There are two ways most dads get up: their alarm or their kids.
But on Father’s Day, I get to turn the alarms off - mechanical and biological, and I get to wake up a third way - with the smell of food, a big Aussie brekky with pikelets.
It’s a privilege and a gift from my partner I really appreciate. It lets me reflect on being a South Asian Australian Dad.
For me, food, culture and fatherhood are inseparable parts of who I am. I like standing around the barbeque or smoker and prodding some meat, or stirring a simmering curry. I like being South Asian, doing bhangra, listening to tabla music or celebrating Diwali. And I like being a Dad to my two little boys, with the resulting joy and frustration and big, loving hugs.
But, this pandemic, and the lockdown we’re experiencing in Melbourne right now, has made it harder to do everything - from waking up to cooking to fathering to engaging in any form of cultural activity, usually done in groups.
So to the Dads out there, in the struggle, I wanted to send this message: If you feel like you’re not doing enough, this Father’s Day just take a moment. Celebrate the wins. And remember, the biggest win you’ve already earned is showing up and caring enough to try to be a good Dad every day.
Why is that message so important? Because South Asian Dads always live in the shadow of the fathers they’ve known. They live in a continuum of the relationship with their own dad, and his role modeling, and the generations going further back. There’s a lot of good wisdom in that history. My Dad, a migrant from India with a serious ability to mic drop a clichéd aphorism, always said to me, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It’s not original, but he lived it and it was true, and it instilled in me a sense of the possibility of my own focused energy.
But equally, I think it’s time for many South Asian Dads to recognise all the amazing things we know now, or can learn about, that our Dads never had access to. That perhaps it is a slightly newer idea in our community that we want to be better dads, and know that we can be. This is the generational struggle - like when your Dad tells you how to get your child to listen to you, and then you try it and your kid just runs away, laughing maniacally. Or when your Dad says something sexist and you vow to be better than that. You realise in these small moments that you know how to parent in a more modern way, or one that works specifically for your family, your context and your values.
As Dads right now, we know a lot more about resilience and emotional intelligence, about the importance of looking after our mental health and the necessity of psychological safety to human and team flourishing. For me, that means the best thing I can do on Father’s Day, the thing that is different from what my father would do, is to reflect, to name and understand my feelings, in all forms, so I can learn from the lessons of my own experience.
It’s time to celebrate the joy of being a Dad not just with presents, new socks, a great brunch or time to do whatever I want, but by doing a yearly check-in with myself about my own version of fatherhood in action. To think about what I like and what I would change about it. It’s a day for Dad Resolutions, and it’s a really good day for them because I’m being celebrated and so I’ll be in a positive headspace from which to reflect.
On Father’s Day, I’ll grab a journal or take a walk and use the gift of time to answer a few questions. Here are the questions I’ll be asking myself this Father’s Day:
What am I looking forward to in my fatherhood journey?
What are big wins from last year, and what are the small wins?
What have I learned about being a Dad?
What moments do I want to remember forever?
What are three words to describe how I’m feeling?
Who are my fatherhood role models outside of my Dad? Have I told them this?
How am I being true to myself?
What would I like to change? And how can I start to learn how to do that in the smallest possible way?
How am I modelling equality and fairness as a Dad?
What message about my fatherhood do I want to give myself a year from now?
What are the best ways my kids describe their Dad right now?
It doesn't take a brown Dad or any special kind of Dad to answer these questions. It just takes a Dad who cares enough to spend a few moments thinking about their own role as a father and wants to grow.
There are no wrong answers. There are only benchmarks that help you celebrate where you’re at and move forward with a sense of energy.
And while I learned reflection from my Mom and some of my other male role models, I can definitely thank my Dad for the ability to put my energy into something, celebrate the positive, and find the way powered by a will to be better, one day at a time.
Happy Father’s Day, guys.
Sandeep Varma is the Founder of SAARI Collective.