At the end of a long 'dog-tired' (a word that Baba seldom uses) day, we didn't have dinner in the fridge to yank out and heat in the microwave. What we did have was uncooked meat and vegetables in the fridge. Tired and still stubborn about how he (my father) hates take-outs because it symbolises 'taking the shortcut in life' in moments such as these, we had limited options in hand.
Baba was too tired, after work, to cook dinner for two. And I, after work, was tired and too incompetent and useless in the kitchen to even try to cook us dinner. In such cases, Baba makes us a really good, big and fat omelette with four eggs. And he and I tend to devour it with just rice.
But that night was different.
My just turned 68-years-old father was tired enough to risk asking me to make the omelette. And so it began, a journey in uncharted territory.
Before I dramatise this even further, let me clarify, yes I have made omelettes and the bare-minimum kind of food (like noodles) in life before. But that night, when I stepped into the kitchen with the intention of making something after some odd years, I was not only bombarded with questions like where does Baba keep the salt or the non-stick pan etc, but also started to think about domestic work and Baba.
It never ends. The household work. He still works a full-time job, cooks all the food in the house and takes care of his three cats too (including the manual litter cleaning every morning).
Fortunately, he does have a chuta bua and a personal assistant who help with house cleaning and chopping the vegetables, etc. Even so, domestic work is exhaustive. And he seems to work nearly every single waking hour, when he is not out at work, to make sure the house is in order because Fridays really are rare and his idea of recreation is having people over when he, you guessed it, cooks for his guests.
But he is happy to do it. All of it and proudly too, which I appreciate because Baba's daily life eerily resembles that of a working woman in the country. He does all the housework and office work and happily hosts people at every chance he gets.
By this point, the omelette on the pan is halfway done. Or so I thought.
While Baba's situation is unique in that he not only lives the life of a divorcee but also embraces singlehood wholeheartedly. Nearly all married women in this country, especially the working women, live quite a lonely life at home, (and unfortunately even those who live abroad but still have male spouses who prescribe to the 1950s gender roles at home), because they do all of the domestic work alone.
Think of your mothers. I hope the cakes and cards to celebrate Mother's Day came with a day-off from the endless domestic work. For full-time female homemakers, I have seen how they slave all day to make sure the table has food and the house is clean. And they don't mind because they are hard-wired into believing this is the way life is meant to be, carry the weight of any and all domestic work and do it all alone, even when bones start to crumble and backs break. And of course, the sons cannot be asked to help because, in raising them, every minute of life was spent on the definition that kitchen and housework is the woman's job and he is exempted from it for life.
But you see, it is still work. So while your 9-5 job comes with a start and end time, there is no start and finish for domestic work. It's around the clock, every day. And when jobs come with retirement 'age,' domestic work doesn't. It is lifelong. Until perhaps the next female house member takes over. Because even retired male adults cannot be asked to contribute to unpaid and unaccounted domestic work that makes no visible contribution to the national GDP, let alone male adults who work jobs.
This is the perfect wiggle-in spot for SANEM and MJF jointly organised dialogue, from back in 2019, on "Recognition of Women's Unaccounted Work in National GDP and Include in Gender Responsive Budgeting." If you would like, look it up.
For working women, such as your mothers or millennials married to husbands with psyche from the 1950s, it is perhaps twice as worse. Because on top of the life-long, endless domestic work, there is office work 40 hours a week that, let's face it, spills into overtime more often than not.
Now I found myself looking for the coriander leaves. Baba keeps some washed and chopped in the fridge in a bati for moments like this I presume. I could hear the simmering pan sound, is that a good sign?
Then there are those overtly proud mothers or family members who boast about the son's cooking skills and kitchen expertise. It is authentically a positive development to see male family members engage in domestic work and break away from outdated, toxic and patriarchal gender roles but perhaps we can wait a minute before we raise those men on pedestals and champion their "growth."
Because after all this time, they are only now pulling their own weight in domestic work, and by doing so they are levelling the field, not doing you, the woman, a favour. So yes encourage them but perhaps not immortalise them.
And a quick side note, did you notice how many (certainly not all) men who migrated to a developed country picked up cooking skills and how they became the family's Keka Ferdousi? Many do, and it's great. But why only when and if they move to a different country? Because life abroad does not come with house help nor life-long female counterparts who support gender roles from the 1950s? Do we really have to move countries to make this change a viable lifestyle option? I hope not.
This brings me to cooking skills. It is a basic life skill. And honestly, I cannot tell you how I - with zero interest in the skill - avoided it for as long as I did. All basic life skills are to be attained not avoided.
This can, perhaps, partially be explained by how my parents, in raising my sister and I, truly did not assign us gender roles at home that date back many decades. Even before Baba took up cooking at home full-time, I have memories of him being involved in the kitchen and memories of my mother changing the light or fixing the television. Gender roles really were fluid and not assigned in the home I grew up in.
The omelette is done by the way. And served on the table. Baba takes a bite. And the verdict is in. It's dry and I did not salt it enough.
So this Father's Day, Baba, wish you a happy working Sunday and I thank you for showing us, out of your own volition, that men born in the 1950s can alter gender roles, set an example and break stereotypes to live an equal life at home. The fact that you have done this so well inspires hope that not all is lost in a time capsule stuck in the past.
And I promise to work on the omelette.