

Trying to understand Rohini's plight is Ratna, a teacher with Central School, who says, "In my class, a majority of the children have their father in the Army. Constant transfers and movements, some are no-family stations so they are left behind with another relative, changes in school and surroundings are regular features and may add to the kid's woes. However, there are some kids who enjoy the adventure of seeing new places, meeting new people, and understand the limitations of their parent, but there are also a few who find it an insurmountable mountain of problems."

"Despite it all, it would be too extreme to assume that children who have an absentee dad are maladjusted. There maybe varying levels of perception and understanding and that's so very normal," concludes Brara. ( )

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