My dad died suddenly when I was 15 years old. He was a bit of a trailblazer, the first of his friends to migrate to the US in the 1960’s, landing at the University of Minnesota. I’m not sure how that process even worked—I can’t imagine researching and applying was very simple. Then he moved to Alabama in the 60’s. Clearly, he wasn’t reading the news. Our family continued to bounce around between Alabama, South Carolina (where I was born) and Atlanta.
My dad was a world class structural engineer, but always had a side-hustle: travel agencies, real estate deals, import export. Then finally he built a structural engineering firm in the US. When I was 13, my Dad shared that he had a dream to move back to India. Hmmm… Most Indians were hustling to come to the US, and he wanted to go back. He thought that the future was in India. This was 1984… He launched a Design-Build firm and then died a year later, leaving total chaos in his wake.
Though I only had a short time with my Dad, he managed to teach me some pretty major lessons.
1. Help people with no expectations in return. Even when many of the people he helped turned around and screwed him over, he still kept helping. I guess he never heard the “fool me once…” saying.
2. You don’t live forever, so take risks while you can. After he died, I was really resentful that we had to clean up the entrepreneurial chaos he left behind. Later in life, I realized during that time, I gained experience that can’t be taught.
3. Relationships are about quality, not quantity. Also, reset your expectations with people and human nature.My dad had a ton of friends. After his death, only a few were around; the rest went MIA. “Ride or die” isn’t really a thing, and it’s an unfair expectation to have of your friends.
4. You can choose to be happy. I did not inherit the innate sensitivity of balanced people. I work every day to stay open. Laughing comes easy; crying does not. I saw my dad do both, quite frequently. Regardless of stress, he was always having fun and laughing. He taught me through example that instead of seeking a beacon of light, you can choose to be that beacon.
5. Still waters run deep. My dad was brilliant. It was a large shadow for me and my siblings. He was also quiet when other people talked. He once told me that being smart was having the ability to be quiet and learn from others.
6. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Especially the things that we don’t think we are very good at. I recently spent time reading my dad’s work journals from his time at Heery, Portman and MARTA. Within those pages, he highlighted every internal memo and picked apart each sentence and word, often scribbling notes and definitions in the margins. English being his second language, he wanted to fully understand these memos, and worked to learn more every day.
There are days that I miss my dad, because I didn’t get enough time with him, because he missed out on meeting the fantastic #ReddyBoyz, because he’s not around to celebrate my successes and failures. I also can’t imagine what type of person I would be now if I hadn’t become emotionally independent at age 15. I sometimes forget what he looked like, sounded like or acted like. Fortunately, I hear his laugh in my brother Prabhaker, see his fun side in my sister Aru and his gentle caring of people in my oldest brother Babu.
Not that Moms aren’t equally as important. But it’s Father’s Day people.