5 Life Lessons From My Father

When my husband and I were still dating, I remember one evening when I got into the car talking on the phone. As my call ended, I looked up to see him grinning widely. I arched my eyebrow and he simply asked, that was your dad, wasn’t it? Cagily, I responded in the affirmative. The grin turned into a full-blown guffaw as he told me that my voice goes all soft and little-girl like when I talk to my old man.

While I still think my husband read too much into it, my father has always been a very special person for me. He is the first feminist I have been fortunate to experience. When I was born, my grandmom wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of another daughter for her youngest son. But, I am told, he strongly expressed his delight about having two daughters. Not just that. Recently, he was accused of being a daughterist and he happily pleaded guilty to the charge!

Today, he turns 70. Off late, Elementum Money has become a vehicle of my being able to express my feelings that I may not always be able to show in person, even for family. Although, having been lazy, I missed a landmark birthday of my sister last year (which shall be made up for by the next landmark), here’s to celebrating my father with five life lessons I take from him.

1. Enablement is the best form of love

I have now come to the conclusion that there are two ways to show love. One, you can molly coddle the person in question and do everything for them making sure to serve it all on a platter. Two, you steel yourself, make them do things on their own even if it means to watch them stumble so that you are making them stronger. In a simpler way, you can either give them fish or teach them to fish.

My father has always believed in the latter version. His favourite dialogue is log poochhte poochte amreeka pahunch jaate hain which translates to people can achieve big things like reaching American shores simply by asking enough people.

So, be it pushing my mom to go to get some work done alone in the big bad city of Delhi. Or to teach me and my sister to take public buses alone in our early teens. The mantra has always been to make sure we are always bold enough to figure our way out, even from messes we might create.

Now, when I meet people who have for years not moved beyond a certain radius, I realise the value of this tough love.

2. Fret on preparation, not on the result

During our exam preparation, the focus was always on how much effort we put in. Results were important, but not as much as the effort. So, my scores in class 12 maths board and CAT exams are something I might brush off with the thought that it could have been better, my dad remains proud of it because he saw the effort I put in. In fact, despite my mum rolling my eyes every time now, he happily narrates the stories of my maths journey in class 12 (his favourite subject) to anyone who will lend him an ear.

Recently too, I watched him go to all possible efforts to get an issue resolved in the society that they live in. But, when the result wasn’t favourable, he shrugged it off like water off a duck’s back. His point remained simple that he tried his best in what he thought was good for the society. The result is finally not in his control.

Although, truth be told, I wasn’t able to see it that clearly until I read Jack Canfield’s Success Principles. It is finally the effort that you can do something about. When result is out of your control, it’s much more beneficial for you to just let go rather than hold on to it. I am trying to imbibe it and my father, even now, provides inspiration for it.

3. Choose roots instead of rote

One of the things my dad’s proud of is how his daughters did not need private tuitions beyond what was taught at school. For our maths and physics (in my sister’s case), struggles, he would devote time almost every evening to help us out.

That is when his insistence of understanding the root of a concept was drilled in. While the easier route was to simple memorise maths theorems, he insisted that it’s important to understand why we do what we do.

To me, constant drilling of this maxim has also meant I try to not blindly follow a herd in almost any aspect. This thought permeated my head to now define a lot of my actions. Often the idea to do something just because everyone is doesn’t cut it for me. I still consider “start with why” as my go-to thought starter for anything.

4. Be open to new people and experiences

This, I think, is a legacy bequeathed to my father from my grandmum. Even though she spent her life in a small village in Punjab, she was one bold woman for her era. When she used to visit us in Delhi, as a habit she would go down to the park in our society. In a mix of barely discernible Punjabi and Hindi, she would attempt talking to just about anyone. Even for new experiences, for someone in her era she was game.

Similarly, my father is comfortable around most people. He will try and strike up a conversation and talk about different things. When it comes to new things be it cuisines, TV shows, places or experiences he mostly gets into them without a qualm. In fact, he is one of the few people who actually read my sister’s PhD. dissertation even without much of a background in the science. Although the fact that he went ahead for sky diving just four years back is enough of a clue for me as to how true this thing holds for him.

5. Love thy work

I have seen my father being committed to and actually loving his work. Be it designing new studios for All India Radio or working on different technical projects for TV channels, I have barely heard him crib about it.

Additionally, he has always encouraged me and my sister to go for our passions. If he thought that our path may not be very suitable, he would slyly nudge us away. During my graduation years, I got this thought in my head of wanting to become a sports journalist. Having done some technical projects for news channels, he didn’t think it was a very suitable idea. So, he arranged for a 2 month internship in a local hindi news channel which got the devil out of me. In his books, you can really not give your heart and soul to something if you don’t enjoy it. And if you are spending most of your hours in a day at something, it’s just not sustainable to hate it.

In all the clamour of early retirement around me, in my mind I am clear I want to swim the other way. I know work, if I like it, makes me a happier person. I would rather not think of retirement as an option at all.

I owe a lot of my outlook to life and career to my father. Even when I might have a difference of opinion, it is possible because I have been taught to think for myself and to value disagreements.

Here’s to a wonderful 70 years and many many more decades of continuing to be inspired by you, Papa!

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