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Sunday, March 09, 2014

Parent Trap

Whisky chewed my office shoes.

Let’s back up – whisky is the 1.5 year old golden retriever my wife adopted, nursed to health and considers a daughter. I am not a animal person, but I don’t mind dogs either (as long as I don’t have to take care of them, clean up after them etc.) so, it’s generally pat them, rub their belly and generally ignore them. Oh, yes, one more thing – I can shout at her and if necessary wield the slipper when she misbehaves, without flinching and actually mean it. My wife is the “good cop”, you see and I am happily hen-pecked, so apparently, this makes me the boss of the household whenever the wife does not like doing something. 

I am posted in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh as a government functionary which means, we have to attend official parties and such. We went out last evening and I made the fundamental mistake of leaving my official shoes beside the sofa as I was in a hurry. This article would not have happened if I had just remembered to put away the damned shoes on the shoe rack, but such is fate, especially that of my readers.

So, we got back and found my office shoes literally in tatters. The damned dog is teething and this is the second pair of shoes which she has chewed to bits, despite being provided with enough chew toys to drown in.

She obviously needed to be “disciplined” or the behaviour might continue. But despite my anger and frustration, I couldn’t quite bring myself to do much more than shout at her (she promptly disappeared under the bed!) and make excuses – she had her shots recently and was running a slight fever. Also, I disliked being the “bad cop” all the time.

So, what about disciplining her in order to ensure correct behaviour in the future.

More to the point, what would I have done if this was my kid, instead of a “damned dog”?

We don’t have children yet. Most of my friends have kids in pre-school, if not in middle school already. One of the reasons I told myself, was financial instability. Belonging to a generation which has undergone self-funded education abroad, the effects of recession and extremely strong though fluctuating career growth; marriage and a traditional social life was a much deferred choice till my early thirties. Children, considered a natural progression in a typical social milieu, literally scared my pants off.

Blessed with a wonderful and supportive partner, however I overcame a lot of my fears. And getting a dog was the recommended alternative to becoming a parent. And, so I became a father figure to an adolescent furry teenager who has repeated a bad behavioural trait.

This is not where I shine. In fact, I am literally close to blowing out a fuse.

My parents were great adherents of “spare the rod, spoil the child” and “discipline”. Not just them, but the entire damned family were worshippers of Marquis De Sade when it came to education and discipline. Cousins abroad wouldn’t believe us when we traded stories of growing up and it was much, much later that I personally realized that, our parents had been unintentionally brutal in certain aspects of child-rearing.

But as my dad stolidly maintains, “it was all for your own good”.

True – they produced over-achievers who were literally fearless and didn’t know how to give up. Stubborn to a fault, aggressive and capable children with by-products of depression, failure-anxiety, rage-driven at times and more. Sometimes, parents would animate their own frustrations on their children and this is especially true of Indian parents, creating clones of themselves perhaps. As another uncle puts it, “you kids got nothing on what we received.” And child is indeed, the father of the man.

It’s hard to say exactly if they were in the right to discipline us the way they were themselves. Somewhere, this cycle has to stop, any reasonable person would conclude.

But where exactly is the line? Between ineffectual parenting and brutalizing.

India is the land of over-achievers. Despite Amir Khan’s life-affirming movies, millions of parents, rich or poor, insist on discipline as the right way of “moulding” their children. Without discipline, children are ruined, they claim and are proved right, as well. The road-wrecks of well-meaning parents lie as eye-catching debris in a land where the sheer population ensures that moral science is a joke class and success defined by social worth or career growth.

To the rest of their social circle, my parents are damned successful – they have done their jobs well indeed. And now, the “eyes” are on me with my furry daughter.

So, who teaches us parenting and discipline? Our parents? Who taught them?

Whisky has received two light whacks from the chewed shoe from wifey and I am currently refusing to pet her – she is literally in the doghouse.

I am not ready for kids.

Or in commonspeak, “Dawg, shit be unreal!”

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