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?
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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.


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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.
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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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