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A mother who has seen her daughter being brought up by a protective father, tells her from self-experience about the realities of an Indian marriage that await her.
Dear Daddy’s Darling,
No, I should have called you Daddy’s Princess, isn’t it? Give me five minutes of your time. I know whichever way I put this bit, it is not going to be up to your liking. Well, even if I fail, I would have made the effort.
The thrill of trying new dresses, of meeting new relatives, getting complimented by hubby dear, his generosity, his genuineness must be getting familiar – becoming routine? I don’t want you to land with a jarring thud – of reality.
Mama’s boy is a worldwide phenomenon. But you – Daddy’s girl – are quite a recent one, in our society at least, where the role played by Daddies in child rearing amounted to that of an extra. But no more so. With only one or two offspring, the mother working and the joint family disintegrating – Daddies are now increasingly taking center stage. So if your Dad has faced parenting problems, you, my girl, have provided him the undoubted joy of parenting.
I am not going into Oedipal complex and Electra complex – they are too universal, too archetypal for my purpose. Let us put it this way. Just as an Indian mother got to explore masculinity with a stamp of ‘MINE’ through her son, the Indian father is now getting the chance to explore and mould femininity through his daughter – the stamp of ‘MINE’ not forgotten.
So Daddy took you under his wings. Whenever I tried to teach you the womanly things like doing household chores, being uncomplaining, etc., he was there to back you up in your rebellion. Your pert arguments amused him. He thought his daughter was original and bright. Obviously, he has no experience of a woman’s life and does not know that a woman’s life begins much later when all this originality and brightness – even high academic and professional achievements – are of little value.
As Daddy was your role model, you have imbibed some of his masculine characteristics, which I fear, will land you in a problem the moment your husband starts reading out his very masculine expectation from your role as a wife. Of course, you have got somebody to run to, a safe haven, the moment the going gets rough, which will tempt you all the more to escape.
The image of you two walking together, your little fingers tucked trustingly in his protective hand still brings a lump to my throat. Even today your Dear Daddy is ever ready to devote his life to your well-being, to pamper you, to cosset you but he cannot fill the void which a husband leaves. Follow common sense. Don’t get caught in wordy traps like feminism and traditionalism. Think carefully and then choose to complain about your husband to your father. Be your own High Court and Supreme Court.
Will you listen to me impartially if to substantiate my point, I try to show you your Dad as a husband to me? And don’t you dare to hear the twang of the western concept of sexual jealousies between mothers and daughters into what I am saying. (I was happy for you; you had a doting father, whom I never had.) I am simply trying to show you your model role, that is, the role carved for our gender by our very patriarchal culture.
Your father as a husband had expected me to put him first before everything – my career, my dreams, and my desires. He expected me to be a good daughter-in-law to his parents, to look after his siblings, to run the house; my individuality was a foreign notion to him then (still is) though yours isn’t. My right to work was unheard of. You see there was plenty at home to occupy me. I was simply expected to toe the line. He wasn’t even aware that a wife has certain rights.
In your case he is guarding his own – you. Look at it objectively. In the beginning of our marriage too he was guarding his own, that is, his self-interest. That, my dear, is the masculine principle – self-interest.
Believe me, I am all for the new woman. But the fact is that the absolutely liberal, emancipated man you chose after such guided considerations – who no doubt has been fed on Germaine Greer’s and Meryl Streep’s views – the ‘woman’ to him so far is an abstract concept. After marriage, he would realize that he would like the concrete woman, the woman in his life – his wife – to play a similar role or at least a somewhat similar role to what his mother and aunts have been playing.
Marriage is an equal partnership for you, okay? But let me add from experience that it is more equal for the husband. Parents’ love is unconditional but the same cannot be said about the in-laws’, husband’s love. And marriage is a package deal in which husband’s family is always included. Keep your sense of humor intact.
You are someone special for your Daddy but for your husband and his family you are an ordinary run-of-the-mill wife like thousands of other young women who have entered into marriage. You have to shed the Princess Syndrome. Daddy’s instinct will always be to shield you from pain but Beta, growth is painful. You don’t need a savior to make it all better. Create your own kingdom yourself. No more repetition of your favorite lines when things don’t go your way ‘Leave me alone. Go away’ because unlike us your husband might take you on your word. Elasticity is a much-wanted virtue in marriage.
Now maybe the faint echoes of my voice telling you to learn household chores ring in your ears because there is no Daddy to hide behind. So far like a flower you were in your Daddy’s garden, like a pearl you were inside the safe, secure mother (father!) of pearl. Now everything is changed. Your father is planning to send a servant to your home to help you. Think carefully before saying yes. This helping gesture can be construed as interference by other members of your family.
All the assertiveness, which you learnt at Daddy’s knee, will be of no use because your husband has his own idea of a perfect wife. And a perfect wife in the masculine mind is the one who is willing to be led not lead. So initially at least be led, be tactful. We are there when you need us, but decide wisely when you need us. Value this option of a good life. We will always support you but supporting does not mean agreeing with you.
One day when you will have a daughter, you will have the fun of watching this process in action replay but with different characters and experience the helplessness, which only a mother can feel. I want you to be happily married, not only married. So shed your irrelevant, superfluous expectations from day to day living, tighten your belt and get going. As a responsible adult take your own decisions and have the gumption to stand by them. You want marriage – you should have it – a long successful one. Remember our attitudes build our present, our memories, and our histories.
With lots of love,
Image source: shutterstock
This is a beautiful letter. It portrays aptly so much of the subtle nuances that are undeniably and often even unconsciously internalised in the mind of a woman in a patriarchal society. However, things are rapidly changing and a girl child is thankfully also beginning to be increasingly seen as an “asset” to her parents and spouse’s family as well. If the traditional parental home begins to view their daughters not as “paraya dhan” but protects and desires her eternally(the way sons have enjoyed the support, love and attention of parents and society) things may change even more significantly for the better. We cannot stop this change, it is inevitable and even desirable. The river often runs gently through a set course but when mountains come in its way, it will carve itself a path through and when it is in spate, it will even flood the plains…May the force be with the our daughters and granddaughters as they deserve this power…
Good write up. But I wish the daughter’s parents and the son’s parents could write to the would be son- in- law about having realistic expectations and respect for the other half. This would be the formula for a successful marriage, as adjustment has to be from both sides and never from only one.
This came at just the right time for me. I actually read it in my mother’s voice.
As someone who is going through the first few months after a typical arranged marriage, I’m hovering over Reality and I see where you as a doting mother are coming from. Well, rest assured, one daughter has taken these words to heart.
If things work out, I’ll be happy. Else, The Warrior-Princess-to-Docile-DIL Diaries – *cough* a bestseller in the offing!
While I am certain that “The Warrior-Princess-to-Docile-DIL Diaries” will be a runaway bestseller the mother in me writing the article and your mom both would pray that things work out happily ever after for you.
All the best for your new journey.
I agree how things are today, and understand the author’s point on how fathers have a way of expecting wives to be the docile slave while daughters as a princess. However, I can’t agree with the other side of this article. I wouldn’t advice my daughter to accept inequality at her in-laws any day. If she wants to fight, and if she wants to point out the inequality, let her do so. If that means she has to leave the partner and live by herself, so be it. I don’t urge any women around to shed the notion of equality because her mother didn’t have it. If the husband has a problem with equality, he has to change. We cannot blame the society and expect equality to be hander over, we’ll have to fight for it constantly.
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