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.

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!

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!

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!