Indian family dynamics are fascinating anywhere, but more so if you are outside India. Frank Raj from The International Indian meets three dads to get their views on the more challenging role for parents — raising their daughters...
We take a look at how Indian dads raise their daughters — the joys and the challenges, old ideas and new ones. How do parents manage on one hand Mohammed Rafi’s Teri Pyaari Pyaari Surat Ko Kisiki Nazar Na Lage Chashme Baddoor; Yoon Na Akele Phira Karo Sabki Nazar Se Dara Karo Indian concept of thinking to the other extreme of western notions clearly stated by the Rolling Stones in Let’s Spend The Night Together Now I Need You More Than Ever?
It is fascinating to study Indian family dynamics, more so if you are outside India. Free from the stranglehold of our callous society people get to re-examine long held traditions and ideas, some embrace change, some don’t.
Because there are so many Indians in the region, with estimates ranging from six to seven million, NRIs in the Gulf have many advantages compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world who are far away from India. Life in the Gulf is a windfall for those well settled in business or employment — India is accessible on weekends if necessary. Also chances are in terms of one’s own community, there are enough folks around for those who regard such connections as important. In Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE, the 5-6 million strong Indian population is widespread, well-established and well-connected. If one is conservative, raising a family in Arabia is not very different from India, and if one is liberal, life in the Gulf can offer all a western lifestyle can. The dads interviewed have crossed many borders with plenty of exposure to East and West.
MEET THE DADS
Tushar Vir: An HR professional in a multi-national company in Dubai. Tushar was born and raised in Delhi and met his wife Rashmita in Mumbai. He is a Chemical Engineering graduate of from IIT and Rashmita is a fellow HR professional who left her career to raise their children. Juhi (16) who loves music, and Tanvi (12) who is into sports.
Dr. Ali Omar Ayob: A specialist surgeon and has practiced in New York and South Africa.
He has developed a special interest in burns and wound care. He currently heads the burns and wound care units in two private clinics in Pretoria, South Africa. The Ayob’s have three daughters. Asma (42) is a single mother with two sons and works in research and development. Rubima (38) is married to a businessman and has three sons and a set of twin daughters. Sameera (33) has an honors in Psychology and is a Psychometrist and her husband is an accountant. She has currently taken some time off to raise her one year old son. She also has a ten-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.
Frank Raj: Editors don’t usually get into their stories, I decided to flaunt the rules. My two daughters are Shana (40), a full time mother of three — Rivkah (9), Tirzah (5) and David (15 months). Her husband Benjamin H. Parker is an English language teacher in Dubai. Raina (37), my younger daughter is a marriage and family counselor whose husband Erik Hadden is a mental health therapist. I figured my experience might add two cents worth. My learning as a parent is undoubtedly among the most important. While my wife’s views are not featured here, I made sure both she and my daughters felt free to assess how authentically I have shared my experiences ... though some debate was inevitable!
Would you allow your daughters to date?
Tushar: No. Not until they attain an age, ideally after their graduation.
Dr. Ayob: No. The Indian culture that we have been brought up in and our religion Islam does not approve of the two genders mixing together socially once they’ve attained the age of puberty.
Frank Raj: Not in the Western sense where a teenage girl is made to look forward to the prom as if it’s the highlight of her life. The approach I took with my girls was don’t think boys are some extraordinary creatures; they are just like you with differences you need to understand. I must admit they did not completely accept my thinking but it was a deterrent!
What would the rules be, does living abroad make a difference?
Tushar: Rules would be the same no matter what the location.
Dr. Ayob: Our daughters were not allowed to date at all. However, as they grew older, and they expressed their liking for a particular boy, this was entertained and both sets of parents came together and formalised the relationship to move forward. For us, it didn’t matter where we lived, because the rules and values stayed the same.
Frank Raj: Our rules would have applied anywhere. We encouraged them to bring their friends home anytime, go out with friends in groups but avoid close male friendships until they finished their studies.
What role would religion, caste or status play in your rules? Why?
Tushar: Important are the values they have. To an extent it comes from one’s religious beliefs. Caste consideration is eroding in the new world and status is no consideration.
Dr Ayob: As Muslims, we believe that each individual is treated equally. If the chosen partner has the similar standards of education, social level, and outlook, this would be a point in their favour. We believe these factors would contribute towards a positive relationship.
Frank Raj: Caste and status have no place in our thinking. We raised our children to respect all religions but to avoid religionism of any persuasion. We know genuine, God fearing people from many religions and we accept anyone who shared their spirituality.
Do you think you could enforce your rules?
Tushar: Yes. Make it known to them first and also what happens if rules are violated.
Dr. Ayob: This is not about enforcing rules, it is about building into their lifestyle, during their growing years. A sense of responsible values, codes of moral conduct, and making them appreciate the pitfalls of a free uninhibited existence.
Frank Raj: Somebody once said, “Far more is caught than is ever taught!” I was a loving but tough Dad in those difficult teenage years and I was sometimes misunderstood. My wife was much kinder on these issues and we sometimes disagreed on how much freedom the girls should be given.
Would your daughters follow or circumvent your rules?
Tushar: Most of the time they followed it, but they circumvented sometimes.
Dr. Ayob: In my experience, my daughters accepted and followed the lifestyle of the value-system happily.
Frank Raj: Some liberties were taken at college in the USA and I was tolerant, very alert and quite concerned. They knew I would not entertain any applications for “nesting” until their studies were finished.
What would you have done in their place?
Tushar: Follow the guidelines agreed on.
Dr. Ayob: I was also brought up with similar values which I adhered to.
Frank Raj: I was in a boarding school during my teenage years in a controlled environment, so the choices were limited. But I had my share of escapades.
What is the main influence on kids now?
Tushar: Media, peers and the internet.
Dr. Ayob: We believe that they can be largely influenced by a happy family life. But the influence of the media and peer pressure, and the prevalent majority of uninhibited family-lifestyles are a distraction and counter-force from value-based systems.
Frank Raj: Their peer group, the media and their parents, probably in that order.
What was the best advice you gave or give your daughter?
Tushar: Do your best. There is an age in life when certain things happen or can be done.
Dr. Ayob: We always encouraged our daughters to educate themselves and become self-sufficient.
Frank Raj: We encouraged them to be confident about who they were and where they came from.
How effective has it been according to you?
Tushar: We still have a journey to take to check its effectiveness. So far we have been sailing smoothly.
Dr. Ayob: They understood and accepted this advice and all three of them attained university degrees in their respective fields.
Frank Raj: Our girls are both married now. Their husbands are soul mates and they share deep, spiritual convictions. Life is not a cakewalk, but building your home on solid rock not on shifting sands is more durable!
Would you insist on an arranged marriage for your girls? Why or why not?
Tushar: May not, as my wife and I did not marry through an arranged marriage.
Dr. Ayob: Arranged marriages have always been an Indian cultural preference. Where I come from may have followed this practice, whereas the religion of Islam does not dictate to this philosophy and neither do I.
Frank Raj: I did not insist on an arranged marriage for my girls. I think peer pressure and their exposure to life abroad made them see it as something undesirable.
What do you want for your daughters the most?
Tushar: To be good human beings as wellas professionals.
Dr. Ayob: I want them to lead a happy balanced life with moral and ethical codes of behaviour.
Frank Raj: I want them to be free to be the individual God created each one of them to be and in awe of no one except their Creator.
What do you think is the best way to keep them out of boyfriend trouble?
Tushar: Discuss things with them.
Dr. Ayob: Instill in them during their growing up phase, values of family life, constant attention to their milestones and impart knowledge. It is important to listen to their needs with an open mind. Setting boundaries and parameters with flexibility.
Frank Raj: There is no fool proof way of ensuring they will not get into trouble. Don’t give up on them, keep reminding them that life has a purpose, encourage their talents, and let them know you are there for them.
What do you tell them if they leave home to study?
Tushar: Do well in life.
Dr. Ayob: Sending daughters to study abroad is putting them out into a world full of experiences, good and bad. Fortunately, all my daughters studied from home. If I was confronted with this choice, I would have been reluctant to send them abroad.
Do you think Indian boyfriends are preferable to other nationalities?
Tushar: Not really. The boy needs to have good values and be a good human being.
Dr. Ayob: During their growing up phase, I wanted them to marry in their own religion and the boy had to be an Indian because of the common cultural upbringing. Marriage to a boy of Islamic faith was a must.
Frank Raj: I think Indian youngsters get a great start in life because of our family values. But once out in the real world, if you do not have a true spiritual foundation it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything!
Is the Indian/Asian way of parenting more successful?
Tushar: Yes. families have stayed together longer than their western counter parts.
Dr. Ayob: In the Indian way of parenting, there have been certain rigid ground rules for marriage into one’s own ethnic background and religion. This worked during the period that my daughters grew up in. But now, the world is a melting pot and rigidity has no place, even in the Indian marriage. Depending on the environment you live in, flexibility, open-mindedness and mutual dialogue is necessary for successful parenting regarding marriages.
Frank Raj: Our daughters were raised to be comfortable in Indian and Western ways and are both married to Westerners. They blend the best of both worlds. I think it’s a big cliché that the Indian way is better. Social constructs overlook individual thoughts and feelings. You cannot generalise. Relationships are unique. In every situation, context, personality, geography, society, and other factors count.
- Frank Raj is TII’s Founding Editor and Publisher