Yes, I have a son.
When he was born, there were joyous celebrations to welcome him. My elder child, a daughter, welcomed him with love only a sister can have for a brother. All the ashirvads (blessings) of “Doodhonahaoputo falo” (bathe in milk (ugh!!!) and give birth to sons(!)) had apparently worked its effect well.
Before my son was born, my daughter was my entire world. And I would glare angrily at anyone who even remotely suggested that my second one (I knew I wanted two!) had to be a boy to “complete the family” (whatever that meant!). I was certain that my second one would be a daughter too – because I felt I would never be able to love a son as much – yes, that’s how much I love my daughter.
But when he was born, it ceased to matter that he was a son. For me, it was just love all over again.
I remember how some indignant relatives (angered by the fact that I preferred to have healthy babies to “puto falo”) told me that bringing up a daughter was a difficult task in this terrible world. How the daughter would prove to be a huge responsibility – even a liability (“Parayadhan” – somebody else’s property).
But today, what prompted me to write this post is not how my daughter is my blessing (which she is!). Rather, it is to explain why I am glad I do have a son.
No – not because my family is “complete”.
Neither because I feel he will set fire to the pyre when I die (frankly, I care two hoots what happens to my body after my death). Nor is it because I think a son is insurance to an easy retired life, or because of a dowry that he traditionally is supposed bring in.
No – not even that he may act as a bodyguard to my daughter…..
After all, these are the traditional reasons to have a son, right?
My reason is something different. The way I see it, raising a son is way more difficult.
While he may have friends, relatives and acquaintances that are treated special because of their gender, he will need to be told in no uncertain terms, that he is never going to get privileges because he is a son.
I have to, at the risk of him being ridiculed by others like him, teach him to wash, clean and cook – just the way my daughter will learn too. I will also have to sternly voice my opinion, above other, sympathizing voices, to tell him that curfews will remain the same for him and his sisters – as will inheritances.
I have to train him, in the midst of conflicting societal norms, to treat his sister as his equal. Not as a brother who will protect her, but as a brother who will respect her.
I have to remind him, perhaps amidst disapproving stares, to look down upon any practice that differentiates him and his sister – including dowry, inheritance and rituals.
I have to gently prod him to follow his own heart to do the right things – and not be swayed by peer pressure; whether they are matters as complex as love scorned, or as simple as cuss words.
Most importantly, I have to tell him that there are many out there, who resemble him in their gender, but not in his humanity; that rapists and molesters and eve teasers are for real – that he may even be friends with one. I have to train him to not only respect a fellow human, but also retaliate when he sees things going wrong.
Isn’t that one of the biggest responsibilities of a parent today?
*This post is dedicated to a strong-willed 23-year-old woman, fighting for her life in a hospital in Delhi, after being brutally raped in a moving bus by 5 men, one of whom claims he only watched it happen. The answer is not in bundling up our daughters in safety, it is in raising our sons right.
Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.