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Big Daddy
Nasif Kayed (centre) with his wife and five children

Fathers of the 21st century have a lot more to worry about when it comes to their kids, perhaps much more so than their dads before them. But don't take our word for it, hear it from the dads themselves - and Happy Father's Day!

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Published: Fri 17 Jun 2016, 3:03 PM

Last updated: Fri 24 Jun 2016, 9:50 AM

When we set out to do this story we, admittedly, had several preconceived notions about dads, both the current crop and of generations past. Dads of old were aloof, mythical beings that materialised for a meal with the family because they were out earning the big bucks so junior could have his three square meals and go to a good school. PTA meetings were never dad's turf, unless, of course, severe punishments had to be doled out, or something was amiss on junior's report card. Fathers today are way more hip and present, changing diapers and hoisting their kids onto their shoulders for daddy's day out at the mall. Some even choose to be stay-at-home dads while mommy brings home the cheddar. That's progress on so many levels (gender parity high fives, anyone?). But the truth is far from black and white, as fathers from this age fondly remember their own fathers and how much things have changed in just one generation.
Times, they are a-changing.
Nasif Kayed is a 53-year-old dad to five children ranging from eight to 22 years old. The Emirati national says that being a dad today is completely different from when he was a son, pausing to recall what his life was like, more than 30 years ago, around the time when he was as old as his oldest son today. "My father was my role model. A 'father' was defined as being a leader, a mentor and a confidant for children, someone who was willing and ready to show the way forward. If I tried to do that for my kids today, they'll just give me a weird look," he says, with a muffled laugh. "Today, kids' role models and idols are not their dads but TV celebrities. As a dad, I'm constantly waging a war against those influences, and sometimes feel like I'm losing."
Nasif adds that he also tries to spend more time with his kids, like his father before him, but he gets the 'look' or a backhand to boredom. "I remember my father would walk into my room and say, 'Let's go to the mosque for prayers, and I would jump up and go. We would meet people on the way, he would tell me stories. such a great time. If I tell my kids the same thing, I'm pretty sure they would just roll their eyes at me, or say, 'I'll go with my friends later'." But, he adds, he has bigger fish to fry now, especially with his younger children, aged 14 and eight. "I'm constantly worried about what they might see or hear on the Internet, on their phone or on the computer. I have to deploy all these security features and filters and things. I don't think my dad ever had to worry about any of that stuff. We had such closed content." But the Internet age has made one thing massively easy - punishments. "If I want to punish my kids, all I have to do is take away their phones or  their access to the Internet. It's quite fun," he says chuckling.
It's incredible how much being a father has changed in just one generation, he says as he ponders fathers' predicaments. "The world has changed so quickly in the past generation, and, I think, parenting along with it. I think being a parent was taken far more seriously back then - they accepted the burden and responsibility and were completely involved. It's sad that a lot of parents today are too busy to be with their kids and rely on maids to raise them.
"My father taught me to do unto others what I would have them do unto me," says Nasif. "That's a lesson I hope to pass on to my kids. That, and to be sincere and strive for quality."
Being there for junior
Unlike Nasif, 38-year-old Jayson Araneta didn't get to spend a lot of his childhood with his father, but he does spend every waking moment with his two-year-old daughter, Jewel. Jayson recalls the time in his childhood when he stayed in the Philippines and his father was often going to faraway countries, like Saudi Arabia, to work and support the family. "Ever since I was about six years old, I got to see my father for a month, once every year, when he took his annual leave. My mother raised us," he adds, a bit melancholically. He reminisces a simple time when his father used to return, and how his four other siblings, all boys, would scramble for their father's attention. "He used to take us out for a sweet treat but, most of the time, we would be at home. He also helped us with schoolwork and taught us maths and science during the time he was with us. That's one of the things I remember about him," he adds. 

Jayson Araneta and his daughter, Jewel, spend a lot of time together, whether it is cycling at the beach or at home watching movies
But the greatest lesson, Jayson says he has learnt from his father, is the importance of being there for your children. "As a father, it is my duty, and all fathers, to provide for their family. And sometimes, that means going to a country where you can ensure your children have a better future. My father did that for me, but I don't think I can ever leave my daughter. I will take her wherever I go. I can't live without her," he says, in a rush of emotions.
"It's not easy being a parent these days. I am lucky to have a wife who is hands-on with Jewel, but I try my best to do things with her, as much as I can. We go to the beach together; I take her riding on my bike; we go to the mall together and even watch movies and cartoons together. It's the best part of any day for me," says Jayson. "But I don't think parenting has become any easier. It depends on how much help you get from your partner and that's very important. Especially in a place like Dubai, where both parents often have to work, parenting becomes a very special commitment - even more so for dads."
Lesson learnt
Dom Robinson is a 37-year-old dad to two rambunctious little girls - one-year-old Matilda and Paloma, who is four. As an executive chef, Dom spends a lot of time behind the pass and understands the value of spending time with his kids from his own life's experiences. "My mum and dad separated when I was young. I have a very small family, and my mother put herself through university as a single parent when I was growing up. As the oldest of three kids, I was kind of the 'man of the house'. We did spend a lot of time with my aunt and grandparents. When my parents separated, and we weren't a family unit, it made me determined to always be around for my kids."
The thing Dom remembers most about his father is the weekends he would spend with him after his parents split. "I remember it feeling like a mini-holiday and we would do stuff we couldn't normally get away with when mom was around. My dad was cool when we were growing up; I don't really have any memory of getting told off by him. I guess that's why I'm a soft touch with my kids!" he says. 

Dom Robinson lets his two daughters, Matilda (left) and Paloma, let loose when he is around
Dom doesn't discourage a bit of mischief with his own daughters; perhaps, he says, it's something he picked up from his father before him. "When it's just me and my girls, we are always up to mischief, which often raises a few eyebrows with my wife! Earlier this week, for example, Paloma and I watched a movie and shared a biryani when everyone else had gone to bed. Great fun!"
Both Dom and his wife work, so raising the kids is a team effort, he says. "We still bicker about whose turn it is to change the nappy - especially if it's a stinky one," he says, laughing. "I definitely think the role of dads, in some societies, has changed immeasurably from the previous generations," he adds. "It's not uncommon for me to plait my daughter's hair or take either of them to a play date. I'm sometimes one of the only dads at kids' parties and school events. My wife is from South America and the dads there are still much more old school. So there is an element of cultural differences working as well.
"When I was growing up, the role of the dad was to go to work while mum stayed at home to cook and look after the kids," says Dom. "I think, today, the onus is still on the dad to support his family but, on the other hand, more and more families have both parents working. That means dads are expected to step up and do more than the traditional father role required - and rightly so!" he adds.
Of course, it's easier said than done in a place like Dubai, says Dom, especially when families resort to getting a maid or nanny. "I do think that a lot of guys feel they should spend more time with their kids, but are unable to do so, resulting in an awful lot of kids being brought up by maids or nannies." Dom's advice to new dads? "Having a successful family unit is all about teamwork. So, as there are two parents involved, it makes sense that both are equally important and should contribute equally to bringing up the kids to be the best they can be. Also, I have two girls, so, not as a dad, but as a parent in general, always listen to your kids and have their best interests at heart. As long as they are happy doing what they are doing, be happy for them." 
Hands-on or hands-off?
But as long as we're on the subject of partners and maids/nannies, Atinirmal Pagarani, 32, admits that he is far too reliant on them when it comes to his three-year-old son, Yogi. "I think I'm much, much less hands-on with Yogi than my father was with me when I was a child," he says. "When I was a kid growing up in the UAE, the only help my dad had was my mom. My grandparents lived in India and my father, at that time, could not afford maids or nannies. Also, more importantly, we were a total of five children, all looked after by my mother and father by themselves. I, on the other hand, have a good number of helpers, which makes me much less of a hands-on dad than I would like to be," he admits.
"My dad is a role model in so many ways, I can't quite describe it in words. He is always so patient, understanding and calm - I don't understand how he does it all the time! I don't remember him ever being angry at me, or my mom or my siblings. For him, every situation, good or bad, was handled very lovingly and calmly." He adds that he clearly remembers his father trying to patiently feed him. "Standing in the balcony, showing me different cars for my visual entertainment and slyly putting food into my mouth; things I hated, but were good for my health. I can try to do that with my son, but I can't be sly with him. I can try to distract him with an iPad or a TV show, but he would just spit out his food and give me the 'look', as though it was the worst sort of deception." He admits that he is nowhere near as patient as his father, but hopes that he will attain that zen-like calm someday.

Atinirmal with his three-year-old son, Yogi
 "My father, like many fathers from that generation (he is now 70 years old), wanted his kids to study business and come join the family shop. Thankfully, I loved the family business. But this isn't the case nowadays," says Atinirmal. "I could expect the same of my son, but I would like him to follow his passion and I will respect that. I think my father, or his father before him, would not have accepted that sort of a thing easily. Even things like getting married to someone from within the community was a compulsion in that generation. Not anymore. Thankfully, things like respect for parents and the community have remained the same. A child's upbringing really matters and the ways that my father taught me is the benchmark for me and for my child."
But the lessons didn't stop there, adds Atinirmal. "He taught me that a child will not learn anything overnight - 'Rome wasn't built in a day', he told me. 'Anger is only one letter away from Danger' is another one he taught me and I've learnt that being angry towards a child is not just dangerous, but disastrous, and hampers real growth. 'Never be stuck up or stubborn with a child; you will never win. Just learn to accept it and let go. Don't give your child everything he asks for; make them work for it - not slavery, but bravery. Be their role models and teach them the value of life. The list just goes on and on."
Despite the maids and help, Atinirmal agrees that it is very important for dads to spend quality time with their kids. "I travel a lot for work, and spending time with my son is something that doesn't go without remiss. Just as you need two hands to clap, you need both parents to give quality time to their child," he says.
"My father gave me everything I asked for and still does. Maybe because I was pampered, being the youngest of the kids and all," he says, laughing. "But he does make me work for it. And that's how I will be with my son too."

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