What sin has the child done to be cut off from his father, who till the other day was his playmate, coach and guard?

All alone, or in twos/The ones who really love you/Walk up and down outside the wall/Some hand in hand/Some gathering together in bands/The bleeding hearts and the artists/Make their stand/And when they've given you their all/Some stagger and fall after all it's not easy/Banging your heart against the Wall

Roger Waters from

“The Wall”

It is said that simple questions are the most difficult to answer. As a matter of fact, it's impossible to answer if that “simple” question is asked by a child. My five-year-old son the other day whispered into my ears, “Daddy, can we go to Daddy House?” For most, it might seem to be the simplest question with a one-word answer. But my response was one of hollowed look and silence. Welcome to the world of Divorced fathers – the Throwaway Dads!

Today, many Indian families are plagued by marital discord and divorce — once a social stigma but now an unremarkable passing event. What was once considered the very defining elements of family life are now subject to re-examination. Gender roles within the family are no longer enforced.

A successful working woman is seen as a role model in society. But the concept of childhood and parenthood has remained stable and is still considered the foundation and pillars of our culture. Yet, in the murky events of divorce and child custody, there is an undeniable conflict between biological, legal and social conceptions of parenthood.

In a typical divorce and child custody case, the father ends up as a non-custodial parent (save for a handful of instances over the past few decades). Ostracised from active parenting, his role is now limited to being a “paying visitor” for a few hours a month. These few hours cannot be a substitute for an involved parental relationship. What sin has the child done to be cut off from his father, who till the other day was his playmate, coach and guard? Overnight, there is no recipient for one of the most said words of the child — “Daddy.”

The principle used in child custody cases is the doctrine of “best interest of the child.” In theory, the law is gender neutral — it neither says that the mother has to be the custodial parent nor does it mandate that only one of the parents can have custody. Therefore, in theory, both mother and father can be joint custodians. So, why this madness? The answer lies in its interpretation and adoption — an unwritten method of determining the best interests by selection. Here a warm thought of motherhood tilts the balance.

The overwhelming feeling towards the father and his role seem applicable only in reel-life. I've seen many a woman shed tears when the father and son have their last breakfast together in the movie, Kramer vs Kramer. Even for an animation movie Finding Nemo, tears are shed for Marlin, the daddy fish. But when it comes to real life, it is all swept clean from memory — convenience and egos take precedence over conscience and welfare.

Granted, the mother's role is indispensable in the child's life. The same applies to the father's role too — certain roles can be fulfilled only by a father. Studies done on single-parent children show that the loss of paternal care and stability is the cause of most of their social aberrations.

Divorce being a new-age phenomenon in India, it is time we learnt from the lost generation of those countries and took some preventive measures. The law should broaden the idea of parenthood and dilute the traditional interpretations and beliefs. First and foremost should be the shift from the “winner takes all” custody framework to a presumptive shared parenting framework. Joint and equal custody must be the interpretation of the best interest of the child principle.

Australia, France, Denmark, Belgium and some States in the U.S. have already brought in legislative changes towards shared parenting. Results of studies conducted on shared parenting have been positive — it showed more parental involvement, a higher happiness index in child and reduced inter-parental conflicts.

For a child, every day should be Mother's day and Father's day — separation of mom and dad should not make any difference. Await the day.

“From the first moments of life, the bond forged between a father and a child is sacred. Whether patching scraped knees or helping with homework, dads bring joy, instil values, and introduce wonders into the lives of their children. Fathers are our first teachers and coaches, mentors and role models. When fathers are not present, their children and families cope with an absence government cannot fill.” — Barack Obama in his Father's Day proclamation of 2010.

(The writer is Member, Children's Right Initiative for Shared Parenting (CRISP). His email is: shanraghuram@gmail.com)

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