Men have reached Mars but even now fathers hesitate discussing menstruation with their daughters.
This was the thought in Dr. Ritwik Boro’s mind since he just had an argument with his friend, a single parent from India, over Skype. His friend was in a dilemma as to how to deal with his daughter’s upcoming menarche. He was thinking of taking her to their neighbors instead of dealing with it himself. It made Dr. Ritwik very angry and he said, “You are her dad… she is a girl, so periods will happen one day… You should know! Talk to her!” He disconnected the call. Just then, he received a confirmation of his team returning to touch base from Mars after collecting samples for research. He was so excited!
A little later, while taking rest at his capsule, Dr. Ritwik was reading his diary which he had written when his daughter was born. Tears overflowed from his cheeks when he thought of his daughter’s marriage this winter with the love of her life, a man unknown to him. He was among those fortunately unfortunate ones who had witnessed some of the most important moments of his family members’ lives over Skype from space.
One thing he had known was this: the ‘day’ would come in his and his daughter’s life and he wanted to be there for her. He was thankful to his wife who helped him understand the importance of him being a part of his daughter’s menarcheal experience. He was also thinking about the Menstrupedia comic book that he had first read while reading blogs on the ‘issue’. He then gifted it to his daughter when she was seven, but what worried him the most was not about his daughter growing up, but about how he was going to teach her about dealing with her changing body. He wanted to teach her the importance of menstruation in a woman’s life. While giving her the comic book he told her, “Beta, read this book first and we shall have a discussion on all those questions that will arise in your mind.” He sighed, and thanked his wife for grooming him to be a better father and also thought of how lucky he was to have that comic book.
One day, after returning from school Sobi went to her daddy and hugged him and said,“Thank you. I love you.” Dr. Ritwik understood what all that was about. He took Sobi in his lap and said compassionately, “Beta, we all experience changes in our bodies. Your mom and I are experiencing grey hair issues. That’s why we keep visiting your Uncle Vinay’s parlor.” Sobi smiled. “You guys will also see lots of changes. You will feel love and anger. You will have a crush on your favorite hero. You might notice hair on your upper lips and underarms. And a day will come when you will notice blood/ white marks on your underwear but that’s okay! That is a part of you growing older day by day. Yeah! You might also notice that the boys in your class are growing differently. But that’s also okay. Boys and girls grow differently, but they grow into adults. Beta, always remember, change is a law of nature. A sapling grows into a plant. A plant grows into a tree and so on.”
So, Sobi, his daughter, knew about menarche but it is not something that visits you with a polite letter. Her mother was visiting her parents’ place for her nephew’s ‘annaprasana’. It was hot and humid all day. Dr. Ritwik’s children, Ayush and Sobi were sleeping in their parents’ bedroom. He was doing some research. Sobi woke up feeling a wetness in her underwear. She went to the bathroom and learnt that she had gotten her first period. She cried alone in the bathroom for some time. After gathering courage, she went to her Dad and said, “Daddy, my periods have started and mommy isn’t here!”
For a moment Dr. Ritwik was dumbstruck; he was nervous. He then said to his daughter, “Don’t worry darling,” and he knew his little princess was not little anymore; “Your daddy’s here with you!” He took her to the bathroom and asked his son to get fresh underwear for his sister. He then gave her a new packet of sanitary pads and showed her how to fix it on her underwear as his wife had taught him.
Ayush asked his dad in surprise, “Dad, why are you so happy?” He replied with a jubilant smile, “Son, remember the time when you went to your mom crying and complained about your ‘thing’ becoming bigger year after year?’ He replied with a little awkwardness, “Yes, so?” “It’s something similar. Being parents we want you two to stay little but that’s impossible because you will grow up. But today I’m not scared of seeing you as grown-ups. In fact, I am happy.”
In Assam, menarche is celebrated with gaiety but for Dr. Ritwik this wasn’t important. For him the important thing was his ability to deal with his daughter compassionately. The next few days were very strange for Sobi. She had to follow lots of rituals through day and through night. She was going to be married with a banana tree. She had to fast everyday until the ‘marriage’ ceremony was completed. Ritually speaking, she was not supposed to see any male member of the family. But for her, staying away from her Daddy was out of the question. And she was lucky. She was excluded from those rituals. She was given vegetarian food and was allowed to eat with her family. It was her Dad’s effort to make her feel less awkward during those days. Once her aunt had complained about this and Dr. Ritwik said humbly, “She is my daughter and she can eat and live wherever she wants to in this house.”
Every child attains puberty but the issue should not be about who is going to explain it to their children. If parents can give birth to their children, then they can talk to their children about puberty compassionately too. If we don’t do it, who will?
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.
Author: Gyanam Saikia
Gyanam hails from Guwahati, Assam. He is passionate about working towards removing the senseless taboos that are rampant in our society, specially affecting women and children. He has published two more articles, called Every Boy Needs To Be Educated About Periods. Here’s Why and How Two Friends And A Pilot Pen Dispelled The Shame Around Periods.
Illustration by Aditi Gupta.