One of my favourite family pictures is that of my father astride a black stallion with me as a young child, sitting with him. The picture was taken during a visit to a hill station. What is very evident from the photograph is my adoring face looking up at my father from layers of jackets and blankets packed around me.
My father's active role in nurturing has so conditioned my thoughts that it has become a yardstick for me to measure male acquaintances.
Today, men are constantly being encouraged to play a more active role in parenting, one that involves nurture. And there are many socio-economic factors responsible for this, one of the most significant being the changing composition of the traditional family.
In nuclear families with working couples among the middle class, gender roles of the male breadwinner and the female caregiver are to an extent coalescing. In several cases, women are emerging as primary financial providers as well. And the work situation demands that fathers be more "pro-active" in parenting.
It is not an uncommon sight to see fathers fit in activities like the school run, homework help or a visit to the child's doctor into their work schedule. Even the bedtime bath and story routine has come within the purview of their gaze!
And the trend is visible among young professionals in metros at least - many men have shown a sense of relief at moving away from the role of sole protector and breadwinner.
He has no problems taking care of home and children while his wife looks after the bread and butter. He is happy with his research while she meets all the family commitments through her job as a business executive.
The fact that both the parents have a vital role to play in the nurture of the child, is becoming more evident. The notion of nurture is vast: ranging from a young father who is as adept as the mother in changing nappies and making her burp, to one who realises that he will be her yardstick for many experiences later in life.
The expectant dad
What happens when the world realises that you are going to become a father? Many men find that once the initial excitement has worn off, people will stop asking you how you feel. It is, therefore, important to talk about your feelings, especially to your partner, and to get involved straightaway in the pregnancy and birth plans.
At this time, the feeling of being an outsider will not be helped by the way people treat you: well-meaning female friends and relatives may unconsciously push you out of what they perceive as their territory.
Don't just step back at this time but become involved. Talk to your own friends and colleagues and though you may be teased, you may find other fathers keen to share their experiences with you.
Try to find out as much as you can to understand the changes taking place in your partner's body. Talk candidly about sex with your partner so that it does not become an issue later on.
While discussing the delivery plans with your partner, try not to impose your views. If she feels strongly about certain issues like trying for a drug-free labour, respect her wishes if there are no complications involved.
If you wish to witness the birth of your baby, say so, but remember to take your smelling salts if you are the kind to feel queasy, the moving experience withstanding.
Fatherhood is an experience that is not talked about much. So, talking to other "expectant" fathers at the antenatal classes that you may want to attend with your partner, will be a welcome departure.
Young fathers today can be seen boning up as much on the latest authoritative tract on pregnancy and parenting as on management principles.
The more you understand about what's going on during pregnancy, the more accessible the experience will be for you. For, it will enable you to accompany your partner on the physiological and emotional journey that she is undergoing. Nuture starts with understanding and empathy. More and more fathers are becoming aware of it today.