June 20, 2011

{7 Things I Did Right As A Dad}

Another Father's Day has come and gone.  Between Hallmark cards, golf and grilling stuff, or t-shirts that say "Best Dad", everyone was in a frenzy to buy something for dad. To capture this frenzy, both online and offline publications published a "Best Father's Day Gifts” list, like NYC’s PopSugar Inc. list.  Most of the lists are nearly the same, but during my search I came across a site that was a little different. Squidoo.com offered gift suggestions like all the other sites, but before their list they put the concept of Father's Day in perspective for us all.

 Here is the text from their site that touched me: "Children blessed with a loving father should consider themselves very lucky and take advantage of Father’s Day to connect more closely with Dad. Dad always pulled through when you needed him and Father’s Day is a time to thank him for taking care of their needs and interests while growing up. We all owe a big thank you to our loving Dads."

A hug from Raka and her thoughts – full, sincere, deep, and from the bottom of her heart – touch me, I don’t need external validation. I believe that true judging comes from inside.  Some of you will remember when I wrote about how past mistakes cannot be undone by being present today. I was very hard on myself then. Today I still feel that emotion, but at the same time, as Raka gets close to leaving for NYU in fall, I feel proud of the dad I have been to her.

Life is not about perfection, and I am not the perfect dad. However, I have no regrets about the past ten years of my life as a dad. I look back at some of the defining moments. In every one of them I had help from someone. Despite having help, I still give myself credit for listening and acting.  On this Father’s Day I reflected on some of the defining moments in my life as a dad:

1. Responding to the most important wake-up call in my life:  In 2001, when Raka told me that I did not know her, it was easy to ignore her. Instead, I realized the dad in me had to step up as I could not break her little heart any more. Quitting my corporate job was considered by many as a CLM (career limiting move) but today I realize I needed to make that CLM in order to live the best life possible, to be the best dad possible.

2. Acting responsibly through the divorce: Just like in any divorce, Raka's mom and I were tempted to say nasty things about each other during our separation. Wisdom from my brother taught me my relationship with Raka's mom was ending, hence I had no business giving her feedback or trying to change her during the divorce. (Especially, after I had failed to do so during the marriage.) For those of you who know me personally, you know keeping quiet is not easy for me but I did it anyway. I found though, keeping quiet also came with a price, as the community around me took my silence as consent to all the accusations that were being hurled at me. Even through the pain, I found something bigger. I got in touch with the dad in me who was proud he was doing something to protect his daughter.

3. Understanding Raka's plight growing up in a divided home: Growing up in a divorced household is not easy. I saw this most clearly the day Raka reminded me she never wanted two homes and how tough it is to live in two homes during the same week. I have tried to empathize with her and cut her some slack because of this. Looking at the bigger picture, I have always known being a dad is not a popularity contest. Therefore, finding a balance of being empathetic for her situation while still being the dad was important in life.

4. Being firm, assertive and true to beliefs: Over time, as Raka and I grew confident in our connection, I have not hesitated to exert myself on issues where I felt the boundaries were being crossed. A big part of this came from a statement Raka made to me when she was five.  I was mad at her for something and told her that she was a bad girl. In reaction to this, little Raka told me I was wrong. She was not bad. Rather, she was a good girl but her actions at the time were not good. Wow! This perspective of good and bad was one of the biggest things I’ve learned from all of these experiences.

5. As times together grow less and less, it is important to appreciate the times more:  I have to confess, as Raka went through her senior year this year,  I got less one-on-one time with her.  A part of me did complain inaudibly, but it made me appreciate our time together even more.

6. Take a step back and enjoy watching her in the background of her life: To truly appreciate Raka, I had to see her in the background of her life. Seeing her rescue Model UN in her high school, being the constant cheer leader to her running buddies, the way she dashed out of the house when a friend of hers was in trouble, or the caring nurturing way she took her grandpa on a trip to California... all helped me appreciate my daughter even more.

7. Truly respect her as a budding adult and my friend: Respect to me is a big thing and I had to give Raka respect in order to earn it back. Respect does not mean bending over backwards and letting her do whatever she wants. To me, respect is how we interacted. I made sure I respected her when I was being assertive and holding her accountable. As a result, we have evolved as friends, as true buddies. This evolution happened over time and only when I could take a step back from being a dad. The timing for this transition was critical as being a friend too early would have been a disaster and being just a dad all the time would have alienated her.

As I write reflect on these moments, hindsight takes over. Based on this I know I could do a few things differently, but I am resisting the temptation for now as I am proud of the dad I have been thus far. The journey ahead is totally different. I am a little unsure on how to proceed, but I am sure the dad in me will figure it out. I am also sure that being dad will continue to be the most defining role in my life in the years ahead.
I love you Raka!  Thank you!