OF all the relationships that bind us, the father- daughter bond is remarkably unique. Yet like all other human ties, it is no less fraught with anxiety. For quite some time now we have been heralding the arrival of the sensitive new age man who is clued in to a womanís needs. Is this new man as sensitive a father as we have been proclaiming him to be? Or when it comes to daughters, fathers will be fathers ó overprotective and smothering. "Yes", says HR consultant Rajesh Chadha, father of 19-year-old daughter Aakriti. He is candid enough to admit that father and daughter canít really be friends and biological differences that divide men and women stand as a stumbling block in the way of father daughter too. Indeed, he doesnít lay out separate set of rules for his daughter but admits to being more cautious. Says he, "However modern one may pretend to be, when it comes to social taboos, one would apply them more to daughters vis a vis sons." Not that it means he or others like him hark back to dark Middle Ages and pass a diktat like "off with her head".
In the modern urban milieu too ground rules do vary. Not just between two genders but also from place to place, situation to situation. So while Chadha may have no compunctions in arranging bacardi for his daughterís party at home, he canít possibly see her drunk at an outside venue.
However, there are fathers like Siddhartha Wig, an architect and father of two daughters Purvai Aranya and Savera Aranya, who are adamant that theirs is "no-rules at all" household. Some psychologists, of course, advise otherwise. The author of Strong Fathers Strong Daughters, Dr Meg Meeker, a paediatrician argues that it is erroneous on the part of fathers to think that if they set boundaries, establish curfews they will alienate their daughters. Rules actually help children, particularly daughters. However, she also calls for issues like sex, normally Ďbrushed under the carpet,í to be broached. Do Indian fathers actually do so? Wig recalls how he, not his wife, did take up the ticklish subject of sex when their daughter was barely 11 years old. Today as she stands at sweet 16, he thinks sex and boyfriends are trivial and inconsequential issues and their relationship which is "one of equals," goes way beyond. The proud papa beams, "Today she is our guide on reading and other complex issues of life, including how to parent the younger one. Letís admit it, todayís generation, daughters included, learns about bird and bees far earlier than we can ever imagine. Only they donít remain stuck up on these and move on fast to bigger things."
Theatre person GS Chani nods and affirms that the thinking of youth of today is lateral and not linear. A strong votary of alternatives in life, he has allowed his daughter Sukhmani Kohli the freedom to do what she wants, including to drop out of the academic race. Of course, when she actually went ahead and dropped out in the final year of graduation, he confesses it was a jolt "but we accepted it." Would he then also accept her having intimate physical relationships with men? He smiles, "Well, I know that whatever she does, she will do it responsibly." Besides, he feels that his telling her not to follow a particular path is not going to help matters. Children, he feels, are like rivers who will chart their own course no matter how hard you try to mould them. But are all fathers as accommodating and tolerant? Of course, in human nature there are no generalisations. For instance, while Wig advises his precious daughters "do anything but donít get caught," he thinks his wife provides them saner and more practical nuggets of wisdom. Sukhmani echoes similar thoughts and feels she has learnt equally from both parents. Besides, when it comes to boyfriends she confesses mother is the first one to know, though dad eventually gets to know as well. Author Linda Nielsen, however, opines that a daughter is more affected by the kind of relationship with her father rather than her mother. Experts like Meeker argue that fathers have an overarching influence on a daughterís life, an influence that never stops affecting them.
the tricky terrain
According to her, teenage daughters who are closer to their fathers are not only likely to be less sexually active, but also their relationship with other men and husbands is determined by their rapport with their fathers. Indeed, her assertion could be culture specific. But Kurukshetra-based sociologist Reicha Tanwar senses a ring of universality in it. Psychiatrist Dr Simmi Waraich opines that if one were to go by the classical Freudian theory, girls do form a bond with their father which is different from the one with mothers. Sukhmani agrees that the way she relates to other men is deeply influenced by the relationship she shares with her dad
In the past few years, Tanwar has noticed a perceptible and a positive change in the way the father-daughter bond has evolved. She says, "Without a doubt, in urban modern India, fathers have become more supportive of their daughters. They are not only propelling daughters towards excellence but dittoing her decision on whom to marry and whom not to and even understanding of her decision not to marry at all. Besides, they are open to discussing issues hitherto considered forbidden." At the same time, while modern fathers might have no qualms in talking about sex and other related issues, they continue to be uncomfortable with a daughterís sexuality. Any wonder many fathers remain steadfast in their refusal to accept her as a sexual being, as one who may have sexual needs. Reasons Tanwar, "We are an orthodox society and sexual relationships outside marriage will continue to be frowned upon." She has often seen fathers not only disapproving of such relationships but also distancing themselves from daughters who they think have crossed the line. This withdrawal is harmful and could affect the psyche of daughters to an unimaginable extent.
Enid Bagnoldís quote: "A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman he turns her back again," might apply to most Indian fathers. But, exceptions like Wig talk of trust and of creating comfortable spaces. Refreshingly in the absence of joint family pressure, a whole lot of fathers are learning to be more accepting of daughterís conduct and evaluating her on realistic rather than idealistic and normative yardstick. Auto expert H. Kishie Singh didnít even bat an eye when his daughter Malvika K Singh, studying abroad, visited a male strip bar. His reasoning is simple, "We canít build a cocoon around our daughterís lives. They have to be exposed to what all is happening in the world." He further adds that out there exists a big bad world and unless daughters know what all it entails, they will never be able to deal with it. Gurpreet Singh, an architect based in Amritsar, who has two daughters aged 14 and 18 couldnít agree more. His argument too runs on the same lines.
Learning to let go
As a father who has no hesitation in watching FTV with his daughters argues, "Todayís, children canít be sheltered. If we donít guide them, they will go astray." Winds of change in the offing`85The same can be discerned in Bollywood too. Unlike star fathers of yore who shut the doors of Bollywood on their daughters, today stars like Anil Kapoor are not only encouraging their daughters to join the film industry but are also exceptionally proud of their careers. He is almost boastful of her sartorial choice and feels that other heroines are jealous of his beti.
Whether a relationship with a no-holds-barred approach or one where the dad accepts some bending and shifting, this bond has come a long way. Fathers may remain fathers but the father-daughter tie is constantly evolving. In fast-moving urban India, currently it might be in a state of flux, may not have reached where it ought to have but is certainly not off-tangent either.