March 30, 2010

{5 Dos & Donts to Reconnect with your Kids: DO #2}

Do #2: Feed Your Way In
There is nothing more incredible than seeing the reaction of a child when you cook his/her favorite meal and serve it with style -- and not just on their birthday.  

When I make an elaborate lobster ravioli dinner for my daughter on a school night, it is fun to see her surprise and delight when she walks into the kitchen and begins to register what is going on. Halfway through the meal she will look up and say, “May I have some water?”  As I give a glass of water to my hungry child gulping down the meal, I smile and say to myself, “No thanks necessary, it is my pleasure to serve you.”

March 23, 2010

{5 Do's & Don'ts to Reconnect with your Kids: DO #1}

With Mother’s Day six weeks from this weekend and Father’s Day another four weeks after, I decided to start thinking back about lessons I've learned as a dad.  I have put together some "do's and don'ts for parents" that I have learned from my experiences. For those who have read the book, know that the one thing I can brag about my batting average as a dad is that it is getting better. Hence, take everything with a pinch of salt.  Of course I would love to hear about your do's and don'ts too! Feel free to leave your comments under the post!

Do #1: Be Present

Time is the most amazing gift a parent can give their child. And when you make your gift of time a surprise, the time is magnified in your child’s eyes and becomes ingrained in their heart.

Example: I try to work from home as much as I can, and my reward comes when I get this call from school: “Dad, are you home?” I know she needs me to run something to her at school.  The phone call gives me the same excitement Batman has when he sees his call in the sky of Gotham.  I listen, grab what she needs, and dash out in my dad-mobile.  Getting to see her for a second as I drop off what she needs is a reward in itself. And if I can remember to bring along a bottle of Gatorade or water, I can score some extra credit.

March 17, 2010

{In Search of a Non-Working Parent}

When thinking about "working parents", it is easy to focus on parents working away from home.  But then I have to ask myself the question, is the role of a stay-at-home parent any less stressful in today’s world?

To answer the question, I wrote a job description for today’s stay-at-home parent:

  • Visionary, can see the big picture
  • Human resources experience in managing a tough team
  • Excels in project management without using the most updated technological tools
  • Finance wizard who can meet budgetary needs (for ever increasing costs of academics and activities) without a government bail-out
  • Conflict resolution expert
  • Crisis management guru
  • Positive personality
  • A great listener
  • Can multitask
  • Will never, ever quit
  • Is happy to have the job (and not expect any appreciation)

Now that is not one tough job, a job not for the faint of heart. In fact, it is equally as challenging (if not more) as any job away from home!

March 10, 2010

{Being Hard on Myself}

Before I posted last week's blog post, I sent out a pre-posting to a select few fans of the blog to get their reaction. The reason for asking for feedback was simple. I wrote from my heart but was unsure. I know each of you have a busy life and was not sure how many of you will be able to take time to write back.

I was amazed when I got the feedback. Wow! I was touched. Of course each of you are very involved in your relationships in life and your feedback helped me understand that there are different ways to “BE PRESENT” in the relationships in our life. But the part a lot of you disagreed with me was about me being “too hard on myself for past failures.”

I thought for a while and I humbly disagree with you all on this issue. This works in the business world, but not in relationships. Let me tell you two stories from my childhood which have never stopped haunting me. 

The first one, those of you who read the book know. It is about my debut as a soccer goalie when I was in grade three. The debut was not a “great launch” to my soccer career as I had more than my fair share of embarrassing moments when I let two goals in. The worse thing, however was when I slipped and fell as I went to retrieve the ball from the net. None of those mattered as much as seeing my parents watching behind the goal line and finding my failure of slipping funny. I have heard that story repeated over and over by my parents to my friends, but I have yet to find it funny.

The story that left a deep bruise in me happened when I was just two years old. I have to confess that I do not remember the event happening but I have heard the story repeated over and over. Every time my parents start telling the “stale story,” I become uncomfortable. I know every pause in the story. The story goes as follows: I was two years old and living with my parents in New Delhi. They were renting the second floor of a flat. On weekends, my dad would sit and read the newspaper and I would be outside playing on the balcony.

On this particular day, my dad was reading his newspaper, my mom was in the kitchen making breakfast, and I was out on the balcony, with my clothes off, enjoying life and maybe scaring passersby. My mom made toasted bread for dad and I. That day there was no butter in the house. So dad was a bit disappointed as he chewed on the toast without butter between sipping his cup of tea. Finally he noticed that I was trying to reach out to him from the window that opened to the balcony. I had my partially eaten toast with butter on it.

This upset my dad. He called my mom and asked why I got toast with butter and not he. My mom was perplexed. They both rushed to me to see how I got butter on my toast.

This is the part where my parents will pause when they tell the story. It is a pause before the grand finale. Then they would laugh out loud as my dad discloses to my friends, “Arjun’s mom and I realized that Arjun had pottied and very neatly spread it on his toast, as he ate it.” The whole room at that point will burst into laughter. The only person who doesn’t laugh is me.

It was only a few years back when I heard the story for the hundredth time, I intervened and told my parents that I do not want to hear that story again. “This story is not funny! This is a story of neglect and recklessness. This is a story that makes me sad and hurt!”

As you can see, the events of the past that we face as a child stay with us. They shape our lives and our memories. Crossing the hills of happy moments leaves a sweet memory mark on us, but the gorges of pain cut a wound that is deep and the pain stays forever.

Hence when I am being hard on myself, I know that I cannot change the past. To me, however, that is the driver and constant reminder to stay in the present and not go back to the past.

March 1, 2010

{Coming Out of H-I-B-E-R-N-A-T-I-O-N}

Three Weeks of Thinking

 The year started with a storm.  Raka’s second half of her Junior year has been the most challenging time in her academic life thus far.  She is dealing with it her own way.  Her way of planning or preparing may fall short of my expectations at times, but she is still reaching her desired level of success, in her own way.  My challenge has been to sit back and not try to push her be a mini-me.  Instead, I am enjoying watching her blossom into “Raka”. 

I have not focused on book sales and speaking since the end of the year.  I have been feeling a lot of guilt for losing the momentum, primarily because of my withdrawn effort.  On top of this, my work pressure has increased and I have had some minor health hiccups.  All together, life has been like a pressure cooker that may explode any minute.

In that scenario, I still felt compelled to blog every Tuesday night.  Some of the blog postings have been forced and not spontaneous.  Finally I told myself, enough is enough.  I need a break.  I need to think. 

As I started thinking, I realized that I was very confused and conflicted.  I felt that I was failing as a business person to push the book, but I was happy as a dad.  As this was a familiar conflict of the past, I decided to reach deep inside for guidance.   The search helped me connect five guiding principles I developed for myself as I wrote the book.  Even though I claim the honor of developing the guiding principles, I have to confess all these are a result of the seeds planted by my Maiji (grandma) and nurtured by Raka.  Once I integrated the five guiding principles, my answer was right in front of me.

Before I share the answer, let me share the five guiding principles:

Guiding Principle 1:  Vision of the book is just to touch one more person.
Just like any other author, I too dream that the book will be featured as a “national bestseller” and I will be sitting across from Oprah or Ellen discussing the book.  But was that the vision of the book?  Or is that my professional ambition is trying to hijack the vision of the book?  The vision of book was very clearly defined by Raka as “to touch one more person, and after you touch one more person, touch the next person.”  This vision is a personal and authentic extension of what Raka has done by touching my life.  So why am I feeling guilty about not pushing book sales?
Hence the time is now to rededicate myself back to the original vision.  I guess just like any addiction, the seeds of the weed-like addiction inside of me are trying to jump out again.  In a moment like this, it is better to go back to the basics and find the value and vision that helped me kill the weed the first time.

Guiding Principle 2:  Share, don’t teach.
Being a consultant on the professional side and a past marketing faculty member at the University of Colorado, Boulder, I have a natural tendency to teach.  But in this case, am I qualified to teach?  What do I know about parenting?  I do not know how to raise a boy.  I do not have experience in dealing with other challenges other parents face regularly.  Does the fact that my name is on the cover of a book, give me the right to teach?  As I kept pondering, a quote that Maiji used to repeat regularly came back to me, “people who can do, people who cannot teach.”  Am I trying to cover up my failures by trying to be a pseudo expert? This made me realize that I’d better go back to sharing.  Sharing is creating an environment of information sharing where two people talk about their vulnerabilities and in the process recommit to be better parents.

Guiding Principle 3:  Being born again in a “relationship” does not give bragging rights.
Yes, today I can say with a straight face that I am a better father, as every day I try to be present in my daughter’s life.  I am not there yet and will never be, but the effort is the only measure of the focus of my journey.  The bigger question is, does me being a better father now in any way erase the pain caused my daughter in the past.  Can I ever forget her statement when she told me, “Dad, you broke my little heart?”  No Arjun, no.  Today’s effort does not vindicate me of past failures.
Maiji used to say that in life, one can either forgive or forget, but not both.  In a relationship, one forgives and gives you a second chance but never forgets.  The smallest of things revokes memories of past failures.  I have seen that in Raka when I talk about companies offering me jobs, her first worry is that, will this goofball leave again.  Sorry Raka, I am trying hard, and I promise to strive hard to not being absent ever again.  When one cannot forgive, they choose to forget in the case the person chooses to put the relationship away in a compartment and move forward.  I am glad I woke up before Raka decided to forget me instead of forgiving.

Guiding Principle 4:  Every success comes at a price.
Yes, I want to go out there and spread the message of the book, but as I learned from my corporate days, every effort comes at a price and the price is usually time taken away from those close to you.  In this case, any time I take to spread the message will be time I take time away from Raka. Is that in the spirit of Raising a Father?
I do not think so.

Guiding Principle 5:  I am ready to fail in every other part of life and in every other relationship as long as I can give an A+ to myself as a father.
This to me is the simplest of guiding principles, but has a few elements. 
First it goes back to the conflict of balance vs. choice.  Balance is what we all strive for, but those dear to us must know, that if one has to choose, he/she will choose the dear one over everything else.  That is what instills confidence.
Second, it’s about clear prioritization.  I know I want to do well in every aspect of my life as I am driven and a proficient multi-tasker.  But I am not a super human (yet).  Hence I need to clearly define the non-negotiable areas if things get stressed.  As I asked the question, the answer came to me.  Being a dad who is always present is non-negotiable, I cannot lose sight of that.  I know I will not fail in other areas, but if I get one A+ on my report card, I will make sure that it is in the subject of being a father.
The important part, the report card I give myself.  All problems always arose for me when I let others judge my success in life.  Instead, let me go back to the basics and wrest control of my life and only I will pass the judgment of my failure.

As I processed through all this, I felt relieved.  It felt like the sun was breaking through after a series of cloudy days.  I was smiling again.  I could see the rainbow again and as I took a few steps forward, my rainbow buddy, Raka was there to hold my hand.

What does all this mean?
Nothing much other than that I feel good again, the same way I felt the day after I quit the corporate world.  A fresh restart is all I gave myself and this time I did not cause pain to Raka.  I booked our five day road trip in the east coast over Raka’s spring break to visit colleges.  In fact Raka will be visiting colleges and I will be simply staring at the marvel in my life, a miracle, who, from a little child, is now growing into a young lady who is ready to spread her wings and fly into the outer world.  I know as she flies out, she will look back at me for an instant and say, “I love you daddy.”

I love you too Raka.