|Are you a single father? You can get in touch with kindred souls on social networking sites that are awash with single dads exchanging parenting tips, says Sonia Sarkar|
Mahesh Patel has a problem. His 16-year-old daughter wants to go to a late-night party with her friends, but the Mumbai-based widower isn’t sure if it is the right age for her to be staying out late. He doesn’t want to stop her either, for she has seldom been out after her mother’s death nine months ago. “Can someone suggest what I should do now,” he asks.
Jay, a divorcé from Bangalore, proffers some advice. “I suggest you explain to your daughter why you don’t like her night out plans,” he tells Patel. “To make her feel better, you can take her out on a weekend.” Patel’s post, a week later, says: “Thanks for your advice. It did work. I took her to Mahabaleshwar. I am glad to see the smile back on her face.”
Mahesh and Jay have never met but for the past six months they have been exchanging parenting tips on the social networking site Fropper.com. What makes them tick is that they are both single fathers. More and more such men are bonding on the Internet and setting up platforms that deal with parenting and other issues.
“The best thing about being a part of this forum is to receive multiple solutions to one problem as each of the members has something new to offer,” says Patel, a member of the virtual club ‘Single Parents’ on Fropper.com.
Life turned upside down for this 48-year-old banker after he lost his wife in an accident. “My daughter and I spent the most difficult times after my wife’s death. It was easy to fall into the ‘poor me, I’m just a single dad’ attitude, and even friends and relatives promoted the stereotype. Depression was sinking in and I had no clue about how to get over it,” he says.
Then, while surfing the Internet one day Patel discovered the group on single fathers. “I joined in to explore. But now I am addicted to it. I am comfortable about discussing my problems with these strangers who might have faced similar problems, and seeking advice from them,” says Patel.
Fropper.com is not the only online platform for single fathers. Others, such assingleparenting.com and indiaparenting.com, have thrown up similar forums. But the most popular social networking site among single fathers seems to be Facebook. It has more than 60 groups that serve as exclusive windows for single fathers.
The names of the groups are self-explanatory: Single Fathers — A rare breed, Single Fathers — United, Responsible Single Fathers, Disgruntled Single Fathers, Single Fathers with Daughters, Single Fathers Deserve Respect, Single Fathers are True Soldiers. The message these groups want to convey to the rest of the world is loud and clear.
Take the group called Single Fathers Deserve Respect. A post on its wall says: “There is a special group of fathers in this world who care greatly about their children despite what the other ‘party’ says. They show it in their actions and the way they raise their children to be responsible, caring, and loving human beings.”
Single fathers, some members believe, are discriminated against. “People feel sorry for single women, but what about the fathers? People should recognise that single fathers try just as hard,” says an agitated member of ‘Single Father’.
Chandigarh-based Vikas Garg, one of the 138 members of the group, agrees. “As a widower, I have felt that we are at a disadvantage against our female counterparts. The general perception is, men don’t bother about their children. The truth is men suffer equally and they don’t have the luxury to share their emotions openly when they feel low,” says Garg, who lost his wife in an accident three years ago.
His 13-year-old son Karan urged him to become a member of a virtual group to help him cope with loneliness. Garg paid heed to his tech-savvy son, and opened up a separate group for single fathers on Orkut called Single Parents…Let’s Live Good.
The online forums are not all about serious issues. Sometimes, the fathers take pot shots at themselves — describing how they burn the rice or humorously recall experiences such as learning how to change their toddlers’ soiled nappies.
Single fathers confess that they are not as efficient as the moms, but they do try to do their best. Kamal Bhalla, a Delhi-based divorcé who has launched a group called For Single Fathers by a Single Father on Facebook says it has been extremely difficult for him to juggle his work and home since his divorce three years ago.
“I prepare breakfast and lunch every morning before going to office. I finish my work early to ensure that I am back home by 7 in the evening. Then I help my son do his homework and also prepare dinner for the two of us. My social life is nil but my consolation is that my child is with me,” says the proud father of a 12-year-old black belt karate champion.
He adds, “My son has 100 per cent attendance in school and he has also won awards for the most well-behaved boy in school last year and the most co-operative boy this year. It just shows that a child can prosper equally under the guidance of a single father. And this is the message I want to send out to all single fathers through these forums.”
Bhalla was lucky that he didn’t have to fight much to win the custody of his son as his wife wanted to keep their elder daughter with her. But quite a few of the men who are divorced or are fighting a legal battle for a child’s custody use the platforms to help each other in their efforts. Facebook groups such as Single Fathers — United: Advocacy Organisations and Single Fathers — Fathers’ Awareness of Right and Custody Equity are actively mobilising campaigns for fathers involved in messy court cases. Support has come from all quarters for Delhi-based Pradeep Bansal, who recently lost custody of his 12-year-old son after fighting a case for nine years.
“Though I have consulted the top lawyers of the country I have also been discussing this issue with members of this group. I have been flooded with ideas about how to strengthen my case and I am hopeful all these suggestions would help as it’s about time that we acknowledge fathers as parents too,” says the businessman, who has joined one of the advocacy groups for single fathers.
The social groups, experts believe, help single fathers garner support as well as gain confidence. “Single fathers in our society are quite stigmatised, and in most cases, they are being considered to be the cause of the break up or separation. Life is equally tough for widowers,” says Professor Ashum Gupta, head of the department of psychology, Delhi University. “In a close-minded and an unwelcoming society like ours, men are extremely apprehensive about whom to approach in case of problems related to parenting.”
Divorces are on the rise, which account for the growing number of single fathers. According to data compiled by the family courts and crime records bureau, Delhi has seen 9,000 new cases registered every year since 2000, as opposed to the 1990s when only 1,000 new cases were registered every year. Calcutta has seen a 200 per cent rise in divorce cases over the last decade.
“It is important for single fathers to socialise and express themselves through these channels. This will help them build up a strong network of single fathers and also gain social recognition as responsible single parents,” says Gupta. “This is also an assurance for them that they are not alone, and eventually it gives them the strength to fight against all odds.”
The members couldn’t agree more. As one forum member’s post puts it — “It’s the Dad’s way of saying: REMEMBER YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!”
(Some names have been changed to protect identities)