December 29, 2009

{Grandma's House}

{Childhood memories of Grandma, Maiji}

Just got back from a short trip to India.

During my stay in Kolkata, I slept in Maiji’s bed. I set my alarm for 4am to wake up and experience that feeling; Maiji used to wake me up exactly at that time, every day. As I woke up, I looked my study desk in the room next door. Then I got out of bed, used the restroom quickly, and sat at my desk, the way I did every morning for twelve years.

As I sat at my study desk, I looked at Maiji’s bed. The visual was very familiar. I kept thinking what kind of commitment it took for 12 years, without fail, to wake up a grandson every morning so that his career would be built on a solid base. I guess the commitment to be a parent and to be present in a child's life does not come easy.

Simply amazing.

What was missing was Maiji’s breakfast served to me at my desk as I studied.

December 22, 2009

{Blogging from India: First time ever}

Today I am in the house my grandmother (Maiji) built in the early 1940s. Maiji’s bedroom on the second floor has a balcony that faces the garden in the back. As I slowly entered the balcony, I could see Maiji’s easy chair still there. I stood on the balcony and pictured Maiji sitting three on a summer evening, meditating. Her gamcha (thinner version of a towel) used to hang in that corner of the balcony.  After she finished meditating, I would come over and sit at Maiji’s feet as she would tell me stories. Just being around her warmed my young heart.

I looked down at the garden in the back of the house and I remembered Maiji used to work in the garden, wearing a white sari, with the anchal covering her hair. She would take a small brick from the garden and use it as a seat as she worked. My mind can’t help but go back to the days when Maiji would sit on the brick and hand-plant the grass, one seed at a time. No, there was not sod that was easily placed in there. The coconut trees in the corner were all planted by Maiji. The hibiscus, too, was handpicked by her and planted in that corner. She even placed the bricks at an angle in the ground to separate the yard from the trees.

Today the grass is a little patchy, the coconut trees are as tall as they can get and produce fruit all year long and the hibiscus plant still blossoms every year, celebrating each year of Maiji's dilligence not only with her garden but also with her family. Of course the easy-chair is still there on the upstairs balcony. Everything Maiji invested in still stands tall today, including the souls she has touched. The only thing is missing is Maiji’s warm presence. I wish so badly that she was here today, asking me about what I am doing in the U.S.  I wish Raka could sit next to Maiji and nestle her head in Maiji’s lap as Maiji tells her the story of Ramayana.

I closed my eyes as I stood on the balcony.  I measured the time since Maiji passed away. Then my mind started going back to count the stories Maiji told me sitting in this balcony, the number of evenings I sat on the floor with my head rested on Maiji’s lap as I stared at the sky. Maiji, I miss you.

December 15, 2009

{Ready for a Break!}

{Mumbai: City of Brotherly Love}

Tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9am I am leaving for India. This trip was planned last minute as Raka will be with her mom over Christmas break. It will be a short trip, but I am excited for every moment I will be in Mumbai with my brother Oni, my sister-in-law Rachna, and my little nephew Agni. I also am excited to visit my parents in Kolkata.  But at the bottom of my heart, I am sad. Tonight Raka gave me a big hug before she went to bed, and I will really miss her over the next two weeks.

Once I travel to India, my brother assumes the role of my local guardian. He plans my days and even my trips to Kolkata (city where my parents live). A few days back, I was asking him about the dates I am supposed to travel to Kolkata and he had his typical answer, “Do not worry. Everything will be arranged.”

The impatience in me wanted a better answer. A few days later I asked again. This time his answer was different. He said, “I need time to plan. I am getting you here for only eight days, so I need time to plan when I can take you to Kolkata.”

I was pleasantly surprised. “So you are coming to Kolkata?”

His immediate response was, “Yes, I cannot miss out on any time with you.”

I was quiet. His words touched me deeper than he will ever realize. Of course the sarcastic (but thinks he is funny) side of me wanted to pull his leg for being so “warm, fuzzy, and mushy.” But then I thought for a while and decided not to ruin this moment. I was quiet. Then I changed the subject and talked about other details of the Mumbai trip.

After I got off the phone that day, his words kept echoing in my head. I was swelling with happiness. I know once I go to India, things could come up and Oni may not be able to make it to Kolkata with me, but his heart is in the right place.

December 8, 2009

{Worried & Concerned}

{Alone at Mumbai Airport}

Soon I will travel to India for a short vacation.  Raka is traveling with her mom over Christmas, so I thought I would travel myself and return before she comes back.  As I plan my trip to India, I keep thinking of the time I was in India a few years back.  My flight got into the Mumbai airport (Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport) on time, close 1:30 am.  I picked up my luggage and walked outside to wait for my brother, Oni.  For security reasons, non-travelers have to wait outside the airport.

As I walked out the airport building, I faced hundreds of people standing across the railing.  Each one was there waiting in the middle of the night for their dear ones to arrive from an international flight.  I felt everyone’s eyes on me and I tried to find my brother in the crowd.  Usually when I arrive there, within a few seconds of me coming out of the door, I hear a soft deep voice saying, “This way.”  That’s my brother.  I walk to the side and he meets me where the railing ends.  He grabs the luggage cart from me and whisks me to his car and drive off in the middle of the night to his home.

But this time, it was different.  I had come outside and it had been a few minutes but still there was no Oni’s voice.  I was getting restless.  I started carefully screening each face in front of me in the night.  I could not see Oni.  I decided to walk with my luggage to one corner of the sidewalk and wait.  The cab drivers were swarming around me, asking if they could take me to a hotel. But I waited. Soon it had been nearly thirty minutes and I decided to walk down to a payphone and try to call Oni. He did not answer. So I waited. Then I decided to call and wake up my parents in Kolkata. They too had no idea where Oni was. I was getting worried. Finally I decided to call Oni’s father-in-law.  I felt bad waking him up that late at night, but he answered the phone and was happy that I was in town and had a safe journey.  When I asked him where Oni was, he had explained that Oni was at their place earlier in the evening and had left after dinner. Now I was extremely worried. Was my brother okay?

I kept calling Oni’s phone from the pay phone. An hour or more later, Oni finally picked up the phone and said, “I am on my way.”  It was short and abrupt. I was happy he was okay, but I have to confess that I was bummed that he was so late in coming to the airport.

Oh well.

Soon Oni was there and I was in the car with him.  We didn’t say many words about the delay as he drove through the streets in Mumbai in the middle of the night. 

A few days later when I was having dinner at his father-in-law’s place, the mystery was solved. Oni had been working nearly twenty-four hour days, non-stop for the last week in order to finish all his work before I got to town. That evening itself he had finished the last piece of work. Then he had gone to his father-in-law’s for dinner. After dinner, a tired Oni wanted to take a short nap before he came to the airport to get me.  But, sleepless and fatigued, sleep took over his body and he had no chance in hearing the wake-up call.

I looked at Oni, across the table, having his meal. I could not be angry with him anymore! What a brother!  He was trying to become free for me. Wow! 
I realized that his measure of our relationship is the number of minutes he can dedicate solely to me when we're in the same part of the world.

December 1, 2009

{The Countdown Calculator}

{25 Days till Christmas and a Parent's Countdown}

There are twenty-five days left till Christmas, and all too soon it will be twelve days till Christmas.  The countdown to one of the biggest holiday celebrations in the world creates a level of urgency which makes us all plan our days so we can use every day to the maximum.  This count-down, in a way, will drive our lives for the next few weeks as we plan when to buy the last gifts, when to mail the cards and the gifts, and finally plan what we do on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  For some, the day after Christmas sale is another critical event.

Another countdown has begun in my own life.  In 632 days, or 90 weeks, my daughter will be ready to leave for college. Which means there will be two more Christmas celebrations and one Thanksgiving celebration before then!  As her mom and I are divorced, that means my time with her will be cut in half; only 45 weekends together before she leaves.

Wow! This countdown of mine started when I had 90 weekends with my daughter and now half of it is gone. When I look back at the last 45 weekends, I can visualize the days my daughter woke on a Saturday and I had her favorite fish curry ready for her. This last weekend, she went out on a run with a friend in the morning while I was in a mad rush to get scrambled eggs and toasted bagels ready for them when they returned. As the two friends gobbled down the brunch after their long run, I made hot chocolate in the kitchen. I watched Raka scrape the last bit of the scrambled eggs from the plate and I smiled. That's my baby. I was so content to savor the moment.

I am not sad that the countdown has begun, but rather excited that because I know our days together are diminishing, I can try my best to enjoy every moment and create memories that will last me a lifetime.

To find an inspiration to an art for this post, I went on Google images and searched for “counting man,” and guess what I found? Nearly every image is of a man counting money. Another Wow!

November 25, 2009

{10 Ways to Give the Gift of Time This Season}

This year nearly 52 million households will be buying toys. But with this rough economy, do we have to spend money to buy that special gift for our children? Or can we do something instead which is sincere and from our heart, that will touch their little hearts even more?
My brother once took my daughter on a special outing to the Art Institute of Chicago and taught her to look at pointillism with squinted eyes. It was a moment of a lifetime for my daughter that has and will stay with her, forever.
In a similar act of genuine love, my daughter once made me a birthday presentation on her computer with all my favorite family members and my favorite movie stars set to my favorite song. It was the most precious gift I could have ever received.
With these priceless gifts in mind, here are eleven things you can do (FREE) this holiday:

 1. Free day at local attraction with a twist
Find out when your local museum or local attraction has a free day. Now make it a personal trip by going online and researching your favorite exhibit. When your family visits the museum, educate each other and make it a private museum tour.  

The Extra Yard:  Dress up in the theme of the exhibit.
2. Make a family movie
There are many sites that let you upload photos of friends and family members to an animated, holiday themed online greeting card. This will be a step above typical online greeting cards with a great personal touch. Check-out to create yours.
The Extra Yard:  Once you become an expert, show your neighbors how you did it.

3. Take the movies indoors
Instead of spending $10 a ticket to take the family to the movies, plus the cost of popcorn, soda, and candy, watch your favorite holiday movie at home and start a family tradition. If your movie selection at home is deficient, consider borrowing a DVD from the library.

The Extra Yard:  Be creative. If you are watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, dress up as “Whoville” citizens and eat “roast beast” for dinner.

4. Board game championship
Announce your family’s annual Scrabble or Charades (or other board game) bowl game for the holidays.  Make the championship real by printing rules, game brackets, certificates for winners, and play “home” and “away” games where each family member can host a game in their own room. Just think, a “home” game gives children a reason to clean the room.

The Extra Yard:  The winner gets to plan next year’s event.

5. Bake Holiday Cookies and take to neighbors
Find your favorite holiday cookie recipe and tweak it a little to make it your family’s own secret recipe. Bake cookies together, where every person has a role, e.g. the measurer, the mixer, the baker, the quality-controller, and the packer. Then take cookies to your neighbors and see them smile.  

The Extra Yard:  At the end of the evening, write down the secret recipe and hide it in a special place in the house.

6. Dress up dinner at home
Eating out can be special, but do we have to go out to have a special meal?  Why not dress up for a special night at home? Print the menu, light some candles, and make dinner special with everyone sitting around the table.

The Extra Yard:  Tip the chef by telling them the thing you love most about them.

7. Take old clothes to the local thrift store
Spend an evening helping every family member find one of two things to take to the neighborhood thrift store. Giving together as a family makes the holiday special.

The Extra Yard:  Take your family’s secret cookie recipe and hot chocolate in a flask and sip as you drive to the thrift store. Take the long way home and enjoy the lights.

8. Plan a day with grandparents or at a local elderly home
Holidays become special when you create a memory for someone else. Why not plan a day with your grandparents? Drive them around and enjoy the evening listening to old time family stories.  And if your grandparents are not in town, visit the local elderly homes and spread cheers by singing carols.

The Extra Yard:  Take pictures of your evening together and frame it for their holiday gift.
9. Plan a Family treasure hunt
There’s nothing quite like a good treasure hunt inside the house. Have each family member hide something special and write down a clue for the rest of the family.  As the evening unfolds, you will see the competitiveness overflow.

The Extra Yard:  When the game is over, ask each other about your clues and laugh when you hear the reasons behind them.

 10. Take a day off and give the gift of time to your child
Finally, the best gift you can give is that of time. Take a day off, turn off your cell-phone, and spend the entire day with your child.  No plans, just total enjoyment.

The Extra Yard:  Take lots of pictures and view them before you go to bed. You’ll have a smile on your face guaranteed.

November 24, 2009

{Black Friday: The Gift of Time}

November 18, 2009

{Desperate times call for desperate actions!}

This week, there was post on the Burgers & Masala Fries blog about the book. The blogger, Sanjiv Sinha, compared my approach of quitting the corporate world to be a dad first with that of a consultant who blocks time for her child. The blogger commented that “I do believe, that it is tough to do what Arjun did, but I believe it is definitely possible to do what the consultant did. It doesn’t hurt to set expectations in our workplace for some personal time”

As I read the blog, I 100% agree that balance in personal and professional life is the key. But at times when the pendulum swings to the other side (towards professional life, funding professional growth with time taken from family members), it becomes essential to interrupt with a loud wake up call. That is the reason that when my daughter Raka confronted me on the day after 9/11, it was important, no, essential for me to interrupt my corporate life with a dramatic “quit”. Otherwise, I would have made hundreds of promises to myself about spending more time with my daughter and I would have found great reasons to defer living the promise until a later time frame. In short, I do not trust the Arjun of 2001 to follow through on his promises. Scary thought, tough to admit, but true.

Over time, I have realized that balance is the key; why choose one when you can have both? My clients will vouch that when I work, I work very hard. Being a dad is never an excuse to not perform above par. But it is an internal balance I seek, as I try to make sure that I do not allow the corporate professional to take over the dad first.

Do not worry Raka, I am really enjoying being your dad first. You know it does not always come easily to me, but your patience and belief always steers me in the right direction.

{Spend More Time With Me, Dad}

November 10, 2009

{Children Caring for Eldery Parents Can Be a Ray of Hope for Grandkids}

Recently I was honored to be the guest blogger at the Dallas News Mom's Blog.

 After the blog was posted, there were comments on the blog that touched me and reinforced the vision of this journey, touching one person at a time.  Here is one example of comments from the blog:

Leslie wrote: “You raise a very important consideration for those parents who have chosen not to participate in their children's lives. At some point, they too will only have twice a year phone calls from their children and eventually, no contact at all. As a counselor in a municipal police department, I was called out to assist elderly citizens who called police because they were scared, ill or having difficulty. It was often difficult for us to find a next of kin to contact. The police officer and I would find old phone numbers and addresses, nothing current. I couldn't understand why some of these people were neglected. It could be that there was no next of kin to contact, but in some cases I found that some of the elderly citizens weren’t very nice to their children and other family members. They were left alone because no one wanted to be around them.” 

As I read Leslie’s comments, it reminded me of a story my Maiji (grandma) used to tell me.

In the story, there was a grandma who was getting very old, and the parents, instead of having grandma stay in their home, sent her to a distant elderly home to live. As the grandma left, the parents gave the grandma a shawl to take with her.
The little boy (her grandson), watched all this from the corner. Finally he dashed to the grandma and hugged her as he asked, "Grandma, can I have your shawl, please?" Grandma gave it to the grandson, and the grandson ran with the shawl and cut it into two equal pieces.
The parents, astounded by the rude and strange behavior of the child, asked him why he did that. The child smiled and said, "Mom and Dad, do not worry, now I have shawls for each one of you when I send you out of the house."      
So think for a second, if instead of sending Grandma away with a shawl, parents embraced a more involved role in the life of Grandma, the child too would have seen a ray of hope in relationships.  The child would have realized that as he grows older, he should be present in the lives of his parents.
As I write this, I keep thinking that many a time parents give up as they think it is too late.  Fortunately for us parents, it is never too late as our children never give up on us.  Agreed, as they get older, our children may worry about getting rejected if they try to reach out to their parents, but deep inside they always dream about mom and dad reaching out for them with open arms.
Thank you Leslie and others from Dallas News for your comments.

November 3, 2009

{Daughter Waits for Her Father to Come Home to Tuck Her In}

{Following the Red Car, Looking in the Rear View Mirror, and Seeing Myself in My Daughter}

It started on Sunday, November 1, 2009. Raka took her driving test... and passed. That evening she got all the papers ready for us to go to the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles the next day to get her first driver’s license. I had kept my Monday afternoon open so I could take her, but late Sunday, Raka had an idea that she thought was brilliant. The DMV opens at 7:00am. If we got there by 6:55am, we would be  first in line and she could get her driver’s license before school started at 7:45am. I simply raised my eyebrows and we decided to stay with our after school plan.

At 3:15 PM on Monday, November 2, 2009, I picked Raka up from school and we headed to the DMV. In less than half an hour, Raka had her driver’s license in hand. After we came home, we added Raka to the insurance. She could officially and legally drive.

But, what happens next? I was not sure if Raka should start driving immediately , so I called Raka’s mom.  Based on her mom's confidence and Raka’s enthusiasm, I overcame my own hesitations and agreed that Raka could drive to and from school and also to her music and math tutor’s place.

But the dad in me still was not 100% ready. I kept thinking about September 14th, 1993, when I realized for the first time that the back seat would never be empty again. When did my little girl leave the back seat for the passenger seat, then for the driver's seat in her own red car? Why does life move so fast? Shouldn't sixteen years should at least feel like sixteen years?

As all these thoughts were going in my mind, I came up with a plan: we do a trial run. In the trial run, Raka will drive on her own to each of her approved destinations as I follow. That way she has a clear “road map” on how to negotiate traffic. Raka loved the idea. In fact, she would have loved any idea that got her closer to driving. So we started.

There were some initial hiccups as she drove to the first destination, it was, after all, her first time driving a car alone. When she got to the first destination, she pulled over and I walked to her car and we talked. The excitement in her young face was now enveloped with seriousness. She was worried to hear her feedback. I told her that I was proud of her, but the mistakes she made, and got away with, were serious. She nodded her head.

The journey to the second destination through the evening traffic was long. Raka was in her groove. There were some traffic situations which Raka patiently negotiated. I followed in admiration. Finally Raka pulled into the driveway of her mom’s home and we talked again. She did great. We talked about cautious left turns and avoiding unnecessary lane changes.

As I drove home, I was happy that I got to see Raka drive alone for the first time, but just like any dad I was worried. Why does she have to be so impatient? Why does she have to do things “now”? As I asked all these questions, I looked at the rear view mirror. The back seat was empty. The passenger seat to my right was empty. I adjusted the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of myself in the process, and realized the answers to my questions. I have no patience DNA myself.

Isn’t it uncanny, how our children follow what we do and not what we tell them to do? I guess that means it's my turn to be patient.

October 27, 2009

Funding Ambitions with Children's Time

Two Men, and Two Daughters

The last two days have been an amazing two days. I flew into Detroit Sunday afternoon and stayed with my college buddy, PPC, who I had not seen for nearly 30 years. PPC is now a fan of the book and narrated to me similar incidents in his life as he has grown up.  As he, his wife, and I talked about the challenges of raising a kid, I soon realized that no two parents face the same challenges; hence no two parents’ path is the same.  I guess if “Raising a Father” was that easy we would not need our cute daughters to use all their charm, smiles, and patience to raise us to be better parents. But what was common among the three parents in the room was that we all knew that spending time with our children was the most important thing we could do.

Next I met Tony. (I have disguised his name for obvious reasons) I was flying back from Detroit and was on my Mac, trying to finish some work. Tony was the man sitting next to me on the flight. We had exchanged our initial greetings when we first met. Halfway through the flight, I heard Tony say, “I do not mean to pry, but I was watching you work. Are you some kind of an artist or what?”

I have to confess that I was somewhat thrilled at him calling me an artist.  At least one guy on this planet has been fooled!  When I explained to him that I have been traveling the country, speaking about responsible parenting, and that I have written a book about my own experiences, he wanted to see the book.  As miracles would have it, just then the book appeared. (To those of you who are not used to my attempted humor, I have the book always ready, anticipating these requests which come but once every few months.)

Tony looked at the book and saw my picture.  Then he looked at me to make sure it was me.  Assured that it was me, he quickly read the back cover where I have asked a few questions targeted toward parents. Within minutes, I heard Tony again, “These questions are simple. I know the answer to them all.”  I was excited as I, myself did not know the answers.

Here is a recap of Tony’s answers:
Q 1.   Why do men go after power and glory more than spending time at home to watch their babies grow?
Tony’s answer: Power and glory pay for life and comfort for our families. It is important to provide for one’s family.
Q2.  Why is it that men measure their lives by money, promotions, the size of their offices, and the kinds of cars they drive?
Tony’s answer: He did not know the last part, as Tony is self employed, but money is what pays for everything.  Growing up poor, Tony realized that without money, one has to worry about tough day to day problems.  Working hard to make money allows a man focus on my family, as then there are no day to day problems to worry about.
Q3.   Why is it that men never stop to think what matters in the long run?
Tony’s answer: Not true, as Tony is completely focused on the long term. Long term is about providing for his daughter.
At this point he looked at me in disbelief as he could not believe that I did not get it.

Q4.    Why is it that men invest all their time in a company that is sure to let them go one day?
Tony’s answer: Do not know as I am self employed.
Q5.    Why don’t men invest time in their daughters, instead, who will never fire them?
Tony’s answer: Hmm. Don't know.
Tony went on to talk about his ten year old daughter who lives with her mom in Detroit. Tony has business in Reno and in Detroit and moves back and forth to make sure everything is all right. As he went on talking, the one line that caught my attention was, “I know I am not at my daughter’s recital, but that is a choice I have to make. I work hard and miss her recitals so that she can actually be at the recital.”

Amazing logic! Or was it? Of course I do not know Tony’s daughter, but is that what she really wants? Does she want to play an expensive musical instrument under the supervision of an amazing and expensive tutor? Or does she want to simply play her heart out with dad and mom cheering her at home, in their living room? I do not know.  But I know that the evening before, PPC’s ten year old daughter and her friend performed an impromptu piano and violin concert for me in their dining room. When they finished it with a “grand finale style” dance, I knew it was one of best concerts I have ever been to.

Back in the flight, Tony was still talking. I was looking out of the window and watching the setting sun as we got close to Denver.

All of a sudden, I realized is that many a time, we fund our amazing ambitions with time we take from our children.

October 20, 2009

{Did I Miss My Daughter's Growing Up?}

{Traffic Light Dinner}

Life for Raka and me is unpredictable. The evenings are filled with Raka’s sports practice, music lessons, and study groups. In between, throw in frequent trips to the store and her mother’s home. Most of these are unplanned, they just happen. I try to just ride the waves and go with the flow. It is taking me some time to adjust to the lack of control.

Last Wednesday was one such evening. We had already had a tough evening, and the activities were just picking up. Raka was hungry, and I was hungry too. Our schedule was so tight that we did not have time to sit down and have a dinner together. It was the same as if I was the assistant to a busy executive. There are bound to be times both my boss and I would have to skip lunch.

As skipping dinner was looking eminent, suddenly I had an idea. I warmed some rice and egg curry, and put it in two different Tupperwares as Raka and I left the house for the last set of errands. As we drove, every time we stopped at a traffic light, we ate.

Finally, me being the cheesy dad that I am, I found a name for the dinner. Traffic light dinner! I was very excited to be the first father daughter team on the planet to enjoy the traffic light dinner. When I let Raka in on my discovery, she did not get it. I had to explain her, “just like a candle light dinner, today we have...”

Raka had heard enough. She said, “I get it, I get it, Dad. Grrr.” The last grrr was her way of showing me that my lines were too cheesy.

That night as we drove into the garage, I was still giggling about our traffic light dinner, and Raka was still not amused. But at least we had a dinner moment together. I wish I started this when she was younger, then she would have surely appreciated it.

October 13, 2009

{Money Spent Per Child Around the World}

{Do More Toys Mean Less Time Spent? Is it What Kids Really Want?}

To start, I really wished I had the numbers to prove my thought, but I do not. However, I really believe the numbers are somewhat in the right ball park.

I keep thinking about how many toys I had as a young kid growing up in India. Most of the gifts I got were books, and I would bet my parents received even fewer toys than I had.

When I start thinking about the early days of my daughter's childhood, I recall a room in her mom’s basement full of toys. Her bedroom in her mom’s house had so many plush toys that most nights she has to fight for space when she went to bed. And of course, she had more toys in her room at our home. My daughter’s case may be a slightly (or more than slightly) extreme case, magnified by the time I was absent and was trying to compensate for my absence by buying her more and more toys.

But is that what she wanted? Yes, the toys did act like “local anesthetics,” and may have made my daughter forget for a moment that her dad was absent. Maybe it was convenient for me to hide behind her “thank you, Dad, for the toy” and not worry about her repeated questions “what time will you be back from work, Dad?” Doesn’t it translate into the more toys my daughter got, the more time she missed out on spending with her dad?

The season for toy buying frenzy is just around the corner. This Christmas, why not buy fewer toys for our kids, and instead give them a “dad and daughter, all day together” gift certificate? And if we have to buy a gift, why not buy a gift that allows us to do a project together? My daughter’s favorite father daughter project was the “Pretty Petals Scented Flower Maker” project or the “home made pottery project” that we got from Michael’s.

I really wish someone gave me this wisdom a few years back and not 96 weeks before she leaves for college. But there is some good news. When I asked Raka about her favorite projects that she and I worked on when she was younger, her answer matched my guess.

Yess! Not bad!

October 6, 2009

{A Lost Dad}

{The Pursuit of Happyness}

Last Saturday, I got a chance to listen to Chris Gardner talk at Overland High School, in the Cherry Creek School District of Colorado. It was simply heartwarming to see Chris take the time and inspire the kids and parents in the community in their relationships. When I got home, I tried to compare the themes in both his and my book. I realized the common message in both was to “be present”.

In The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris went through a series of extreme adversities, but through all of them held on to one core thing, he wanted to be present as a father. His reward came recently when on the Oprah show, his son recalled that the only thing he remembers during those days that “his father was there with him, everyday.”

In Raising a Father, life was going great for me, and I had very few adversities. In the process of getting more of the good things in life, and achieving higher levels of success, I took my relationships for granted. My ultimate wake-up call came when my daughter confronted me with the sad truth that I did not know her. Very sad, and very unfortunate. Then started my journey to “be present” in my daughter’s life.

Chris’s son can take pride knowing that his dad was always present, and my daughter can take pride knowing that she influenced me to try to turn my life around and be present in her life.

Either way, for any parent, “being present” is the most important thing they can do.

Thank you Chris Gardner, the BLAACK (Building Leadership in the African-American Community for Kids), Prairie Middle School, Overland High School, and the Cherry Creek School District for making it happen. You can read more about Chris's message and the other speakers on the Cherry Creek School District website.

October 1, 2009

{Back to Where it Started}

Provo, Utah

Tonight I am in Provo, Utah. 20 years, 15 days, and a few hours after my first day in United States, I am back in the town where my journey in this country all started. In 1988, I was scared, I was apprehensive, I was excited, I had my life in front of me to pave it anyway I wanted. I had chosen academic excellence at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT and professional career advancement after that, but I did not know the price I was getting ready to pay.

Today I am a 46 year old divorced man and a proud dad. As my flight landed in the Salt Lake City International Airport, I wished I was back in 1988, I wished I could redraw my life, I could plan my life knowing where I was heading. There was regret, reflection, and remorse in the air. In the middle of the whole flashback my iphone rang. It was Raka.

"Dad, you landed? Everything ok?"

"Yes baby, all is good. Let me call you back once I get off the plane," I said.

The cloud of remorse and self reflection moved away and I could see my ray of light in life. True, I cannot go back and change the past, but I also realized that when I come back here in 10 more years, I may not have any regrets at all.

September 23, 2009

{Definitely Maybe: Perfect father daughter movie? Definitely maybe not.}

A few weeks back, when Raka had gone to a friend’s house, she started the movie Definitely Maybe but had to come back home before the movie finished. Since then, she has been asking me to get the DVD for her to watch, but somehow, somewhere, I have never remembered.

Today, Raka is not feeling in the best of health and did not go to school. This morning she asked me if I could get for her some dark chocolate and the movie Definitely Maybe. Feeling bad about her being sick, I stopped by at the local Target and WalMart before my meetings downtown. I found the dark chocolate, but not the movie and had to tell Raka that I tried, but could not get it.

All day during my meetings, the movie was bugging me. Hence on the way back, I stopped at Cheapo Disk on Colorado Blvd to look for the DVD. When I found a previously viewed copy I did not waste any time in grabbing it.

On the way back I kept thinking about my childhood. There were days when I would be sick and Maiji (my maternal grandmother) would make my favorite chicken stew and read books to me. Then there was that one instance when my dad brought me my favorite comic book. Somehow, during those sick days, a little bit of extra attention went along way in making me feel better.

Raka had a huge smile on her face as she saw the DVD. She grabbed it and then looked at me and said, “Dad, can we watch this together?”

I picked up the DVD and read the back cover. It is the story of a dad sharing his pre-divorce life with his daughter. Wow, a simply perfect story for Raka and I to watch this afternoon. I said “Definitely Yes.”


5:40 PM. Watched the first hour of the movie and could not take it. Raka was the first to raise her concern. “Dad, can you believe that the guy is saying all this to his eight year old daughter?” Yes, it is sad and embarrassing that the movie summary targets a father and a daughter, but is hardly a movie a father and daughter can watch together. Oh well! Even if the movie together plan did not work out, the thought was cute. May be we will stick with Disney.

September 16, 2009

{What do you do after you finish a book?}

Writing the book was the fun part.

It was fun to discuss with Oni (my brother who lives in Mumbai, India) the sequence of stories, and hearing from him over and over how I had no clue about what I was doing. It was fun to argue with Raka on what stories would be included in the book. Of course, I lost nearly all these arguments. It was fun to work with Cody and the team, and to see their excitement about the book. It made me feel that they are all better equipped to be better parents than I was at their age.

As I sit with a finished copy of the book in hand and re-read it, I try to find the most heart touching moments in the book.
  1. My all time favorite chapter: When Raka wanted to marry me.
  2. The two stories I would (most) like to reverse: Not being there when Raka was in her early childhood, and missing my brother’s wedding.
  3. The most uncomfortable moment: The gay incident.

I can bet that I will read the book many more times and find many more favorites in the book. I can see Raka at different ages walking around the book; reading it over and over is becoming kinda addictive.

But now comes the tough part. The tough part is to push the book, market the book, and make sales happen. Unfortunately that is necessary.

I would really love for someone to pick up the sales job and let me write on.

September 9, 2009

{A Tuesday Lunch with my Daughter}

What a Labor Day weekend it turned out to be! Even though Raka turns 16 on September 15th, I planned her sweet 16th birthday on September 5th, over the Labor Day weekend. Raka’s cousins Smita (from Miami) and Ajita (from Houston), and my cousin Sunuda and his family flew in from Houston for the weekend celebration.

Saturday evening, as we got ready for our dinner at Bistro Vendome in downtown Denver, Raka called me to see if she was dressed appropriately for the occasion. As I stared up from the bottom of the stairs, I saw the most enchanted scene yet in my life. Raka looked simply adorable. I breathed heavy to keep my emotions to myself and nodded as all her friends started pouring in. Initially, I made the reservation for 30 people for dinner, though we had invited nearly 45 people. (I was sure that this being a long weekend, not too many people would show up.) I underestimated Raka’s popularity; 41 out of 45 showed up, it was a good problem for dad to have.

As the evening progressed, I kept looking at Raka. Earlier she was my little princess, now she is a true princess enjoying every moment with her friends. In the middle of dinner, I surprised Raka with the first copy of the book. She smiled and gave me a big hug.

After Saturday’s celebration, the cousins went back home, and Raka and I reluctantly went back to our normal lives. When I was dropping Raka at school on Tuesday morning, she asked me if I could bring her home for lunch. At 11:20 AM I got a call from Raka to pick her from school. She and two other friends came home for lunch and I made grilled cheese sandwiches for them while they started a study group discussion over lunch.

Now I am in my home office, listening to Raka and friends in the dining room. They are studying, they are giggling and enjoying every moment.

As I am catching up on my emails and writing this blog, I feel fortunate (again), pleased, and truly appreciative to be able to be home on a Tuesday and listen to my daughter her friends giggle over lunch while I work.

Isn't life great?

September 2, 2009

{The Book is Printing!}

{The Book will be here September 15th!}

Publishing this book has been a learning experience. Even though the publishing team has been helpful, it was my ignorance about what it takes to publish a book that created a lot of frustration for me. Now all that is behind me, the book is at the printer’s, and it should be available for purchase in two weeks.

The publishing journey started in April. Initially the target launch date was June 21st, Father’s Day. As Father’s Day came and went, my frustration with the time line started to increase, but finally, the book is will be ready around September 15th. And September 15th is Raka’s Sweet 16th Birthday.

When I sit back and chill, I cannot think of a better time for the book release. I guess there are times destiny has a plan better than what we can plan ourselves.

For all those who have supported me in the last five months, I express my heartfelt gratitude to you. I look forward to your support, comments, advice, and thoughts as book takes its baby steps in the world of reality.

August 26, 2009

{The Last First-Day of School}

Raka started her Junior year this Monday. The first day of school this year was no different than most years, as she had a special set of clothes and a pair of new blue shoes, all ready for the first day.

When we got to the school, she darted out of the car and I waited for a moment to see my fashionable daughter run in to meet her friends.

On my way back home I passed a middle school, then an elementary school. The streets were filled with kids in colorful clothes, new bag-packs and nervous yet excited parents. It felt for a second that it was springtime and I was in the midst of a colorful Easter egg hunt. My mind drifted back to Raka’s first day of high school, then further back to Raka’s first day of middle school, then her first day in all the elementary schools she has attended. Yes, my corporate jobs and travels had forced Raka to attend at least three different elementary schools.

All the memories from the past were flashing in my mind but reality sunk in as I pulled into the drive-way. I realized that I have witnessed a lot of amazing first days of school, but after this there will be only one more left. But wait, next year Raka most probably will drive to school on her first day, and I will be watching from the window as her little red Nissan Sentra pulls into the street. I can't believe I did not even realize that this was the last time I was dropping Raka for her first day of school.

How time flies. I wished I would have known this the night before so I could have driven a little slower and savored every moment.

August 3, 2009

{Fatherhood: The Best Job on the Planet}

Friday, July 31, 2009

The corporate world was busy trying to wrap up their work for the week and for the month end before they left for home. I was already home, sitting at my desk, working before I headed out for a few errands. Suddenly I heard the security system beep indicating that someone has opened the garage door. That could mean only one thing, Raka was back.

Raka left at eight that morning to run with her school cross country team. I got up and went to the garage to find the entire cross country and track team there, outside the house. Raka saw me and gave a loud, warm shout, “Hi Dad!” Some of the kids knew me and added to her loud greeting, “Hi Mr. Sen!” Before the screams faded, Raka yelled again, “Dad, can you get me a pair of scissors, please?”

I did not know why they needed a pair of scissors, but there was no time to ask. I dashed into the house and came back with scissors and a jug of cold water. I realized that Raka was handing her fellow runners frozen popsicles as treats. The scissors were needed to cut the corners. The girls all stood as I walked over and cut the edges of the popsicles. As they took their first bites of the popsicles, the coach on the bike indicated it was time to get back on the road. The kids slowly got back on the road and screamed out one last time, “Thank you Mr. Sen!” At the end of the scream, I heard one voice stand out, “Thank you dad.”

I stood at the garage door for a second. I do not why, but I felt thrilled with life.

As I went back to my desk and tried to finish my work I still had a smile on my face. I have the best job on the planet.

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.


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.