Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fathers and sons

Single men can now get 730 days of childcare leave officially. Those who have chosen to walk down this road welcome the directive19 Jan 2019 | 6:37 AM

If single women wanting to adopt a child face a tough battle, the going can be even tougher for unmarried men.

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Purnima Sharma

If single women wanting to adopt a child face a tough battle, the going can be even tougher for unmarried men. This includes skepticism about their caregiving abilities as also suspicion about their inability to reproduce and sexual leanings. Nonetheless, there single men who are choosing to adopt children. Offering support is the recent directive that allows single, male government employees to get 730 days of childcare leave that women are already availing of.

Aditya Tiwari, has been the youngest single man to adopt a child, hopes that the directive is followed not only in government offices but across the board. “Just as maternity leave, there should be an equal number of days of adoption leave,” says the software engineer, who took five months of leave from his organisation to take care of his adopted child, Binny.

The 27-year-old had no plans to become a father until he walked into an orphanage in his hometown Indore to celebrate his father’s birthday. There, he came to know of a “mentally and physically ill abandoned child,” The child was afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, had two holes in his heart, besides a squint and thyroid problem. Although he had a supportive organisation backing him, “a two-year childcare leave for any parent is always welcome”, says Pune-based Tiwari remembering the “instant bond” that was created when he first picked up the five-month-old in his arm.

His decision to adopt this child was met with opposition from his family and friends who couldn’t understand why he wanted to adopt a special child. The adoption agency too refused to consider his case since he was not yet 30 — the age decided by law for single men to adopt. Not one to be placated with such reasoning, Tiwari shot off letters to almost everyone — the President, Prime Minister, bureaucrats, film stars — seeking support. Finally, a year later, in 2015, the adoption law changed. It now allowed singletons aged 25 to adopt a child. The adoption process too was centralised and made more transparent “to help reduce instances of child abuse and trafficking”.

On January 1, 2016, Avinsh (Binny’s new name), who had by then turned three, officially became Tiwari’s son. “All those who had earlier turned away from me came around,” he smiles. A natural caregiver, Tiwari’s love and nurturing are already bearing fruit — one hole in Avnish’s heart has gone, the condition of second one, besides his squint and thyroid, has improved. When he got married, the invites were sent out in the little one’s name. The father-son duo travels across the country wherever Tiwari is invited to give talks, hold workshops, on issues related to adoption and Down’s Syndrome.

Instances like these should silence those  who doubt men’s abilities as nurturers. “Let Doubting Thomases be told of Ardhanarishwar,” says Delhi-based Jyoti Swaroop Gupta, who adopted three-year-old Amitesh from an orphanage in Odisha. “He was fluent in Odia and I didn’t want him to feel uprooted so I even took him back to Odisha. But Amitesh was not keen on going back home,” says the 48-year-old engineer. Amitesh’s note stating that ‘My existence in this world shows I am yours’, is among Jyoti’s most prized possessions.

With a marriage that didn’t work, Gupta decided against tying the knot the second time. He decided to “have a perfect family by being a single father by adopting a child”.

Facing hurdles from parents (who tried to convince him for a ‘family adoption’) and ‘endless visits’ to adoption centres (“where people not just wondered if I was gay but also wanted hefty bribes”), Gupta finally got Amitesh home in September, 2009. 

“Despite her initial resistance to the idea, my mother immediately hugged him and today, can’t seem to live without him,” smiles Gupta, who also got support from his neighborhood, colleagues and seniors at office. “In the absence of any childcare leave, I took earned leave,” he informs. He adds that once the rule comes into practice, he would like to adopt another child.

However, Amitesh is not keen on having a brother as sibling. “He wants a little sister,” smiles Gupta. This wish of Amitesh, however, cannot be fulfilled as single men are not allowed to adopt a girl child.

“Single men are not allowed by law to adopt a girl child,” says Sanjay Patil of the Love Trust for Indian Children in Buldhana, Maharashtra. “But the truth is very few come forward to adopt.” In his 13 years of work at this branch, he says, he handled “probably just one query for adoption by an unmarried man”.

Asserting that more men need to come forward and show themselves as “caregivers — that they also are”, Sandip Soparrkar, the first single man in India to adopt a child, too wanted to adopt a girl child but was shown the door. He then adopted son Arjun, who is now the centre of his universe. The Mumbai-based salsa dancer brushes aside memories of the harrowing time he experienced at adoption agencies and only remembers the happy moments — right from the time he learnt the essentials of child care from his mother. These include learning how to brush a baby’s teeth and cleaning his ears.

Soparrkar’s decision to adopt was made much before he tied the knot with model Jesse Randhawa. “I didn’t want to wait till my marriage.” He gives example of a friend who, couldn’t adopt a child as his wife was against the idea. “When I married Jeese, she happily accepted Arjun,” he says.

Some handy tips

  • Adopting a child should be a well-thought out decision. If you are not too certain about it, don’t go for it.
  • Ensure that everyone in the family is supportive of your decision.
  • Be prepared to sacrifice your time for the baby. There will be sleepless nights, tantrums, etc.
  • If you have a full-time job, work out the logistics first.
  • Don’t get discouraged by people who say men are not natural caregivers.
  • Make a community of people who appreciate the idea; Also of fellow adopters (even married ones) to share notes with. 

— Dr Vandita Dubey, clinical psychologist

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