The role of the father is one that is constantly evolving. If once upon a time dads were strict disciplinarians who rarely if ever took time out to bond with their kids, over the years fathers have learnt to shed their macho, strong-at-all-times image and become – and not fight shy of being seen as – more caring and loving.

The modern father is clearly not just a parent but also has many qualities of their child’s best friend. With Father’s Day here, Shilpa Chandran meets five dads in Dubai who bare their hearts on the bond they share with their kids.

Indu Saksena Bedi styles them in LC Waikiki’s latest menswear.

Mujahid Ali Khan | AI sales specialist and dad of two

Mujahid Ali Khan has one dream, and one dream alone – that his children become good human beings, they prosper and they always remain respectful of theirs elders, the way he did growing up. “I will feel absolutely blessed and rewarded,” he says.

Growing up in a traditional joint family in Hyderabad, in India, Mujahid was early on instilled with values and the importance of being gentle, respectful and caring towards elders. As his father, a government employee, had to travel extensively for work, he was raised by his mother with support from his grandparents, uncles and aunts in a big house. Although surrounded by love in a warm comfortable house, he missed time spent with his father which often meant once or twice a month even.

“It came a full circle when I had to travel for work extensively,” explains Mujahid, an AI sales specialist who works for a multinational company. Heading different regions across the Middle East, Africa and Europe, he has had to spend time away from his family for weeks at length.

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He feels most blessed and thankful for his wife, Shifa, who took the reins of raising their children Rania, who is 10, and son Umar, who will turn seven in a few months, managing the household, allowing time for Mujahid , 40, to pursue his career.

“She has been my biggest support in my life. When I first moved to Dubai in 2003, I struggled the initial years to set base in this new country. After we got married in 2008, Shifa has played a big role in my life, urging me forward and encouraging me to grow in my career. When our daughter Rania was born in 2012, she stopped working temporarily and dedicated her time for the children. She resumed work in 2018,” he added.

Covid-19 however brought a silver lining for Mujahid, when he got the option to work remotely and hybrid. “I am so grateful for the time I now get with my children. I used to travel a lot for nine years, until the pandemic hit. I missed most occasions with my children, I would get to see very little of them – sometimes not even enough time for a hug!” explains Mujahid.

“Today though, I get to see them at home when they come back from school. I have the time to spend doing activities with them.

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“My son and I go together every week to the mosque for our Friday prayers. With Rania, whom I am very close to, I enjoy long chats and take her for her art classes.” They are young eco-warriors, especially his son who helps him in gardening activities, lugging around a can of water to water the plants inside their home compound as well as outside, on the streets.

Being with his children and inculcating in them the same values that he learnt from his parents is something that Mujahid strongly believes in. “Giving them a good base in life is what is going to hold them in good stead all through their life.”

Ahmed Shawarby | Marketing manager and dad of a boy

At the Shawarby household, every Saturday is father’s day. Every weekend, Ahmed is up early with his son, Omar, while his wife, currently pregnant with their twins, sleeps in. He makes breakfast for his four-year-old son and they spend quality time together – something he misses during the week when his wife and nanny manage Omar’s affairs.

Ahmed, a marketing manager with a pharmaceutical company, is of the firm belief that spending time with your children is as important for a father as is the care and nurture a mother provides them.

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“I read somewhere that a son needs to hear from his father how proud of him he is – a vital thing to do in the development of the child in the early years of his life. I try and practice this to the best of my efforts,” Ahmed expresses.

Egyptian by nationality, Ahmed, 32, was born to a conventional family and is the youngest of three, with two sisters much older than he is. He remembers that his mother stayed at home and raised the kids, fending for them while his father was hardly ever around, watching them grow.

His father worked long hours and once back home, he didn’t have sufficient time with Ahmed and his sisters, and was not involved in any of the home chores or activities either.

He stresses about the role of parents today and how involved they remain in household chores as well as raising families together while continuing to pursue their own careers and interests. “Back in the day our fathers hardly had any time to spent with us children. I remember missing that and when I was becoming a father, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t follow that trend. I wanted to make sure that I spend time with my son, and I will continue to do that when our twins come,” he explained.

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Aside from their morning bonding sessions, Ahmed, who lives in Mudon with his family, also takes out his son grocery shopping – another favourite activity that the father-son duo enjoys very much. “He fancies the fresh orange juice we get at the supermarkets, and he is always ready for a quick visit whenever he gets the chance,” Ahmed adds, highlighting the importance of the essence of the little joys that eventually become treasured memories of a great childhood – for both father and son.

Ahmed is anxious about the arrival of his twins, and yet most excited both. “I will have a big family to care of, and bigger responsibilities. Nonetheless, I am also extremely excited about the new phase we are going to enter.”

Puneet Sud | Grandfather, model and actor

Six years ago, Puneet Sud decided he would not allow his rheumatoid arthritis to get the better of him, or his life anymore. He was going to win the battle if it means to move mountains!

After a long and successful career in the publishing industry as an advertising executive, Puneet, a civil engineer by training, decided to go all out and pursue a passion that was hidden under the layers of priorities that shaped his life in Dubai for close to 40 years.

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Today this father of two, and grandfather of two, is a model, a movie and stage actor. His flamboyance and confidence is inspiring to a fault, and his zest for life most definitely infectious.

To date he has worked for close to 20 local and regional brands. “Modelling gave me a new life. Age is only a number, and we must aim at ageing gracefully. I believe you must always give your best, no matter at what stage you are – shoot for the stars and you may land on a lamp post – and that is ok!”

While his son and daughter-in-law live with him and his wife at their home in Al Wasl, his daughter and her family live next door. “I love spending time with my grand daughters Mihhika,10, and Navicka, six. We have family breakfasts once or twice a week and the girls are over every day,” says the 62-year-old, eyes brimming with pride and emotion.

At the age of 18, when he lost his father, life changed for Puneet. The next decade was trying and moulded him into being an independent, street smart and responsible man. “After his passing, I felt like an umbrella was snatched away from over my head. He played an important role in my brother’s and my own lives. We then picked up from where he left and moved forward.”

An uncle brought him to Dubai in 1988, six years after he was married.

“Family has always played a huge role in my life. My mother lived with us for a long time after my father passed, and my children grew up in a household where they held familial values and bonds dear and near to their hearts,” explains Puneet.

“We are a liberal, open-minded joint family. However, call me old-fashioned, a family must be a family – I stand by you, and you stand by me. My wife and I have tried to inculcate family values in everything we do, all the time. And for us, literally, family is one wall away!”

Facing hard realities in life so young, he was persistent on raising his children to be good human beings and be less affected by peer pressure – a behaviour he often sees in the current generation now.

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“Parenting today has changed dramatically, and the quality of parenthood has slipped. Demands from children today are much higher than they were when we were raising our own. Back then we knew what affordability was, our children knew it.

That said, as grandparents we are more indulging than we were as parents. Yet, we make sure that we are able to imbibe the same familial values in them that we did for our children.”

Robert Wanyolke | Teacher and single dad to two children

When he became a father for the first time in 2014, Robert Wanyolke was baffled. He wasn’t sure what it really meant to be one. But thanks to the memories of the strong women in his life, he decided to follow suit – quite literally to “copy and paste”.

Seeing the many roles a mother played as they juggled several roles all at once – a teacher, a mother, a friend, a wife, a daughter, and many others – he found his “ground”, although he, at best, feels he will be just a shadow of them.

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He takes inspiration from his loving, devout mother and his many colleagues who are mothers whom he admires. Bereaving the loss of his wife recently, he most fondly remembers her wisdom, generous heart and devotion to God. “We called her Rachael the wise. She reflected the repository of wisdom from many ages. I cannot replace her in her role and the best is to make accommodations.”

Robert, a secondary school teacher, is today both father and mother to their three children Krysta Sarah Wanjiru, 7, Joshua Wanyoike 5, and Anna Joy, 3. Robert explains that his wife’s influence in their children’s character is well grounded and that has helped him in the transition. “I have had support from my colleagues that cannot be described in words. The school community too poured out their love. My church community has been a pillar of strength. Rachael’s dad has also been close to me and we speak often,” he explains.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Robert is the last of five boys. He got married to Rachael Ng’ang’a who was working in Dubai at that time. A former banker, he resigned to move to the city with his wife, shortly after which they had their first born in 2014.

His father has also played an influential role in Robert’s life. Retiring from work when he was in the fourth form, Robert discovered a side of his father he hadn’t seen before. “That year, and the subsequent years have shaped my respect and admiration for him.” He explains that like any teenager, he found it difficult to make conversations with his father but since his retirement, Robert keenly looks forward to every time they have a chat.

“I left home about four years into my previous career as a banker. Every evening my father would call to find out if I had reached home safely from work and wish me a good night. This care, which he extends to all his children and grandchildren left an active impression on me. I too decided to have meaningful engagements with my kids as often as I can, to act their age when I can and to show the depth of my love,” he explains.

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Everyday is a learning day for Robert, who is taking his new responsibilities one at a time. From helping to clean the teeth of his youngest child, Anna, to playing football with his son, Joshua he dons a cap to fill in for the peers for each of his children when they ask him to.

From an early age, Robert and his wife would guide the children to practice respect, which he continues to practice. “This helps in shaping relationships, tasks and all that we do,” he says.

Swaminathan | Engineer and dad to two children

Swaminathan and his wife Jyothi began their journey 25 years ago, with hearts filled with dreams and ambitions of building a flourishing life together. Life, though, had other plans; both his children have development challenges.

Swaminathan is a father with a purpose – “to be strong, healthy and willed enough to never retire from work”, he says. By this, he does not mean his job alone, but to never retire from the role as a father, a primary caretaker to his two children.

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“When my son Shyam was two months’ he began showing signs of epilepsy. At the time we were very young ourselves – and we didn’t know what it was. Shyam gave us direction of where each of us had to go. He was the crux of it all and everything else had to take a backseat for obvious reasons,” explains Swaminathan.

Shyam and their younger daughter Padma are 24 and 15 respectively, and have epilepsy due to which their mental and physical development is significantly slow. They both are entirely dependent on their parents, Swaminathan and his wife, Jyothi, an architect by profession, for most things from their daily activities to assisting them in moving around. “Jyothi is the spine of it all – the person who holds it together at home with the children,” says Swaminathan.

The family travels occasionally, when time permits but Swaminathan explains that preparations are intense. From making food arrangements (even having to carry a pressure cooker in some cases, as well as vegetables), to ensuring that their children’s movements are made convenient and easy, Swaminathan is a master planner and hands-on dad.

“I don’t ask for help from anyone, as I am able to manage my children’s affairs by myself. Whether to lift them from the wheelchair, or help them into the car, I have the physical strength for it and keep myself fit for the same reason. I cannot fight fate or incidents that are not in my control, but I can control my body and mind to ensure that I remain healthy. For my children, for my family, for myself.

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“Time and energy are very rare commodities as far as my wife and I go. We are enchained by different things. While my wife may have her own fears, from a mother’s perspective. I felt that as a father I must have a more realistic and practical mindset because somebody had to take it forward.”

As a father, thoughts often pass through their minds about the future of his children. “We have built a sense of detachment. Our children are birds who will never leave the nest. I like to keep repeating a saying on and off to myself – worry doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strengths. That is a very inherent thought process we have.”

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