Like any parent of an 8-month-old girl, I think a lot about how Mira should grow up.
One of my favorite ways to pass time is to make up various qualities she would possess as she grows up and to imagine a montage of her blossoming into a beautiful and strong girl.
Sometimes this would take the form of her holding imagined profound conversations, witty and wise and bold, astounding me and filling me with pride. At other times it is flashes of her being appreciated and recognized by the whole world for her passion and skill; winning the Nobel prize (for science, not literature) or winning the gold medal for her country in sprint track and field, or arguing passionately for a cause at the UN, or chairing a conference of cardiac specialists, and any other such disjointed, but always warm and painfully heart-swelling scenarios.
This week I got a slight taste of how quickly I might end up a quivering jelly if any of those scenarios came to fruition.
I was stretching my back after some work calls and absently thinking about pending immigration paperwork and tax returns when I noticed that Mira was purposefully crawling away somewhere. Following her line of path, I realized she was making for the smallest of the three bookshelves at home, one which contained her board books.
Reaching it, she dug into her books, scattering and chewing them. After having examined and littered her literary playthings, she looked up and grinned at me.
I never knew I could get lumps in my throat at this age.
More importantly, I was relieved.
I managed to maintain a rather impassive expression from habit but one more nudge from her and I would have broken down.
Pretty soon I managed to take in gulps of air and calm down, and once I was sure that my voice will not crack, I grabbed her from the floor and squished her into me. My little strong woman, I was thinking.
But the devil is always in the details, isn’t she?
What is a strong woman?
As a man, it is tough to define what strength is to a woman. First instincts are to hide behind generalities. Strength means different things to different individuals; Strength is relative to the privilege and opportunities that is accorded to the girl; Strength could mean success or empowerment to a woman. With such and similar truisms we fall back to vague generalities about womanhood and strength.
While all those may well turn out to be the most prudent ways to approach such a broad parenting ideal, as a father, it would help if I was able to articulate these vague ideas, so that my choices in her decisions as she grows up, along with the uncurated experiences the world would throw at her meld to produce in her some of the qualities that are enviable and worthy of pride.
I do hold reading in high regard.
Both as a companion and as a guide, books and reading are something I hope she takes to with a passion. An ability and willingness to read, in its true spirit, will help her find solace and courage, to help share in others’ lives, to stand on the shoulders of giants who have grappled and searched for answers to every question mankind has ever dared to ask.
It would hopefully also give Mira a capacity to absorb knowledge and information, to process them, and to not be overwhelmed by life’s dizzying array of choices, none of which are right, and many of which can be a rabbit hole without an exit ladder. It will also, I hope, help her understand that humans are many other people than what they present themselves to be when we meet them briefly and that life can be bewildering and beautiful.
With the accumulating knowledge, I wish, she continuously layers her identity with depth, as a good reader generally ends up doing, with resilience in her emotions, empathy in her worldview, and strength in her convictions, backed by love and knowledge.
Isn’t that an aspect of strength? Isn’t the ability to laugh and smile and exist confidently, without putting others at unease, a crucial element of strength?
Another huge aspect I do believe that determines success is health. It is easy to slip into a laissez-faire approach towards health. The discipline that goes towards nurturing speed and strength gives a fortitude and power that generally those who do not enjoy movement fail to grasp. I vastly value competitive sports as the ultimate health test. Sports, where a dedication to skill and speed is needed, helps hone the senses and builds a much needed competitive spirit that can be relied upon when needed in life.
Then there are arts. I will be thrilled if Mira discovers a natural propensity to art. It is admittedly an added advantage. If nothing, an ability to appreciate arts might go a long way in de-stressing in life. Art is something I hope she asks to learn, rather than something I might want to nudge her towards actively.A companion skill that she can dip into as she ages, to nurture and dabble in as a person.
But will these three revolving streams consume time? Won’t a pursuance of these parental aspirations clutter the childhood of a child?
I fear for that too, but at this time, I personally do not think it will if one chooses the right country to live in. Half the problems are solved if a critical mass of the world in which she grows up nurtures and values these facets of life. Where there are enough opportunities and examples and role models to pick and choose from.
A world where female athletes are not just faraway seasonal news and newspaper articles but real life adults, who regularly make their way into steady income professions, will save me from explaining to her how sports actually empowers someone. In a society where honest and intelligent conversations are valued, she need not be convinced by me that spineless and brainless chatter is not the norm.
A love for science is another aspect that I hope will arise midway through her childhood.
A reasonably high threshold in any three of these four (reading, sports, arts, and science) with a focus on one or more is a likely approximation to a successful woman for all practical reasons.
But isn’t this what every parent wants?
Maybe it is.
I do have some advantages though which I hope will be passed on to her.
I have had the opportunity to sample good quality fare in all four of these. I am convinced they are practiced in their true spirits and I am also equally convinced that a good amount of the offerings and activities are fake replicas, childhood fillers. This eliminates a lot of wasted time and effort in a childhood. I also like to think I might have access to these opportunities if I play it right in my career and planning.
I also do seem to have the luxury of time. Unlike my parents and a lot of other parents, I do not dread fantastic failures or mediocre performances or an apparent lack of interest by standard measures. There is a larger path to success and as long as the base remains solid, the constant pressuring by the schools, peers, parents, and society can be held at large and let in through a sieve. Again, a combination of location, environment, keeping at bay some of the pressurizing individuals and scenarios help.
As a parent, I am given undue influence on her development, a curve whose slope tapers out quickly. I have no wish to hold onto that influencer role more than I need to and hopefully by the age of 13 or 14, when I can start stepping back, she is equipped to make reasonably right decisions.
In the rest of the walks of her life, like spirituality, feminism, activism, money, happiness, education, gender identity, partnerships, if she asks the right questions, I just might be able to implant in her a seedling of my sensibilities for her to sculpt her edifice.
As a reminder of how easy this is going to be, let me tell you what happened when I set her back again on the floor.
She made straight for the shoe rack to grab a used sock.