Anand Rajamani, a software engineer who has a passion for acting, is a father of a teenage boy. He loves the sound of appa and every challenge that fatherhood dashed towards him. Consciously or subconsciously, Anand has tried to redefine the classic sense of the word ‘father’ by extending all sorts of different experiences his son’s way. This Father’s Day read about his ongoing journey and thoughts on fatherhood.
Anand Rajamani, 41, Technical Consultant, Bangalore
Interviewed By Karuna Chandwani
Why did you decide to give us an interview on fatherhood?
I’m a father of a 13-year-old boy and this topic is close to my heart.
How are you managing being a father to a teenage boy?
It’s a progressive thing – how we as parents either try to let go or control things from the earlier days of a child. I’m not just interested in the title or author of the book that he’s reading, but also the stories that he’s so caught on to. For instance, what are the central characters of that story, or how do those characters react to different situations? These things give me a clue about his behavior, about what he likes to eat and why, etc. It’s like watching him evolve as the days go by. Teenage years might be tough, but not as tough as all the content out there warns us as parents. I’m more interested to know whether at the end of this phase he’ll look at me as a friend to confide in or party with, because I want to be all that for him. That’s my end goal. Some challenges are welcome.
Don’t teenagers tend to keep secrets from their parents? Those books might not be always around to help you understand him.
Yes, he’s going to be exposed to a lot of things when I’m not around, for example, on the internet. The good thing is, his mother and I are a team. She gets to know his secrets in her capacity as his friend and so do I. The important thing is my son doesn’t know that we share these details with each other to know him better. In fact, I’ve got to make do with all the team work I get from his grandparents or even his friends sometimes. Some kind of game is always going on in the background to get an upper hand on my son’s secrets.
Is knowing about your child’s secrets the only way to understand him? Do you see other parents getting involved in similar ways?
Subconsciously, a lot of people don’t relinquish the power they have over a kid. Let’s say it’s a 6-year-old child, he will listen once you put your foot down. But that’s not the case during their teens. You have to pick your battles every moment. Parents forget that they need to keep adapting to a child’s needs and its development. Every child is unique. I can never say I know enough about my son because it’s an ongoing process. The day I stop learning is when the problems will start cropping up, I know that. It’s a vicarious journey for any parent. A part of me is growing as my son and a lot of times it’s similar to how I discovered things the first time. Other times, he’s so different. He’s unique. I’ve embraced the fact that my son is only an extension of me and he’s allowing me to be close to him.
Teenagers can be erratic about the proximity towards their parents.
There will be ups and downs in this journey. Sometimes he will be distant from me and sometimes from his mother. When he was six months old, he could not think of anyone but his mother. Things changed when he grew older. For some reason he used to feel appa is more fun to be around because I used to go out of the house. It’d be nice to hear him say, “I will go with appa.” On those days I’d be like, “Wow, he picked me today.” Later, suddenly he would go back into his shell when he’d feel I’m too strict.
I get a feeling you wanted more than one child. Is that true?
We think we’re the masters of nature. We decide when we’ll have the first baby, or the second baby. It’s an illusion. Because, while you can destroy the ability to have more children, it’s not easy to create that ability when it’s lost. And infertility is a huge business today because of that illusion. There are certain extreme invasive ways to conceive a child. I can’t bring myself to agree with such methods because I don’t want to have the arrogance to say that I wanted a child and I had one. Throw two lakhs and some clinic will help you. Life is not that cheap. Especially when I see my son Krishna.
How was your relationship with your father?
As parents we do what best we know in our youth, and so did mine. Does that mean it was the best any child could’ve gotten at any given time? No. My parents were a bit of control freaks. They wanted to enforce their way of doing things on me not only as a child but even when I was 18, even when I was 28.
Would you like to share a small incident related to that thought?
There are no small incidents. Because for a child it’s all quite traumatic. In 9th grade I was really keen to get a spot in NCC parades because I believed I was a good marksman. I was preparing for the 22nd parade that was going to be in the firing range. My father knew I had enrolled and I was supposed to get his signature on the waiver form. He refused to sign it even after watching the kind of rigor I had shown. The authorities didn’t let me attend another parade because I hadn’t participated in the previous one. I was livid. I had to switch to scouting because it’s safer.
How do you handle such dilemmas with Krishna?
The biggest problem with kids today is they don’t know how to live without their parents until much later in life. It’s rare for a child to have a night out at the age of six, unless it’s with a relative whom they see regularly. I wanted my son to have that experience early in life, so I sent him to a week-long camp when he was eight. He came back crying but he said it was nice.
There’s so much fear and resistance in the society today. Even if a kid knows the local language he’s not supposed to step out of the house to buy something from a nearby store. Even if a kid knows how to cross the road, he/she is not supposed to do it alone. These rules are just preventing kids from knowing that they’re good enough for this world. I don’t have a problem in giving controlled access to different experiences. If the kid forgets to pack a lunch, don’t remind him. Let him know what it feels like to not find a lunchbox in the bag during recess.
Are you trying to fight the image of a stereotypical authoritative father?
In certain ways I’m still the head of the family. I may not control things explicitly but in a lot of ways, if appa agrees, it’s done. Only on certain topics though. His mother is the boss for the rest. When things get challenging I become the father in the classic sense of the word. But I’ve confessed to Krishna about not pushing me to that limit. I’m human and I don’t want to be rude to him.
What does love mean to you?
Love is about putting the other person first always and trying to find an equilibrium with how much of it you can do and how much of it that person calls it as good enough. In case of a child, love is responding to their needs and acknowledging when you’re clueless what to do next.