Today in India, the traditional family structure is slowly being spun on its head; while an increasing number of women go out to work, the father, customarily, the one who brings home the bacon, has become an equal caregiver. While some may scoff at the role of men as nurturers, people’s perceptions of what constitutes a traditional family, are altering.
Indian laws don’t easily embrace the idea of a single man adopting a child, (for instance, a man can only adopt a boy) but the tides are shifting. According to the Central Adoption Resource Agency, there are 45 specialised adoption agencies in Maharashtra alone. Still, it takes years of intense scrutiny by the courts before a child can be adopted. Is the slog of being a single adoptive father worth it? Choreographer Sandip Soparrkar certainly seems to think so. He was granted custody of his son six years ago, after much dissent. He says that after being rejected by various agencies, Bal Anand in Chembur finally accepted his request. Plenty of reasons to dissuade him from adoption, were flung at him. He had to hear continual refrains of, “Father is the provider, mother is the caretaker. Your profession… as part of the entertainment industry is not the right industry to bring up a child in”. He says that at the time, the then Child Welfare Minister went on record on NDTV, claiming that Soparrkar should not be allowed to adopt because “Single men cannot make good mothers”. It took nearly three years to get everything sorted out. Finally though, Soparrkar says that he became the first single man in India to adopt a child.
Maina Shetty, the Assistant Director at Bharatiya Samaj Seva Kendra in Pune, an organisation that cares for children and oversees adoptions says, that in the last several years, they have placed three children with single fathers. But it doesn’t end there. There are several checks in place, even after the legal adoption process has been completed. “We follow up after the legalisation for about five years through reports. In July 2013, we held a post-adoption workshop for single parents too.
The parents (with children aged 18 months to two years) were amazing, and handled their child sensitively; each seemed balanced in their approach and expectations”.
Being a single parent is not easy. Single fathers have to constantly negotiate the tricky terrain of being both dad and mom, while constantly trying not to overcompensate and ensuring that the child is not spoiled. Psychologists say that the divorce or death of either one of the parents makes children extremely vulnerable to depression, especially if they are below five. The parent-child dynamics may shift, with the child taking on too much responsibility for his age.
Aseem Bhargava, a PR professional from Delhi and a single dad with a 19-year-old son, was brought up by a single father. “I was raised by my dad and granddad (both were busy with work and other pursuits). I started taking care of the house and my little sister when I was eight. It was tough. But after my divorce, it turned into an advantage, as I could take care of my child,” he admits.
Shetty believes that family support plays an important role. But to a great extent, the single dads we spoke to were proud of going it alone. Amit Joshi (name changed), a business analyst in Bengaluru who has been going through a messy divorce, feels that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. “My family lives in Mumbai, so I have to take care of my children. I do everything; pack their tiffins, help them with their school projects, even handle their bathroom habits! Admittedly, it is more mayhem than method and I have to multitask, but I’ve not yet regretted a single minute of it,” he laughs.
Soparrkar says that the hardest part was that “At first, I had no idea how to look after the baby.
Mom helped for one month but then I was on my own”. He managed the work-home balance perfectly, refusing to compromise on either. “I would take him everywhere, to events, meetings...
Even now, Jesse (his wife, whom he subsequently married) and I still take him along and he enjoys himself thoroughly,” he laughs.
Bhargava says that he has been lucky when it came to his professional life. “The people I work with are supportive. At
one point, I was even asked to
bring my son along on a junket. There have been a few chinks in the armour, but the support has mostly been consistent”.
When it comes to meeting that special someone, though, the men are adamant that their choices have remained theirs alone—their children have always been supportive. For Gupta though, “It would have to be someone extremely special to intrude into our space. My children and I are a complete family on our own”.