This Father's Day, I want to thank my father for being a feminist and making me one -- without even knowing it!
• My father had started a job in Singapore before I was born and my mother was to move us there (from India) shortly after my birth. So he didn't see me until I was 40 days old -- and that's when he announced that he was coming back to India, having quit the job in Singapore because it wasn't a good fit. My father is an engineer and they wanted him in marketing. Friends and family questioned his decision of quitting one job without another in hand -- especially with a five-year-old son and a newborn daughter. But he did it anyway, because he was confident that he could start over and provide for his family, without compromising on what he wanted his career to be.
o Lesson Learnt: Don't internalise society's expectations of you as your own. Forge your own path and follow your true north.
• Growing up in a modest middle-class home in Bombay, my brother and I didn't have the luxury of gendered toys. We both had the same handful of toys to share: a couple of train sets, one Russian doll, a couple of toy cars and lots of art books, paint and crayons. Our parents encouraged both of us to study hard at school. But thanks to my engineer father, my brother and I also learned to solder circuit boards and measure things with Vernier calipers and stuff like that, while other kids learned to play house or break expensive Transformer toys. It simply never struck Appa to teach us different things based on gender.
o Lesson Learnt: Skills are skills, knowledge is knowledge, regardless of the learner's gender.
• When I had to choose my major and college, my father never pushed me to become an engineer or a doctor, like most kids who did well in school were expected to be. In fact, my parents' lack of pressure was disconcerting - because it meant that I had to make my decision myself and not have parental pressure to blame if I got dissatisfied with my choice later! I chose to study psychology and get into an 'Arts' college. Appa only told me one thing before I made my decision: "Whatever you choose to do, excel in it. And if your job is something you love doing, it is no longer 'work', but a passion."
o Lesson Learnt: Supporting somebody doesn't mean making their choices for them, even if you know better. It means sticking with them as they make their own, and showing confidence in them.
• I am currently a 35-year-old unmarried woman living alone in India, which makes me somewhat unusual in this social context where most of my peers have school-going children by this time. My father has stuck by me this whole time, helping me battle social and familial pressure to 'settle down'. Whether I was in a relationship or not, whether I was considering the Indian 'arranged marriage' option or dismissing it vehemently, he has never, ever made me feel uncomfortable about my decisions and my vacillations. I found out recently that he spoke up for me without my knowledge to those who questioned my single status, assuring them that I was very happy and successful, as I was.
o Lesson Learnt: Marital or family status doesn't have to define somebody's sense of worth or happiness. In certain societies where it still does, more role models and allies are needed to disrupt this default assumption.
My father's defining characteristic is a calm and logical approach to life, where there is little use for prejudices and biases because those are simply erroneous ways of making decisions. I think this philosophy is what makes him and me unabashed feminists -- we simply believe that fairness and equality are good, and that decisions made based on data and logic trump those based on relationships and biases. If only more business and political leaders thought like my father does, we'd have inclusive workplaces and societies, and organizations like Catalyst (where I work) wouldn't need to exist! Here's hoping that day comes soon!
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