While I prefer Kentucky bourbon to wine, pronounce the “g” in Champagne and find the concept of tartare preposterous—uncooked meat, on a plate, WTF?—I have been a French Papa ever since my 3-year-old daughter discovered the
art of negotiation.
Because as we all know, a French parent does not enter into
negotiations. We speak to a child like a child, drawing attention to the power
structure in our relationship. “I am your Papa,” I generally begin, and ever
since I started watching Orange Is the
New Black, I preface this with, “Inmate,” to further dehumanize my daughter
and make it clear I am in charge. In the midst of my well-prepared speech, she
usually interrupts me with demands to watch Sofia
the First, or she insists that I bake her oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. I, of
course, end up baking the cookies, while she watches her show. I’m not a
Aside from tartare, I have nothing against the French. I’m sure they’re
a fine people. But I find the fawning over the French as a nation of parenting
experts, who know the dark arts of child mind control and the secrets to having
tantrum-free children, rather baffling. To be clear, the goal is not to raise
inquisitive children, or children who engage in imaginative play. It’s to raise
well-behaved children, who will shut the f*** up when you want to pretend
you’re still spontaneous and can have conversations that don’t involve bodily
functions. This means no tantrums, a stress-free dinner out, and the ability to
host a cocktail party without the burden of parental obligations.
parenting certainly has its flaws, with over-parenting running amok, but the goals
of American parenting seem more in line with the kind of little human I’d like
to raise: one whose critical and social skills are constantly being developed
at school and at home, who can have conversations about anything, and isn’t
forced to fall in line as a matter of routine.
In Kavya’s world, trees are
often purple, princesses have tea parties and slay dragons, and yet still need a
prince for the sake of protocol. She loves to yap it up and assumes anyone who
comes to the house is there for her entertainment. When we take the subway
together, she’ll immediately break two major New York taboos: smiling at people
and starting conversations with strangers, no matter how unwilling they are to
disengage from doing nothing. Who am I to force my boring realism on her? Let the
trees be purple.
One of the cardinal rules of French parenting is never to have
your children think of you as their friend, which I think is an absurd binary. I’m
Kavya’s friend—she tells me so all the time—and I’m also her papa. American
parenting makes it more likely she will know she can talk to me about anything
that’s bothering her, without fear that I’ll be annoyed she’s invading my
space. But it can also lead to the misperception
that our home is a democracy, where freedom of thought and expression reigns,
rather than a dictatorship run by a swarthy man named Papa.
There isn’t a nation or person who has truly mastered the art of parenting.
When certain family members claim I’m not performing my Papa duties properly, I
have to explain to them I’m a French Papa. The first time my Papa
qualifications were called into question was in Central New Jersey, where my
in-laws live. Kavya, the one-tooth wonder, was about 6 months old and crawling
around at full speed like a wind-up toy that had just been released. Out of
nowhere, a carpeted staircase appeared and sure enough she smacked her face
onto the bottom step. She stopped to look over at me and gauge what her
reaction should be. Since her one tooth seemed intact and I saw no blood, I
continued to stuff my face with pakoras my father-in-law had made from scratch
earlier that day. In the interim, my wife, Sona, and her mum went rushing
toward Kavya, which is when she understood this is a time to at least attempt a
my daughter when she falls down in public or at home used to be quite effective
because she’d forget what she was supposed to be angry or sad about and move
now, my manipulation doesn’t work quite as well. The
strategies that worked just a few months ago are constantly in need of updates.
I can’t even ignore her fake crying when she falls anymore. And she falls a
lot. She gets it from her mother.
It started when she
saw I wasn’t reacting properly and folded her arms. When I turned my face away, she walked across
the room and repeated the performance, complete with exaggerated stomps and
loud, enunciated sighs of despair. Finally, she was so exasperated with me that
she grabbed my face with both palms and screamed, “Papa, did you not see me
fall down? Over there!?” That’s when I was coerced into kissing her boo-boo,
and calling it that ridiculous name. All was well for awhile. She’s now 3, much more
coordinated in the way a large-headed, small-bodied woodland creature is
coordinated, but the falling, cuts, gashes and knee-scrapings have only
intensified. She’s much faster now. My response is still to make an attempt at doing
nothing. If she insists that retribution is needed, we beat the shit out of whatever
it is that caused her boo-boo. The wind didn’t know what hit it. Neither did
the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
There’s only one thing
that stays consistent in parenting, and that’s the knowledge that everything
will go wrong. Your kid will stay up past her bedtime at her grandma’s, at
some point she'll eat ice-cream for dinner, and will throw a tantrum to
publicly test your parenting skills (you will fail). And the world won’t be on
fire. There isn’t a nation or person who has truly mastered the art of
parenting. That’s why every country will always need a Supernanny to make them
feel like there are some people who know what they’re doing. The truth is nobody
does. So call my parenting strategy, which largely revolves around the complex
philosophy of “winging it,” French, American or Desi. I just try to be the
best Papa I can be to my daughter.