July 28, 2009

{Raising a Father Gives a Night to Remember}

I want to share with you two magic moments I experienced this week, both moments were a direct result of the book.

Friday’s Magic Moment: My team, Tamani, Raka, and her friend Joie were in our basement working on a brainstorming session. Raka had a no-smile face on for the first hour of our discussions. Finally when I asked her what was wrong, she told me that there was a splinter in her finger and it had gotten quite deep inside. Immediately we took a break and Raka and I went upstairs to take a look at the stubborn splinter. After some struggle and creative problem solving, the unwilling splinter came out. Raka put a Care Bear Band-Aid on the finger and we headed down to resume our team meeting.

As I walked down with Raka, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be home when Raka had a splinter. It felt so significant to be there for her. A magic moment indeed.

Saturday’s Magic Moment:

The second magic moment is connected to a speaking engagement I did over the weekend. I was invited to an Alumni dinner for graduates of IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), India’s premier institute of Engineering and Science education, to talk about my book. Over the last fifty years, IIT in India has been the most coveted group of Universities, similar to Ivy League of colleges in US. It was great to meet a talented group of professionals and their families.

Raka was there with me as I talked about the book. Then, after the talk, a spontaneous discussion arose. It started something like this:

“How different are we, as parents, compared to our own parents?”

As the group talked, I realized we all strive hard to be better parents than our parents and not make the same mistakes they made. But does that mean we are not making mistakes? My take on that is to be parents with “no regrets.” I know I am making mistakes, as no one is perfect, but at least when I look back in another few years I will not have regrets, regrets that I did not spend enough time with my daughter.

I tried to visualize Raka leading a group discussion similar to this in twenty years where everyone will talk about all the mistakes Raka’s dad made. At least no one will be able to say that I did not try, hard.

“Is our parenting challenge increased more by being first generation immigrants?”

This was a great discussion as most of us came into this country with hardly any wealth and had to accelerate our success to be “someone” rapidly. Isn’t ignoring family life a natural consequence of that? I was asked whether my life changing moments could only come when I was financially stable.

Personal life changing moments like mine come when one stops searching and is content with what he/she has. I was happy when I made a few thousand dollars a year when I was in graduate school. But in the quest for my version of the American Dream, the words “more” and “now” drove my life, and that changed my whole perspective.

So yes, I believe the challenges faced by our next generation, who are born-in-the-US, will be totally different.

“Communication is the key”

Moms who had great relationships with their fathers talked about how creating an environment where a child can talk freely is very important. Many a time, a conversation never even starts because the parent is either absent or the child feels that the parent will not understand. Sad but true.

I am so glad even when I was buried in the corporate world, Raka and I had some communication doors open so that she could tell me “Dad, you do not know me.”

“Moms and dads are now unisex roles”

I learned this first from Joie, one of Raka’s friends, and then from the IIT group. In today’s world, moms and dads cannot have fixed roles. They have to be cross-trained and be ready to take over each other’s jobs. In tough times, this is the only way to parent.

No wonder there have been quite a few uncomfortable moments with Raka when she comes in and starts talking about things that I, as a man, and as a dad, am not equipped to deal with.

“If you had a son, instead of a daughter (no Raka, I am not trading you, ever) how would he have reacted?”

This was a tough question as I have never thought of this. I have been so “enchanted” by Raka from the day she was born that I cannot even think about how a boy would have reacted. Parents with boys talked about how boys do not talk, how they become quiet.

That to me is a bigger challenge. How do you make a boy talk?

“Balance is different for different individuals.”

When someone uttered these words, a light bulb went on in my mind.

Exactly.

How can the definition of balance be the same for all of us? Every family needs to find the balance that they want and they are comfortable with. I am glad the book is not preaching only one form of balance.

When I take a step back, I am thankful for the two magic moments I experienced this weekend, solely attributed to the book.

Now let me get to Saturday’s specific magic moment:

At this IIT alumni event, the theme of the book completely changed the mindset of the evening. Everyone opened up and shared their vulnerabilities. It was an amazing feeling to have parents feeling comfortable talking about what matters most instead of sticking to their traditional “consequential conversations” e.g. politics, sports, careers, or the economy. Bipin Agarwal of the Redhawk Investment Group summarized the evening in an email he wrote to me. He said, “Raising a Father is not just a book, and a life story. I sure hope this becomes a movement for all migrants, including Indian, to ask the basic question of how to preserve the value system of the country they were born in the Western society.” Raj Shah, another alumni, told me he “loved the discussion it sparked and [my] insights.”

I am confident Raising a Father will help raise awareness of work-life balance issues. I do not know what destiny and fate have in store for the book, but am grateful to the book for connecting to parents and for giving us all an evening to remember. I sincerely hope the book gives me more opportunities like this to talk, discuss, and learn.

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July 23, 2009

{This is Your Wake-Up Call: Don't be an Absent Dad}


Last weekend I was invited to talk about the book at the Living Water Christian Center. Pastor Mayes was kind enough to ask me to be the keynote address for ESCAPE (Everyone Sharing Child Abuse Prevention Education), a non-profit that works with child abusers, victims, and child care centers.

As I stood there listening to Pastor Mayes introduce the topic of the day, I realize that child abuse can happen in different forms. I started asking myself, “is being absent” a form of abuse too? I finish every talk on the book with a reminder to myself and everyone present that, “when our child was born, we as fathers, sign an unwritten contract, that we will be there for our children, every minute without any exception.” As I listened to pastor Mayes, I started asking myself, “What, if anything, is the consequence of a father being absent in his child’s life?” A father does not get arrested and face the law for being absent, as long as he is paying his child support on time. Hence it is left for the little child to fend for them self, to draw attention to them self, and make sure his parent is present.

Pastor Mayes introduced me to his wife Sharon, his son, his daughters, his sons-in-law and his grandchildren. It was amazing to see a family come together for a great cause like ESCAPE. As I was talking to Sharon Mayes after the presentation, I was impressed by her humility. She talked about how she was touched by the presentation and realized that “moms too need to be better moms and be present too.” It was a great validation that we all need to be better; our children deserve it.

As I talked about the importance of wake-up calls, I realized that we as parents should help each other with wake-up calls. I really wish when I was partially absent from my daughter’s life, for the first eight years of her life, one of my friends had given me a rude and abrupt wake-up call. I do not know whether I would have listened but I really wished it had happened.

Finally a friend of mine, Brent Green, an amazing marketing professional, forwarded me an article that suggests that men become better fathers after a divorce. I do not know what causes this, but I feel for me, personally, there are two kinds of relationships.
  • Relationships we choose (e.g. Spouse, friendship)
  • Relationships we inherit (e.g. Parents, siblings, family, and children)

For me, my eroding marriage was another wake-up call. But it came too late as I realized I was standing on the other side of the river from Raka’s mom. After the divorce, I initially found fault in her but over time I realized I have to take accountability of my failures, as that is what I was left to own. In the middle of that loss (I call it a loss because when I married Raka’s mom, I did not foresee a divorce), I realized I did not want to lose my child. Hence the divorce and its realizations made me hold on tightly to my daughter. Sad but true, in my case the divorce was another wake-up call that pushed me to hold Raka closer.
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July 10, 2009

{Taking a Step Back: Parenting Role Models to Avoid}

I believe single parents are especially susceptible to particular flaws if we're not careful. We, like any parent, can get caught up in a single view of our world and forget to take a step back and analyze what effect this view has on our children.

GreatDad.com recently published an article suggesting we do just that: take a step back and determine if we are falling into any of these four "Role Models to Avoid":

1. The Emotional Patient
2. The Guilt Tripper
3. The Permissive Parent
4. The Martyr
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