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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April 26, 2011

{Why didn’t my high school have a prom?}

Last weekend I was in Dallas and reconnected with six of my high school classmates. The last time we saw each other was in 1982. To start with, this reunion was different from any other I have attended in the past. In other reunions I would meet old friends or classmates at a restaurant, enjoy a good meal, and talk in a big group for a few hours before we all went back to our busy lives. In Dallas we were there together for nearly one and half days. It helped me personally get to know my schoolmates again and made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up with them and have them as classmates at St. Lawrence High School.

There was something different about this group versus the friends I have made since my school days. As one of my classmates pointed out, “These are the most innocent of friendships. Growing up we did not judge each other, we were just friends.” So true. Life was simple. We did not need to wear masks in life. Since then, each of us has evolved and may be a little cautious in our expressions, but the small group that met in Dallas went back to our high school days. It made me realize that each of us has defined success in different ways throughout our lives.

I discovered that behind every person’s professional self was a passionate human being. We were all proud dads, our connections were warm and deep, and each in his own way wanted to make the world around him bigger and better.

As I flew back to Denver, I carried with me memories that made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up with these six cool dudes. Then I began to smile as I thought of the timing of this meet. Raka’s prom is this weekend and soon she will be finishing this chapter of her life, the life that I just revisited nearly thirty years later. Of course with Facebook, text messaging, and emails, she will not have to wait for thirty years to reconnect.   

As I was writing this, Raka came in to show me a photo of her in her prom dress. She looked simply out of this world wearing it. I kept staring at the picture and visualizing what prom is or what it means.  Last year, I was fortunate to be the chosen one to drive her and her friends on prom night. I am tempted to share her prom picture with you all, but I do not want to give away her surprise element before prom, so the photo must wait until next week. 

Another thought put a smirk on my face. We did not have a prom growing up, as I went to an all-boys Jesuit school. Yes, we missed out on the prom fun, but what we had was priceless.  I wish I hadn’t waited for thirty years to appreciate it.
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April 19, 2011

{Is there anything called absolute trust?}

As Raka gets ready to leave her high school years and gets ready for her college life as an adult in New York City, I am trying to see the emerging adult in her more than the child. Sometimes that is not easy for me, but I am trying.

Last weekend Raka was planning to attend a concert with her friends. She forewarned me that she would be late. She told me the name of the artist and what it was about, but with my limited knowledge of music and dance, that information went straight over my head. Raka noticed it. So when she got to the concert she sent me a picture using her iPhone of the details of her location. I was relieved. Raka assured me that she was with friends and was safe. She also agreed that if she needed me to pick her up, she would not hesitate to call me.

I was restless that evening. My mind was finding it tough to be at ease with the fact that my little baby has grown up and is making decisions on her own. I wanted to go back to the days when I drove her and her friends to a concert and sat at a Starbucks until it was over.

Late that night I got a text from Raka that they had left the concert. After a short visit to a friend’s place, she and another friend of hers came home. I was overjoyed to see her and her friend. It was close to midnight but I was ready to cook for the two girls. That night when I went to sleep I kept thinking, “Is there anything Raka could have done to make me feel more at ease tonight?” I do not think so. 

Then why was I so restless?

I realized that I am going through a growth phase. I am the person not at ease with the world around me that is changing so fast. I am not yet at ease with my princess slowly approaching her 18 year mark and being in charge of her own life. But I realize that trust, especially with a child, can never be absolute. Children make errors, be it errors in judgment or just errors. As a parent I need to trust Raka, but I cannot give 100% of the control to her. There has to be a balance. And more important than anything else, I must simply enjoy the transition as I see her blossom. 

Go Raka!
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April 13, 2011

{Parenting After A Divorce}

Raka’s mom and I have been divorced for nearly eight years now. Somehow we live on different planets and anytime we need to interact we follow some simple undefined rules. Instead of phone calls, let us go for voice mail. Instead of voice mail, let us go for emails.Of course that is convenient for Raka’s mom and me – we never have been forced to interact.

Things changed last week when Raka announced that she wanted to go to NYU before she finalized her college choice. She wanted both her mom and me to be with her on the trip. 


I have to admit my first thought was “Whoa! Do we have to do it?” Of course that thought immediately translated into, “Wow, how do I do that?”

But Raka being Raka was not going to take our hesitation as a no, at least not this time. Before we realized, I had booked airline tickets for the three of us and Raka found two hotel rooms for us. We were ready to go to NYC with our daughter.

I have always talked about the importance of divorced parents working together for their child’s sake, just like business partners with a common dream. But this trip was different. This is where the rubber hit the road and any failure on either of our part would have left a painful, everlasting memory on our beloved Raka’s little heart.

The trip started with Raka’s mom and me both being cautious. She emailed me her frequent flier number, I checked us in, and Raka took her mom’s boarding pass to her. On the day of the trip, Raka got back from school and she and I dashed to the airport together. Raka called her mom as we drove and she was totally surprised when reported to me, “Guess what dad!  Mom is already at the airport, two hours before the flight.” Then she went on to share how her mom had been excited the entire week before the trip and had even packed and was ready to travel a few days early.

Raka and I got to the airport and went to the gate to meet her mom. Her mom could not hide her excitement and very soon it turned into “all about Raka.” No words were exchanged between her mom and me. No subtle expressions of despair or frustrations were thrown in. Instead, two people were simply happy to be there to see the world through the bright smiling eyes of their daughter. Raka chose a restaurant and we went. Raka wanted pictures with both of us and she got it. Raka was simply on cloud 9. Finally when we boarded the flight, Raka was in the middle seat and dozed off immediately. Raka’s heads were on my shoulder and I was beaming with pride. It made me remember Raka as a baby and all her burp spots on my suit jackets. No, Raka was drooling. After some time, Raka switched positions and put her head next to her mom. Her mom gently ran her fingers through Raka’s hair and I realized that she too was waiting for the moment.

We landed in NYC late and immediately shared a cab to the hotel. The next morning we were up bright and early, ready to get to NYU.

Raka’s mom and I had no idea what we were to do that day. But as both were wearing sneakers, I guess we both knew that we would be doing a lot of running in and out, following our baby. We were in presentations, and then we rushed to get tours of the dorms, then more meetings and presentations. We both were relieved when we got half an hour to sit down and eat lunch. After lunch there was more running around until finally, at 5:30 Raka decisively informed us that she was done. She had all the information she needed to decide on NYU. Her mom and I were both impressed on how Raka maximized her time and used the day to get all the information.

That evening Raka decided that she was going to NYU. The reasoning behind her choice was as thorough as any of the business decisions she had made as President of Restaurant Marketing Group’s teen division. I captured the moment on my iPhone.
 
That evening we had dinner with one of Raka’s friends. By the time we were back in the hotel and I got to my room, I was glad to crawl into bed.

We woke up early the next morning and dashed to the airport. United Airlines gave me an upgrade to first class, and I asked Raka to take it instead.  She looked at her mom and me inquisitively and said, “So you guys will be alone back there, without me?”  

Raka boarded and went to her first class seat. She deserved a moment of limited indulgence. Her mom and I went to our seats which were in different rows. I guess our work together was done for the moment. I started looking at Raka’s picture and was so happy to see Raka’s eyes full of hope and happiness.  I was so glad her mom and I could make the trip all about Raka. Nothing was planned. Nothing was said. But each of us felt true, unconditional love for Raka and nothing else mattered in front of that. I wanted to take the credit for starting the process, but I was honestly not sure who started it. Did it matter? What mattered was that both of us did it and Raka was truly happy and excited. We were both rewarded with a lifetime of memories of seeing Raka smile.

Good luck at NYU Raka.  I have to admit that I am stressed and worried, but know you will be fine!

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April 5, 2011

{I Still Can't Look, But She Sure Can!}

All of us parents look at our children as babies. It’s a simple fact. Somehow it becomes tough for us to visualize them as grownups, even when they are!

Yesterday while playing golf my muscles cramped up and over the course of the evening it went from bad to worse. Today when I decided to go to In Motion Rehab (run by Mark Plaatjes who was a world marathon record holder in his running days), Raka decided to come to be with me.

Mark looked at my injury and diagnosed severe muscle stress and possible tears. Soon physical therapy began and Raka wanted to next to me during the process. When I looked at her with eyebrows raised, she said immediately, “You sit next to me when I am hurt, so I can sit here too.” 

I was in too much pain to protest anything. As Mark started unweaving the tight muscles, I started feeling pain I have rarely felt before. At that instant Raka asked me to hold her hand. I did. Then she asked me to press her hand as tightly as I could. I did not understand the reason for this madness so she explained, “If you focus your energy here, then your lower body will be at ease and you will not feel the pain as much.”

I was amazed at Raka’s wisdom. I had no reason not to try and soon I realized Raka was right. Then I heard Mark’s voice asking “Arjun, do you have any issues with needles?” 

Before I could respond two things happened: First Raka said, “I cannot stand needles,” second I felt the first needle hit my right calf muscle. The pain was excruciating, but I also have known Mark long enough to realize that he knew what he was doing and he was not going to stop.

My attention focused on Raka. I was glad she was scared of needles… I was too! Every time I have ever taken Raka for a shot, even when I was holding her as a small child, I had to look elsewhere when the needle went in. I cannot see shots or needles in action. She was truly my baby!

As I was indulging in these silly thoughts and after quite some time I realized Raka was still next to me. I could not believe she has not gone or become distracted. In fact she kept telling me ahead of time where the next needle would be. I simply could not believe that she was looking at the needles, but then she truly crossed the line.

“Dad, do you want me to take a picture so that you can see the needles?”

For once I had a determined and quick answer, “NO.” This needed no clarifier.

Soon the thought of Raka sitting next to me, evolved to a stage where I have never been able to get, overshadowed the pain of the needles. Somehow while holding her hands I dozed off. When I woke up, Raka was still holding my hands, but she was no longer my little baby. It seemed to me that she had grown into an adult while I dozed off.

But we all know the growing up did not happen during my snooze. So when did it happen? How did I miss it?
 
Or is it that I wanted to see my baby as a little baby?

I love you baby!

{I Still Can't Look, But She Sure Can!}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

March 29, 2011

{NO CAMERAS PLEASE!}

Raka has worked all through the winter on her running to get ready for her last track season in high school. Last week Raka was rewarded for all her hard work when she was selected to run for varsity. Raka was excited.  A few days later she got the varsity uniform and her excitement hit a new peak.

“Dad, I am going to go to my room and change and come back.”  She came back looking great in the uniform.  What stood out more than the uniform though was her beaming smile. It was a simple expression, “Dad, I did it.” What I wanted to say was, “Look baby, you can do anything you set your mind to!” But that would have been too cliché and ruined the spontaneity of the moment.

That’s when Raka asked me, “Dad, please do not bring your camera to the race.  You can take pictures with your cell phone but don’t bring your camera.”

I was taken by surprise. The more we talked about it the more Raka defended her request and her body language became insecure. She was getting uncomfortable and went into “I don’t know” mode.  That was the time I realized that even though Raka was excited, deep inside she was a little nervous, a little unsure.  I dropped the subject and walked back to my office.

That Saturday morning before the race Raka was pumped. She had everything packed and was raring to go. I took her to the track and then went out to run a few errands before Raka’s race.  Raka texted me that her race was in half an hour.  I dashed back to the track. 

I found myself a good spot near the finish line. Raka was still in her warm-up clothes and was warming up with her team. I wish I could have seen the smile and the excitement on her face, but she was a little too far from me.

Then the moment arrived. Raka walked down to the starting line-up and then before I realized it they were off.  It was an 800 meter race which means the runners run twice around the track. Raka started slow. As she crossed the 300 meter mark where I was standing she was running strong but she was towards the back of the second pack. But then Raka’s track coach uttered something to Raka as she crossed the 400 meter mark and she switched gears.  All of a sudden she started accelerating. She crossed one other runner and then another. 

I was excited, but I was worried too. Could she keep up that pace?  Could she finish strong? 

Raka showed no signs of slowing down.  She continued the acceleration and soon she was at par with the first pack. Even though the leaders were way ahead of her, Raka was running the race of her life. Raka was in a foot race with a girl in a blue uniform.  As Raka tried to pass her, the girl accelerated too.  Raka now moved to another gear, and soon she was coasting, and closing in on the finish line. I was screaming as loud as I could. “Wow Raka! Go baby Go!” 

Raka finished the race strong.  She did not place, but she improved her personal best by 20 seconds. Very impressive. Of course I wanted the runners to run another 400 meters as I was confident that Raka would beat everyone if the race was extended.

Raka smiled at me. This was a smile that was very determined. It was full of happiness. She was excited. I was still playing the event back in my mind. Honestly it was one of the most exciting sporting events I have ever been witness to.

That day as I was coming back home, I realized this race was a reflection of Raka’s life. She not always start off first, but a determined Raka never gives up in life. With all the college admissions and scholarships coming her way, they are all just some of the rewards for her hard work.

If you think back, life is a marathon. Some kids start of fast. Some start off slow. We parents panic when a child is slow at times, and our panic makes the child worry as they start realizing that we do not trust their abilities. In the process, the parent wants to make sure that they do not fail.

Instead of all this, why can we not let each child blossom in their own way? Why can we not believe that they will accelerate when the time is right? Life is not about the child finishing on top, life is about the smile of confidence and happiness on the child’s face. Why can’t we simply sit back and enjoy the race and be happy that our children are enjoying being in the race?
{NO CAMERAS PLEASE!}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

March 22, 2011

{What Next? A Chicken Burger Restaurant Franchise?}

Every semester I have a tradition of baking special cookies for Raka before her finals. Two years ago when I had only five more batches of cookies to go before she goes to college I started counting down. I realized that I had just a few semesters left so I tried to put more of my heart into each of the subsequent cookies I made.

Last semester I made her cookies and assumed that I would bake these cookies again at the end of Raka’s senior year. When I realized that there were no finals this semester I was simply shocked. I verified the information, then it dawned on me that  when I baked those cookies last semester, I had not realized that they were the last set of cookies in Raka’s high school career. Wow.  I could not believe that those days are over now. I am so fortunate to not have any regrets as I have finally learned to be in the moment and really did bake the best cookies I could every chance I got.

I remember the words of a pastor’s wife who once told me she knew that there would come a time for her to say “I love you” to her husband and children for the last time. She will not know it is the last time when it happens, but when she looks back on her life she wants to see no regrets.

I was doing the same when I made those cookies last semester but I still am not ready for it to be over.

For a few days I was bummed and I started looking at other things to do for her that I could get excited about. That is the time it dawned on me that I have no more than 55 lunches I can make for her. Assuming at least half of those meals she will eat with her friends, I realized I have around 25 meals left.

Then I wasted very little time between realizing and acting. Hence the next morning, I started thinking of making special lunch sandwiches. I started making chicken burgers from ground chicken. I wanted to make sure Raka looked forward to eating the sandwich at lunchtime so I launched a marketing campaign for the burger. I took a pic using my iPhone then sent it to Raka a text message to make her aware of the lunch coming her way.


I truly was out there, marketing my chicken burger to my #1 customer.

As I worked that afternoon I got a text message back from Raka that she loved the burger. I was on cloud nine. I was excited again. I found my calling, and now I am the lunch expert. I also realized that life was not about simply looking back and finding excuses or having regrets, life also was not about what I do not have any more.  Life was all about what I have now and embracing it with both hands with all my passion.

Yes, I had to get a screen shot of my iPhone to capture the moment. I was happy and I could sense there would be a few more similar happy moments that will come my way in near future. I knew that I would strive hard to make them happen.


{What Next? A Chicken Burger Restaurant Franchise?}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

March 16, 2011

{Save the Planet}


Raka has been a little tense lately.  Colleges are starting to announce their decisions.

This week has been good as she has already received a few college admissions and a scholarship. Communications from Raka’s top choices, the big decision schools, are yet to come and should be arriving in the next few weeks. Raka and I have talked about how her school choice is simply the first step in her life ahead. A good school will of course help her but what she does with it is her choice.  And that will make and define her life.

I am sure that I am not the first dad to give his daughter such advice.  But it sounded really smart when I said it and I am proud of myself. What was even smarter was what Raka told me when she and I were returning from a road trip visiting colleges in the northeast.

Raka told me that she was still not sure what she wanted to study, but was leaning towards a profession where she can help people and children in the third world – a very noble vision.

I am sure that when I was her age, making the world better was not one of my immediate concerns. My thoughts were about building a career, making money, and being successful in a self-centered way. When Raka said that she wanted to change the world it made me stop and think. I was touched by her sincerity. I was proud of her.

I also realized that I should trust that she is ready to fly solo in the world outside. A wise soul, a big heart, and great smile, the world outside is ready to feel the Raka difference soon.

Good luck Raka.
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March 8, 2011

{When Children Stop Playing With Us}

A few weeks back when I posted a blog on a scrabble match with my daughter, I received quite a few emails from readers. Any email is a validation of the purpose of the book, touching one more person but of these two of the emails stood out and really made me think. I thank both readers for giving me permission to share their stories. 

A dad whose son will not golf with him
A dad in his fifties wrote to me about his son not playing golf with him anymore. Initially he was kinda baffled as his son loves golf, but he soon realized that when they were out playing golf (his son being a teenager) he used to celebrate too loudly and rubbed-in every time his son lost or even made a bad shot. This father was very sad in his email as he felt that he had not appreciated the time he had with his son. He felt he was acting like “an idiot” about silly wins which made him lose the big moments of golfing together with his son.

A daughter cheats in Monopoly
Another dad wrote about his ten year old daughter. He talked about how when his daughter was four and started playing card games, she always went through the deck to find the winning cards. At that point of time he and his wife thought it was cute. Over the years as they played many games the daughter continued to find “winning ways” and only recently, when the daughter has just turned ten, the parents were seriously uncomfortable seeing their daughter “cheat” while playing Monopoly.

As I started thinking about both these stories I realized that our children go through phases in life. One of these is when they just graduate from asking us to read to them and want us to play games with them. They may be small in size but their heart and spirit are big and they want to be taken for seriously. They also want to win and give parents a reason to be proud of them.

I realized that we plant seeds in our children’s life in these early years. If playing with us is fun, children continue to do so. If we are sore losers, our children will be the same.  On the other hand if we are too hard on them, and rob them of the fun of playing by pushing them too hard, they may take their first chance of walking away from the whole thing, forever. 

The golf story also hit home with me as I have a pink/purple golf club set sitting in one corner of the garage that has hardly been used. Rumors are that some dad was trying too hard to teach his daughter the etiquette of golf and in the process made the game a yawn to her. Every time I drive into the garage, the lonely club set standing in the corner is just a reminder of what life could have been.

Now about cheating, I do not have any way of figuring out the answer, even though I was once married to a shrink. I completely sympathize with the dad who, in the early years, thinks it is cute when the child takes short-cuts to win, as anything the child does is memorable. But over time are we making the child try too hard to win our approval? Are we defining that winning is everything and playing together is not the journey that one should focus on? I would love it if you would share your thoughts and ideas with me.
{When Children Stop Playing With Us}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

March 2, 2011

{Little Lessons in a Day of Big Fun}

Last weekend, six students from IIT, Kharagpur (the engineering college I earned my undergraduate degree from in India) came to Denver.  They are third and fourth year students from the mining department.  Over the weekend they worked on one of the top challenging problems in the field and were placed third, globally.  Very impressive!

Yesterday morning, I took time off work and golf to take them to the Rocky Mountains.  The plan was to pick them up at 6 am, so that we could beat the downtown traffic.  I called a little early and made sure that they were awake so I felt especially bad when I underestimated the early morning traffic and was there at the hotel lobby at 6:05.

When I reached the hotel lobby, no one was there.  At 6:20 when I finally reached of the students in the group, he apologized for the delay and said that they would be down in five minutes.  I have to confess, I was getting very irritated by this apparent inconsideration on their part. I sat in the car and listened to A.R. Rahman songs from the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Finally at 6:45 am one of the students was down in the lobby.  He explained the delay: one of the students in the group could not find his shoes.  At this point I was more amused than upset.

Finally at 7:00 am we left the hotel, an hour later than planned. Although I was not happy about it, as the day progressed and I got to learn about their individual lives and their passions in India, I felt fortunate to be in their company. I started thinking back to the days when I was their age.  It would not be easy to wake up at 6:00 am just to meet with someone more than twice my age. 

I am not supporting their failure to keep a commitment, but what I learned was that life does not always have to be planned. There are times one can simply pause and enjoy the time with their friends who are around. In their case, I experienced them breaking out into an unplanned snow ball fight in the Rocky Mountain National parks. 

I am glad I was there to capture their first snowball fight on my camera.
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February 22, 2011

{A New Scrabble Champion}

Over the holidays this last year Raka and I were able to sit down for a game of Scrabble. It was a long, drawn-out affair and close throughout the entire game but the final score ended at 330 to 334. Raka won! It was the first time Raka beat me in Scrabble and it was one of the best games of Scrabble I have ever played.

As we were clearing the board and getting ready for dinner, messages began popping up on my Facebook page.  I was getting messages from my nieces and nephews around the world about how Raka beat me in Scrabble. It took me a while to realize that Raka had posted the score sheet on Facebook. 

Cool, the war was on.  I was sure that the next time I would win.

After the holidays, school started for Raka and I made a quick trip to India. Consequently, we did not get another chance to play Scrabble until just last week when Raka installed an app on my iPhone called “Words with friends.” With a few clicks she installed an online word game that resembled Scrabble. I looked at her in amazement. She set my username to be GolferPro12 and explained to me I should not post my actual name in the gaming arena.  (I am glad she takes online security seriously.)  Once she installed the app I got an invite from Raka to play my first online scrabble game.  I was excited.

The game has been going on for nearly a week now and is just now coming to a finish. This time the scores are not that close.  In fact, they have not been close from the beginning. Raka is leading 287 to 235 with 10 more letters remaining. So, unless there is a last second Hail Mary on my part, this game is heading towards another loss for me. I am posting a copy of the score sheet. Don’t worry, I have changed Raka’s game name, as I have learned from her that I should not disclose her online identity here.

I have to confess I played this game with full seriousness. It is good to see my daughter win, but it is more fun to compete seriously with my daughter. Raka and I have been into Scrabble ever since she was a kid. Initially, I would play for both her and for me. I remember a classic statement by her during one of those games when she said, “Dad, are you making sure I am beating you?”

I have to say, Raka, that today you may be beating me, but, watch out! Good old Dad is ready for a comeback. Maybe a little yoga or meditation between moves is all I need!
{A New Scrabble Champion}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

February 21, 2011

February 14, 2011

{Looking back at Valentine's Day}

Another Valentine’s Day is here and soon it will be history.  Soon the retail stores will remove the red hearts and start replacing them with Easter merchandise. Seasons change fast, so do emotions. Some feelings though, linger with us.

This Saturday Raka invited a few of her mid-distance running buddies over for a mini Valentine’s Day party after their run. Early that afternoon I started cooking and getting ready but the kids came in a few minutes earlier than I anticipated. The kitchen was not as ready as I would have liked but they were happy to have hot food. As Raka and her buddies huddled across the dining table they nibbled on the heart and kissing-lip shaped cookies and candies I had set out, but most of them were still on the table when the left. I realized (again) that they are not kids anymore.  I realized that they are much more grown up than I give them credit for.

I started thinking back about past Valentine’s Days with Raka. Earlier we went and bought Mickey Mouse Valentine cards. Then we used to print them at home – I remember both of us huddled in front of the laptop trying to choose the perfect clipart for that year’s Valentine. Then came the magical year, it was early 2000 and a new millennium. The Hindi movie craze of that time was Baghban. There was a song in the movie that was dedicated to Valentine’s Day, called Chali Chali and Raka loved the song. To surprise her and her mom, I planned a Valentine’s Day party in the basement with lots of white and red balloons. It was an evening to remember. Raka danced her heart out with her mom and me to Chali Chali. We took a lot of pictures and she drank a huge bottle of kid champagne. When the night was finally over Raka had a huge sugar-induced stomach ache to match the size of that bottle of grape juice.

The next morning Raka’s mom and I were looking at the pictures when she mentioned that it was very odd that there were hardly any pictures of her and me.  Most of the pictures were of Raka and me, or Raka and her mother. I thought for a second and stated that there are times in life, when a couple feels their love through their child. But still, Raka’s mom’s words stuck out with me.

The next month after that Valentine’s Day was the rockiest time in Raka’s life as she learned that her mom and I were going to get a divorce.  By the time Easter came that little girl’s life was changed forever. Since then Raka has gone through a lot of emotions, but pain and uncertainty were always the underlying emotions that overwhelmed her.

Valentine’s Days have come and gone since then, and even though we have not talked about it, I have seen memories of the past in Raka’s eyes. The song from Baghban simply got erased from our home.  Even though divorce arose out of differences that could not overcome between her mom and me, in the last eight years I have felt over and over how a married couple with kids should try their hardest to stay together for the sake of their children. Love does flow through the children to parents, and sometimes so does pain. Seeing the pain a child goes through after a divorce is reason enough to try one more time before pulling the plug on a marriage.

This Valentine’s Day, as I see Raka becoming a young lady and getting ready to fly away into the larger world, I hope and pray that the life ahead for her is full of love and happy memories.   She has turned into a beautiful young lady and fills the life of everyone around her with caring and love.  I am sure there are more Valentine’s Days with brand new happy memories in store for her.
{Looking back at Valentine's Day}SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

February 8, 2011

Super Bowl Evening

How time flies!
Raka and I enjoyed our own Super Bowl party at home.  After a relaxed morning, we sat down and got ready to watch the game.  We had chili chicken, cooked Indian style, and then Raka wanted tea made the “Indian way.” 

I was confused for a second before I realized that she wanted “true chai,” the way it is made in the street side tea stalls in India.  It is made with blended tea leaves (ground almost like coarse coffee ground), and boiled with milk and water.  The blend of the tea and the ratio of milk and water is the secret that makes each roadside tea stall different.

I made the tea and naturally the authentic tea had to be served in tiny earthen cups, just as it is served on the street side in India. The cups are super-sized, only the small way. I served Raka her tea and by the time I sat down to sip my tea, Raka had gulped down her third cup. 

As I enjoyed my cup of tea, my mind went back to the first Super Bowl we had watched together.  It was 1998.  Raka was four and half years old and I had just joined Papa John’s in Louisville, KY. Raka was in Denver.  Denver was playing Green Bay.  Raka and I were on the phone constantly and Raka had one question, “Baba, did the Broncos win?” I kept telling her, “No, not yet.” Undoubtedly, by the time the game was over, Raka was fast asleep.

Suddenly, back to the here and now, I heard Raka’s voice calling, “Baba, wake up, the game is starting!” I sat up and realized that I had dozed off as I was thinking about Raka and the 1998 Super Bowl.  How time flies.  Back then, Raka was the one who needed a nap.  Today, I was the young one in need of an afternoon nap.  Back then, I would explain to her what was going on during the game. Today, Raka is fluent with all the rules of football, knows the players, and is rooting for Green Bay to win. 

Next year Raka will be away at college, watching the game with her friends.  We will be back to talking on the phone, but most probably texting instead of being on an actual phone call.  It will be special too, but instead of thinking about next year, let me just soak up the game this year.        
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