August 10, 2011

{What a day at work!}

I have been looking forward to August 9th and August 10th, as I was scheduled to do a focus group in town. These are long days starting at 8am and going until 9pm with me on my toes, moderating customer feedback.  But the reason I was looking forward to these particular focus groups was because Raka was to work with me for the entire day, on both days. I simply could not wait for this to start. The evening before the groups, I went out snack shopping for Raka. It reminded me of the snacks she loves for lunch and it was my way of reliving her high school days.

When Tuesday morning finally arrived, Raka was ready, looking professional as ever and ready to rock the world. She was her usual confident self and cautious at the same time, as these are important clients of ours. 

Most of the clients she would be with that day have been in our lives since my corporate days at Pizza Hut. It was during that time, on a September morning, Raka was born. Hence most of the clients present knew Raka from the time she was a baby, but today she was there to assist me as I moderated the groups. Wow, how time flies.

I hit the first roadblock when on the way to the facility, we were stuck in a bad traffic jam. Raka immediately came to the rescue. "Dad, exit here." she said, "Then turn right and then left on Hampden," and sure enough we were on our way. Of course it does not take much from Raka to impress me, but with her navigating and with me following her directions, it was the first sweet moment of the day.

The work day was simply amazing. It was wonderful to see Raka interact with my clients as she jumped at every opportunity to help. In between groups when I was taking a break she had a big smile on her face, every time I saw her. Then she would whisper to me, and remind me to eat and stay well nourished. I used the first break I got in-between groups to brag to my clients about Raka's accomplishments, especially about her being nominated for Top 40 under 40 by Advertising Age magazine when she was only 13. Normally these focus group days are long and tiring, but each of the moments with Raka made the long day go by fast.

As we drove back home that night, Raka was tired after her first 12 hour + work day. I was too, but I realized that the days like these do not come too often. Wednesday will be another day with Raka, another enchanting memory with my princess. After this, whenever I will moderate focus groups on my own, I will remember every moment from these two days and cherish the memories we are creating now.

I love you Raka.
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August 2, 2011

{Monopoly Then and Monopoly Now}

Raka loved playing Monopoly when she was a kid. I was not sure if she still loved Monopoly till last weekend when she invited me to play it with her. I was excited. Soon we had the board spread out on the floor and the two of us were surrounded with cash, property, and cards flying everywhere.

Within a few minutes of starting the game I was lucky enough to have both Park Place and Boardwalk. It was clear from Raka's expression that she wanted them badly, but being the property dealer, she handed over the property cards to me. Soon after that I built hotels on those properties, and the second time Raka landed on the property, she looked at me and said, "Guess the game is over. You won, Dad." 

As Raka and I cleared the Monopoly board and put all the pieces back in the box, I looked at Raka and realized that she is not a baby any more. Earlier she was not happy to lose, and would try really hard to win. Today she plays to win, but she did not define the game with a win or loss. 

As I was putting the Monopoly box away I remembered a game of Monopoly with Raka when she was seven years old. My parents were visiting from India and my mom, Raka, and I were playing the game as my dad sat next to us reading a book. Raka was not having a good game and between the intensity of my mom and me, the poor girl was having a tough time and I suddenly realized that she was not enjoying the game. She was simply going through the rituals. Even the way she was rolling the dice was halfhearted, but she was still sitting with us and playing. Just looking at her made me feel bad.

I invited Raka to the next room and asked her how she would feel if she was winning instead.  Her eyes lit up, but then she said right away, "But Dad, I have no money and cannot win."  I told her not to worry as I had a plan. Quickly I wrote a handwritten contract, which stated that Raka and I were merging our businesses and she was the new owner.  To make things official, I went to my dad and asked him to sign the contract as the commissioner. Now she was excited. Of course when we got back to the game and revealed our contract, my mom protested strongly against the "un-gamely contract," but Raka could not be stopped. She was fully into the game now. Soon she was collecting rent, increasing her property values, and eventually won the game.  That night, before she went to bed, she gave me a big hug and said "I won Dad. Thank you."

Of course after Raka went to bed, I got lectures from my mom for not playing by the rules and not being a good example to my daughter.  But I just did not care. To me the fun of the game was defined by seeing Raka smile – I just could not stand seeing her sad. I argued with my mom that these contracts are very common in real life and soon Monopoly would incorporate them.

Raka is not that same Raka today.  After I put the game board away, a teenage Raka gave me a hug before she went to bed. I thought about that game ten years back and today's game. Surprisingly, I was not happy to have won today's game. In fact I was sad it was over. I wished it went on longer so that I could enjoy my game with Raka even more.  With her going off to school, these opportunities won’t come often and I want to enjoy each of them. A longer game is better than a short game that I win. Earlier she used to beg me to play with her; now it is going to be my turn to plead with her for a game.

I love you, Raka.
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July 26, 2011

{High School Graduation: Then and Now}

The year was 1982. I had just graduated from High School and my eye was single to just one University, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. There were five IIT campuses at the time with a common entrance exam to get into those. When my name was selected out of all those who took the IIT exam, I was beyond thrilled. I still vividly remember my rank among those who took the exam: 1,363rd. With age, I may not remember very many things from the past, but I vividly remember that day. 1,363rd was my freedom number.  It marked my taking control of my life and being ready to leave home.  I do not know where my confidence came from to feel like I could survive alone in the world outside, but I felt ready. When I think back, my enthusiasm was a combination of me running from home and me wanting to experience a new world outside, both happening at the same time. I had no fear; I had no idea what I should be afraid of. My parents did not give me a big lecture; it was left to me to choose my path in life.

Raka graduated from High School . She is all set to go to NYU. She does not have a number ranking as I did, but if she had one it would surely be better than mine. As I see her celebrating with friends and living up every moment of her last days in High School, I can also see the overflowing excitement in her. It is the same excitement I felt in 1982. 

I am, of course, scared. The world today is a tougher place than the world I jumped into. All I had to do to be safe in college was to stay away from the group in A-Top. The A-Top was a corner wing of our building where eight to ten students lived who were allegedly into drugs. Once I learned how to stay away from them, my life was full of friends, sports, debates, plays, and yes, academics.

I do not know the exact complexities of the life of a high school student or college freshman now, but I know that it is way more complex and tough than it was for me to just avoid the A-Top. It feels like life allowed me a bigger field to play in, with huge margins of error. For Raka, the playing field is much smaller with the margins of error significantly more narrow.

Of course as I write this, I am torn between trusting and worrying. Raka has earned my trust with her actions time and time again, but I cannot help but worry about her.

So Raka... relax, breathe, and enjoy the moment. As I keep telling you, the best is yet to come. Love you baby!
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July 19, 2011

{Affairs in a Marriage}

In the last few years, there have been quite a few instances where the topic of "affairs in a marriage" has come up in discussions with my friends. The discussion usually follows one of three directions:

1. Shared blame: In this perspective, couples view the affair as a mutual fault. It is not just the fault of the person who had the affair. Both partners must look back at the void created in a relationship which sets the stage for a third person to enter the relationship. Instead of only blaming the person who had an affair, the other partner looks at his or her role in the marriage as well, examining how it might have possibly contributed to the onset of an affair.

2. No Big Deal: This perspective comes from couples who support open marriages. Even though this is a small group, this group is quite passionate about their belief that marriage is a partnership where open connections with others takes the stress off each other. They believe it strengthens the relationship in the process.


3. Die Mr. Bond!: This perspective is taken by the spouse not involved in the affair. The blame is one sided. There is anger, hurt, and disbelief. Even though it is not admitted openly, the desire to get even with the betraying party exists deep within.

I do not know the right way to approach this situation.

Talking about Arnold Schwarznegger's affair with friends, I realized his take was totally different than mine.When one takes a job, one must be committed to the job and understand the consequence of failure. If you hire a baby sitter for three hours, you expect all three hours he or she will attend to your child. It does not matter if your baby sitter has to go to the bathroom or make a phone call, the expectation remains that he or she still has the responsibility to watch the child.

The same rule applies in a marriage with children. One must understand the commitment he or she has made to the children. The individual should not undermine the consequence of failure by thinking that he or she can most likely get away with it. In fact, by talking to a lot of parents, I learned a simple rule that helps one be in the present and make the right decision. It is,

 “Behave in the same way away from your spouse as you do when you are around them. That way you have nothing to hide and no worries about getting caught.”

I believe that each of us act differently in various situations. Our actions are driven by different reasons. For example, it is not that I do not like to drive faster than the speed limit. We all know it can be fun. However, I do not know if it is the adrenaline rush I get from speeding that is more tempting or the feeling of control I have by knowing I can possibly prevent myself from getting caught due to my car radar. Either way, one day I did the math and I woke up. I realized the consequence of getting caught is not something that I want to risk. There were a lot of reasons for this, but the biggest one was that I needed to be a good role model to my daughter, Raka.

I also realized that I was not smart enough to guarantee that I would not get caught. As a result, I automatically committed to a more mature lifestyle. I am still keenly aware of my temptations to drive faster than the speed limit but now I always have a plan to overcome this temptation.

This evolution of self did not come because I think speeding is wrong. It was a result of wanting to be more mature, and understanding the bigger picture of life.

I completely realize the temptation for an affair can be a much, much stronger urge than the temptation to speed. However, having a plan of action ahead of time in either case is what makes the difference.
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July 13, 2011

{What happens after she goes to college?}

How will I stay in touch with Raka after she leaves for college?  Our connection is strong today.  Though, when we are apart, we don’t connect very often.  An occasional brief text message or phone call is all we usually exchange, and those occasions are only when she shares something amazing that she has done.  The good thing is our time apart is normally followed by time together where I cook her favorite meal and we enjoy dinner together.  There are also times when she cooks for me – I truly cherish those meals. 

Other times we both sit in our designated areas in the living room, she in the futon and me on the couch, and we watch an episode of the Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men on DVR.  (Although we recently had to drop Two and Half Men as it got more sexually explicit and I simply could not handle it.) We are quiet, but we can laugh and watch together. Even loading or emptying the dishwasher becomes great when we can do it together. 

Come September, the connections we share with the occasional messages will be sparse. 
On one hand, I am excited about her going to NYU and starting her journey as a new adult. On the other hand, I have to admit I am struggling as I think about how to continue our strong connection from a distance.

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was at her very first graduation at montessori.  It also feels like it was just earlier in the day when I attended her middle school graduation. Time flew fast and every moment was a blast. Even though I can try to put on a brave face and say I will not miss her, it is simply not true.  I will truly miss my baby girl who has become my dear friend. 

I am also sure that the connection that we share will evolve into something even sweeter so that I can cheer her on from a distance.  For those of you who read the blog, do not worry.  I will continue to find things to celebrate in my baby girl’s life and keep writing with the pride and love that only a die-hard fan can feel.
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June 20, 2011

{7 Things I Did Right As A Dad}

Another Father's Day has come and gone.  Between Hallmark cards, golf and grilling stuff, or t-shirts that say "Best Dad", everyone was in a frenzy to buy something for dad. To capture this frenzy, both online and offline publications published a "Best Father's Day Gifts” list, like NYC’s PopSugar Inc. list.  Most of the lists are nearly the same, but during my search I came across a site that was a little different. Squidoo.com offered gift suggestions like all the other sites, but before their list they put the concept of Father's Day in perspective for us all.

 Here is the text from their site that touched me: "Children blessed with a loving father should consider themselves very lucky and take advantage of Father’s Day to connect more closely with Dad. Dad always pulled through when you needed him and Father’s Day is a time to thank him for taking care of their needs and interests while growing up. We all owe a big thank you to our loving Dads."

A hug from Raka and her thoughts – full, sincere, deep, and from the bottom of her heart – touch me, I don’t need external validation. I believe that true judging comes from inside.  Some of you will remember when I wrote about how past mistakes cannot be undone by being present today. I was very hard on myself then. Today I still feel that emotion, but at the same time, as Raka gets close to leaving for NYU in fall, I feel proud of the dad I have been to her.

Life is not about perfection, and I am not the perfect dad. However, I have no regrets about the past ten years of my life as a dad. I look back at some of the defining moments. In every one of them I had help from someone. Despite having help, I still give myself credit for listening and acting.  On this Father’s Day I reflected on some of the defining moments in my life as a dad:

1. Responding to the most important wake-up call in my life:  In 2001, when Raka told me that I did not know her, it was easy to ignore her. Instead, I realized the dad in me had to step up as I could not break her little heart any more. Quitting my corporate job was considered by many as a CLM (career limiting move) but today I realize I needed to make that CLM in order to live the best life possible, to be the best dad possible.

2. Acting responsibly through the divorce: Just like in any divorce, Raka's mom and I were tempted to say nasty things about each other during our separation. Wisdom from my brother taught me my relationship with Raka's mom was ending, hence I had no business giving her feedback or trying to change her during the divorce. (Especially, after I had failed to do so during the marriage.) For those of you who know me personally, you know keeping quiet is not easy for me but I did it anyway. I found though, keeping quiet also came with a price, as the community around me took my silence as consent to all the accusations that were being hurled at me. Even through the pain, I found something bigger. I got in touch with the dad in me who was proud he was doing something to protect his daughter.

3. Understanding Raka's plight growing up in a divided home: Growing up in a divorced household is not easy. I saw this most clearly the day Raka reminded me she never wanted two homes and how tough it is to live in two homes during the same week. I have tried to empathize with her and cut her some slack because of this. Looking at the bigger picture, I have always known being a dad is not a popularity contest. Therefore, finding a balance of being empathetic for her situation while still being the dad was important in life.

4. Being firm, assertive and true to beliefs: Over time, as Raka and I grew confident in our connection, I have not hesitated to exert myself on issues where I felt the boundaries were being crossed. A big part of this came from a statement Raka made to me when she was five.  I was mad at her for something and told her that she was a bad girl. In reaction to this, little Raka told me I was wrong. She was not bad. Rather, she was a good girl but her actions at the time were not good. Wow! This perspective of good and bad was one of the biggest things I’ve learned from all of these experiences.

5. As times together grow less and less, it is important to appreciate the times more:  I have to confess, as Raka went through her senior year this year,  I got less one-on-one time with her.  A part of me did complain inaudibly, but it made me appreciate our time together even more.

6. Take a step back and enjoy watching her in the background of her life: To truly appreciate Raka, I had to see her in the background of her life. Seeing her rescue Model UN in her high school, being the constant cheer leader to her running buddies, the way she dashed out of the house when a friend of hers was in trouble, or the caring nurturing way she took her grandpa on a trip to California... all helped me appreciate my daughter even more.

7. Truly respect her as a budding adult and my friend: Respect to me is a big thing and I had to give Raka respect in order to earn it back. Respect does not mean bending over backwards and letting her do whatever she wants. To me, respect is how we interacted. I made sure I respected her when I was being assertive and holding her accountable. As a result, we have evolved as friends, as true buddies. This evolution happened over time and only when I could take a step back from being a dad. The timing for this transition was critical as being a friend too early would have been a disaster and being just a dad all the time would have alienated her.

As I write reflect on these moments, hindsight takes over. Based on this I know I could do a few things differently, but I am resisting the temptation for now as I am proud of the dad I have been thus far. The journey ahead is totally different. I am a little unsure on how to proceed, but I am sure the dad in me will figure it out. I am also sure that being dad will continue to be the most defining role in my life in the years ahead.
I love you Raka!  Thank you!
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May 3, 2011

{Is Raka Perfect?}

I know Raka will freak out when she even reads the title of this post.  A lot of you who have read the book have asked me if Raka is perfect.  The reason for that is that book does not have any stories of her messing up.

First of all I have to assure you all that Raka is just like any other seventeen year old who is excited to finish high school and ready to leave for college.  During middle school and high school Raka had her fair share of “goofy” moments.  Yes there were times I grounded her. Also I have to admit that there were times I grounded her for what she thought was the wrong reason. We argued and if I did not yield, she stubbornly stated that I was mean to ground her for no good reason. In most of these occasions when she felt she was justified, she was more right than wrong.  There Raka, I said it.

I have always tried to set boundaries and consequences before issues arise, that way we both know what the boundaries are before they are broken. Just like a police officer who stops you for speeding is simply following the laws and consequences for breaking the law.  He/she can use personal judgment, but the law and consequences are predetermined.  For me, that made it easier to be nice to her, even when she was in trouble and had to be grounded as a result. 

Raka taught me this very important principle of being nice in moments of punishment when she was just five years old.  She had made some mistake and I said something to the effect, “Bad Raka.” 

Raka in turn told me, “Dad, I am not bad.  I am never bad.  My actions were not good.” Yes Raka, I got it. Since then, as and when her actions have not been good, there were no easy outs, but she was always a good kid and I always enjoyed showing love to my princess.

Now, some of you may be curious about the nature of Raka’s goofing up. None of them were serious. For a first generation immigrant dad, who did not go to high school here, I am relieved that she is graduating from high school with a lot of friends, proud of her accomplishments, and excited to go to college at NYU.  As I started writing the book and the blog, I made a pact with Raka: I will not write about anything that embarrasses or hurts her. Hence you will see that the book and the blog do not talk about Raka’s goofs nor about things that cause her pain (e.g. the divorce), as reading about it and reliving it will only cause her more pain.

Today a world of opportunity awaits her and she is excited to face it with open arms.   Of course just like any other parent I am worried about her living in NYC, as I myself have never lived in a big city. My daughter stepping into a world that is unknown to me is kinda worrisome.  

Though my head is full of worry, my heart is simply full of belief that Raka is ready to go out and take care of herself in the world outside. I am relying on all your prayers and good wishes to help Raka be the best she can be in all aspects of her life. May the mishti-hashi (sweet smile) that she is special for be there with her forever.

I love you Raka.
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