Friday, October 3, 2008

Joe Biden's Kramer Vs Kramer moment : Dads as Moms

At a key moment during his VP Debate Joe Biden said this "the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand..." ( Transcript from CNN . That was after Palin talked about kitchen table talks of financial difficulties. For those who do not know, Joe Biden lost his wife and one year old daughter in a car accident just afer getting elected to the senate. He was ready to resign it but friends and family pressured him to keep going. He made a promise to his children that he would be home every night, so he rides the Amtrak everyday from DC to Delaware everyday to be with his children. He remarried 5 years later.

How good a parent can a father be? Can a father make up for the loss of mother? Is there a special love that only a mother can give?

Those who love movies with story lines from yesteryears would know Kramer Vs Kramer. Meryl Streep shot to stardom with that. Dustin Hoffman is a very busy sales executive who is busy climbing the ranks of his company not ignoring but kind of not paying attention to family, especially his wife. One day Meryl calls it quits and plainly walks out. The problem is there is a kid, 6 years old. Dustin, shattered, then starts playing daddy care. He fumbles and stumbles on everyday tasks like making break fast, taking care of his son, keeping up with his son's schedule so much more. Work suffers. Then in comes Meryl again, now she sues him to get custody of her son. Dustin fights it. Meantime he loses his job, take a lower paying job. Finally the court decides to handover custody of the boy to the mother. In a final moment of grace Meryl decides not to enforce the ruling and walks out of their life. The movie has its high poignant moments.

I've always wondered about that story line. Dustin is not ignoring his family for some cheap escapades, he is working his butt off. When his wife deserts he steps up to the plate, incurs a huge professional sacrifice to bring up his son etc. As much as the wife walked out there is simply no justification for coming back to claim her son. The court case pivots around how good a parent can a father be? Can a father make up for the loss of mother? Is there a special love that only a mother can give?

Too much has been made of the uterine advantage of women. Yes, a mother is 100% indispensable in the early years of a child. However in the tragedy that we call life, sometimes the unthinkable happens and when a man (as in just MAN) has to fight for what he loves, boy he sure discovers untapped reserves.

As much as men are from Mars and women are from Venus we have to concede that a man's way of loving and showing love not just towards a woman of his age but even towards his own child are different from that of an instinctive love that a woman shows. Nonetheless a man's love for his child is never inferior.

I'd round up referring to another most famous widower. Jawaharlal Nehru lost his wife Kamala when Indira was 18. Nehru realising that he is mostly a dad in-absentia and more acutely realising the lack of proper education for Indira due to the Freedom struggle, he starts writing to her regularly especially during his long incarcerations. The letters were later published as "Glimpses of World History". What a tour-de-force it is, one can argue over the literary merits, the interpretations etc but it is the best education a father ever gave to his daughter. One letter very lovingly starts "Priya darshini -- dear to sight, dearer still when sight is denied".

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