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Aasif Mandvi became a dad for the first time on March 14, 2020 — just days after turning 54 and on the cusp of lockdown. Suffice to say, fatherhood's been something of a whirlwind for the actor and comedian, whose credits include The Daily Show, Today's Special, The Proposal and Mother's Day; he's currently starring on Evil in addition to the British series This Way Up and a voice role on Mira, Royal Detective.
"We had a baby and then New York went into lockdown," he tells Yahoo Life of welcoming son Ishan. "We had to go back to [the hospital] three days after he was born, and it was a completely different world."
Ishan, the actor's son with wife Shaifali Puri, will hit the 18-month mark in September. "He's at that really cute age right now," Mandvi gushes of his "charming and funny" offspring. Here, he shares more about pandemic parenting, being an older dad and the joy of burp jokes.
How did going straight into a pandemic affect you as parents? Having a newborn can be an isolating experience all its own.
The world shut down [but] we were kind of in this bubble anyway, that we would have been in regardless... We had no FOMO at all about anything. We were like, Oh, this is great. It's just us and the baby. But it was also hard in the sense that we were very isolated and no one could come and see him — no family. Normally my wife's mother would have been here, my dad would have shown up; our families would have friends that would have come over and see him. So he didn't get to really interact with other human beings in the way that he might have, and then we didn't take him out for months. I think that was also a strange thing. I don't know. I've never had a baby before, so I didn't have anything to compare it to. I don't know what it's like to have a baby when there is no pandemic. I imagine it's much easier [laughs] in the sense that you have more people to [help]; we had no help at all.
I realized that as he's gotten older, I think that he did not get a lot of that vestibular input very early on, of movement and going around in the stroller and going outside and seeing traffic lights. And even though they're like a baby, and you think, Oh, they're not really taking in much, they're actually processing a lot of information at that age. And even when he started seeing people, most of the time they were wearing masks; even now, most of the time people are wearing masks when he sees them, especially inside.
So it's going to be interesting to see [how] this generation of babies, these children are gonna grow up — how this is going to affect them in terms of how they processed the world? I imagine that he's going to be very uncomfortable seeing people's mouths, you know? I hope not. It was kind of a double-edged sword: On one hand, we both got to spend a tremendous amount of time with him, and a tremendous amount of really intense quality time, but we were isolated. And I realized that actually human babies need to be raised in a community. Like, that's an important part of human development, and not having community around is an unusual and unique situation.
Now that the world is opening up a little bit more, is he able to interact more? Does he take any baby classes?
He does go out and we do go to the park and we do things. Now it's good because it's summer, and so we can sort of go outside. But even now he's not doing a lot of the things [babies might typically do[; maybe we would have taken into Gymboree and stuff, but indoor stuff, he's not really doing that much because he's not vaccinated and can't wear a mask. So we're sort of still operating in this more conservative place because of him, even though we're vaccinated and all of our friends are vaccinated and stuff. We just have to operate from a much more cautious place... He takes music classes in the park, but he hasn't had a lot of playdates.
And it's interesting because he actually is more comfortable right now with adults than he is with other children his age. I mean, maybe they don't interact at all at this point, but when he saw another little girl the other day — we were out with the stroller and he saw a little girl — it was the first time that I saw him care about another kid. She was around the same age and he was sort of going like, Oh, who's that? What's the deal there? But when he sees adults, he's very like, Oh, you're my people [laughs] because I think he's only really been around adults.
The other thing is that we are older parents and we had Ishan later in life. My wife and I are both middle-aged. We don't have a lot of peers our age who have [young] kids; a lot of people that we know have older kids or they have no kids. It's hard. We don't have a lot of people in our sort of friend group or peer group where they have kids his age. My wife is part of an online mommies group, and all the moms are at least 15 years younger than her... When I was a baby, my cousins were the same age as me, and my parents had other friends who were all having kids around the same time, and they made friends with other people. We're not even making friends with anybody right now, because nobody's making new friends these days [laughs].
It's too hard to see the ones that you do have.
Right. Exactly. It's just a weird time. Yeah.
As an older dad, are there times when you think, "I should've done this when I was 20 and had more energy," or do you appreciate the benefit of having had time to live your own life a bit more and having that experience?
I don't feel like I should have done this when I was 20. I don't have that feeling. A lot of people say, "Oh, I should've done this years ago." And I'm like, "No, not me." I'm glad I did it now. There are, again, the pros and the cons: I'm older and my back hurts more than it probably should from just carrying him while he's wriggling around. But because I'm older, I'm more present with him.
I'm a late bloomer in every department, right? Even my career didn't really start happening until I was 40; when I got to The Daily Show, I was 40. I didn't really get quote-unquote "success" — which equals money and a little bit of stability and all that stuff — until later. So I was hustling in those years and I think I would have been too distracted. I was trying to make my career happen. Being an actor and all that, it's a hustle. If I had had him when I was in my 30s, I don't think I would have been as good a dad. Now I'm actually a much better dad, much more present.
My dad had me when he was 25 and he was just starting in his life. He was a new immigrant coming to a brand-new country and he was trying to start his life. He was working and starting a business. And he was at that stage in his life, and I never saw him. I remember him in my life, but in those early years, he was always at work. He was always off and was never around.
I feel like I'm at a place right now where I'm with [Ishan] and I can be with him... and also I just appreciate it more, in a weird way. I think that when you're an older parent and you have a kid, it's kind of a miracle. It literally is a miracle because we're way past the age that people would normally have had kids. At this age, my grandparents were grandparents [laughs]. My wife and I just appreciate him and the fact that he is here. I'm glad I waited and got some stuff out of my system because I don't need to go out and party all the time.
You were born in India and then grew up in England. Are you doing anything to pass those cultures on?
Not so much right now. At some point, I will take him to England and show him where I grew up and all that — if he cares. He may not have any [interest]. My parents took me back to India and they were like, "This is the house that I..." "OK. Great." So I don't know if he'll care. But obviously, my wife and I are both South Asian and so culturally he's an Indian kid. He loves his dal. We've actually introduced him to quite sophisticated spices and stuff very early on... like cumin and coriander. We're not just giving him mac and cheese. It's definitely a more spicy, culturally kind of variant diet.
I speak Gujarati, which is a dialect in Indian language. My wife doesn't speak it; she only speaks English. I sometimes will throw in some Gujarati words in hopes that he will pick them up, but I haven't been teaching him. He doesn't need to learn Gujarati; he needs to learn Chinese [laughs]. He'll survive without Gujarati. If he learns English and he can learn Chinese, then he's good to go for the 21st century.
You've got the second season of Evil out right now, but I assume it'll be a while before you show Ishan that. But what about the kid shows you work on as a voice actor? Does he watch any of those, or do you practice any of the voices with him?
We don't give him any screens right now, so he doesn't watch anything other than talking to his grandma on FaceTime. He hasn't seen any of that kind of stuff, but... it'll be fun to watch him discover that I'm the voice of the dad on Mira, Royal Detective or something like that. There are a couple of other animated things that I've done coming out. I do voices for him when we read books and stuff; I'll act out the voices for him. He likes singing, so I'll sing with him. We do that kind of stuff, but he doesn't know that there's such a thing as television or anything. The only thing he ever watched that was not his FaceTime with his family was the Biden inauguration [laughs]. I don't know why we made an exception. I was watching it, and he was there... I looked at my wife, like, "Is he allowed to watch?" She was like, "Yeah, I think he can watch the Biden inauguration. That's fine." So he watched it and he was really nonplussed by the whole thing...
Finally, what's your best dad joke?
There's so many dad jokes, but right now the thing he finds the funniest — I mean, it changes. Every week he's got a new thing that he thinks is hilarious, so right now I have it pretty easy. The bar is pretty low for me to make him laugh, and when he laughs it's the greatest thing. I think he's actually practicing laughing. Sometimes he'll just be like, "Hahahahaha. Hahahahaha." And I'm like, "Are you laughing? Are you just trying out laughing?"
The other day I was putting him down for his nap, and was like, Oh, I know he's my son because of this. He had his head on my shoulder and he looked up and he looked at my face and he went, "Hahahahaha." And I was like, "Oh, what's so funny?" And then he put his head back down and then he lifted up his head and came at my face with his mouth fully open and I thought, Oh, he's going to give me a kiss or something. And then he burped right in my face — just like [belching noise] and then "Hahahahaha" — and then he put his head back. I was like, Oh, yeah. I don't know how you know that burping is funny, but you just figured it out. Like, this is it. Farts and burps are funny.
The other thing he likes is... [when] I just make goofy faces — he thinks it's the funniest thing in the world and he will try to imitate me doing that. At that stage of dad jokes, I'm not like, "What did the elevator repairman say about his job? 'Well, it has its ups and downs.'" I'm not at that stage [yet] but I'm sure I will be at some point.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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