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.