The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 1, 2002

Life Ties

"My home is not dysfunctional!"
Taru Bahl

RANDHIR was the perfect New Age man. He changed the baby's diapers, took his family for weekend holidays, actively participated in their educational and creative development and was lucky to have a wife who was content to look after the house and children. He had no ego hassle playing the baby-sitter, cook and errand boy. The bottomline was to live the beaming image which his favourite family picture displayed on his mahogany office table.

A commitment to home was a fall out of a neglected childhood. Being the only child of doctor-parents, he had felt lonely, unloved and angry at the irony of their lives. They worked to heal others while their son was, perhaps, sick in mind, wondering why they were never there for him. He actually thought he was abnormal and unworthy of their love. As he grew older, the distance between his parents and him increased. Though they were respected and decorated doctors, Randhir could not bring himself to laud their achievements. He felt they had no right to bring him into the world if they could not be there for him. He resolved to spend a lot of time with his family even if it meant going in for a soft career. He would have a large family with at least three children and he would work hard to have a perfect home.


Since his mind had been psyched into making huge emotional and physical investments in his domestic life, he seemed to be blessed with unlimited energy, patience and enthusiasm. He was always high on plans for doing endless things— lavish birthday parties for children, painstakingly planned holidays, mind-boggling variety of books and encyclopaedias et al. He spent hours pouring over their homework, preparing them for debates and cheering loudest when they were on stage. He enjoyed every single moment of parenting. If his children were embarrassed by his over enthusiasm and the fact that he didn't match their friends' dads, he didn't notice. A trip to Disney world was planned by taking a loan against his Provident Fund. He was sure this expenditure was an investment in building their emotional security and happiness though Kamna, his wife, felt that they could have bought a few electrical gadgets which would make her life easier.

So obsessed was he being the happiest man in the world that he refused to see the chinks in his domestic armour. Kamna had turned into a mousy creature who rarely took the initiative in planning anything or initiating a conversation. She echoed what Randhir said and followed his guidelines. Her health was slipping but she had not given it much attention. Running the house on one salary, keeping pace with her husband's energetic plans while meeting his high standards was not easy. Somewhere she felt she was just a tool, an automated piece of machinery fed with a programme which was expected to deliver unfailingly. She was not to question or have demands of her own. Her emotional needs as a woman were never satisfied. She began wilting. When sleep eluded her, she began experimenting with anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Unable to voice her feelings, she internalised her demons. Randhir did not notice because he was never really looking at her. He was so wrapped up in being the perfect dad that he overlooked his other roles. So long as the systems he had set in place worked, he felt that the perfect case scenario existed. And since most of these systems were executed by Kamna, he never noticed she was unhappy or that she needed attention.

When her depression became acute, she was confined to bed for longer periods. Then too it did not occur to Randhir that her problem could be rectified with some changes from his side. His obsession with being a great dad had obliterated everything else from his mind. Not one to shirk work, he took on additional responsibilities on the domestic front. He could have simplified his life by making the children more responsible and by enlisting help from a full- time nanny. But convinced that this would tantamount to neglecting them, he carved out a gruelling backbreaking schedule for himself. Getting up at 5 am, he packed their tiffins, helped them get dressed for work, supervised the day's cooking with the help of a servant, went to office, returned in the evening and sat down with the kids to check their home assignments, pushing them to better their grades. He was a strict father. He demanded the best because he felt he was doing his best. Besides his children had to be different, for they were given so much personalised attention.

Not for a single moment did he realise that he was stretching his parenting role. It never occurred to him that he was stifling his family with too much concern and idealism. To ensure the execution of his ambitious to-do lists his wife had to draw on energies she did not have. She was a fragile person whose health in the decade- long marriage had deteriorated. An obsessive commitment to pre-set agendas had robbed the family of spontaneous loving moments. Their responses were guarded and calculated. They conformed and followed what he said/did simply because they knew no other way of behaving. But when the children became slightly older, each began manifesting a different behaviour pattern. While the eldest turned into a bully with complaints of aggressive behaviour pouring in from neighbourhood and school, the youngest son turned to food to satiate hidden desires. A compulsive foodaholic, his obesity was ignored till a chance check up with the doctor revealed a deeper mental malaise. The middle daughter was cast in her mother's mould prone to whining about aches and pains, most of which were imagined.

It took a psychologist to convince Randhir that inspite of his best intentions his home was dysfunctional. To set things right, he had to accept that everything was not perfect. His relationship with Kamna needed strengthening. There had to be greater communication and tenderness. He had to let her develop a voice of her own. She had no medical problem. Once she was on her feet, in a happier state of mind, he ought to giver her more time rather than madly focus on just the children. Only then would balance be restored with everyone finding their own unique place.

There were no ideal set of rules which, if transplanted in every home, would yield the perfect results, the psychologist told him. His aim should be to help establish high comfort levels between everybody, keep channels of communication flowing and to deal with everyone at his/her level without expecting the moon. Only then would normalcy be restored.

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