Lived, Loved…

I am looking for a third word. That word, that descriptor, that simple verb, that will encapsulate and finalize my life when I am gone.  It’s as if, at my life celebration, there will be three words that may emblazon cocktail napkins; will be part of the vocabulary that people will use that late afternoon. I know the first two words: 

Lived, Loved, …… 



What’s the third word? Adventured… Dreamt… Climbed? 



None of these truly captures the essence of everything I believe in, or want to be remembered by. 

My goal is to not leave any debris behind, when I leave. But, if I were to have an epitaph somewhere, or a brick that had my name on it at a school park, what three words would I like to be remembered by? Drank wine (too many words)? Boated? Maybe it’s Devoured?  

At the beautiful ripe age of fifty, why am I thinking of an epitaph. It’s not that I have a death wish, or have recently diagnosed a debilitating disease.  

I am at a good place where, whether its one day or another seven seven thousand days (~20 years), I want to look back and say I did these three things well and those are the best descriptors of my short time on earth.

 
I believe that what we say, think or write down, ultimately has a higher likelihood of happening. Hence, I must choose carefully and select that third word that will determine my destiny for the rest of my days. 

I believe that words are everything. 

Words are powerful. What you say, is critical and important. 

 Words can start or break relationships or wars; words can also soothe your soul and change a persons life. I have been told that words of affirmation have helped people think of their careers; in one instance, a young project manager at a place I worked, came in and resigned because he had read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I had given to him as a holiday gift, where Coelho talks about being a Shepard or a Baker. At his exit interview, he told me he didn’t want to be the baker, or in his case, a project manager – he wanted to be the Shepard, and fly jets around the world. He went on to become a pilot.

 Hence, one of the first thing I teach my children, and at work, that we must choose our words carefully. Be selective. When it comes to verbalizing our thoughts, almost always… Less is More. 

In today’s environment, where blustering twitter feeds, insults and promulgations, some of our ephemeral leaders are bombastic and freely throwing words around, that mean nothing; they command attention for thirty seconds, and somehow take up empty space, like that extra sweater in your closet that you haven’t worn for years.

In this verbose environment, words are even more important and require even more careful introspection. Words cannot be just thrown out and expected to be forgotten. In the world of ether, whether it’s a hurtful text, or a drunken insult, it’s out there, forever.  

I would love to have the word Inspired. But that sounds self-promoting; I wouldn’t mind, Laughed. I could live (or in this case, die with that!).  Friends have suggested Cared ! I love it. 

Have you thought about your 3 words? 

I am open to suggestions.  

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Serendipity, Happenstance and Toast with Guacamole


I do believe in serendipity and happenstance.

And I believe that things happen for a reason. At that happening moment, often, we don’t realize what that reason maybe; over time, we understand why this just needed to happen.

Also, I see, that the series of experiences I have had, were just preparing me for this moment of time.  

Today, I closed on my first holiday-home (and possible final home) in Oakland Park, Florida. For seven months, I have been following the construction of this home; cinderblock by cinderblock, windows, doors, electric wires and tile work. As if, I am preparing for a child to be born. 

When you talk about serendipity or happenstance, on this same date, I arrived in the US, some 32 years ago. Maybe the date is just a coincidence.  

I started my new life in this new country, bursting with desire and ambition. Even after so many years, my heart and mind are just as excited by possibilities of love, friendship, a great meal, or a bottle of wine.  

This morning, Shania, my twelve year old and I drive to sign the paperwork at the closing office; all the way, I keep thinking of the first home I bought on Merrimack Lane in Toledo, some 24 years ago. I remember the night before the closing of my first home; my mom and I kept talking about the concept of buying a “home”. She was worried that if I bought a home in the US, I would never return to Bangladesh. She was right.  

She sat with me through the signing of papers, insurance and documents. At the end she asked me, “Bujhcho, shobkichu?” (Did you understand everything?)  

Today, my strong Shania sits with me, quietly, for more than hour, while we go through some 30 signatures, deeds, titles, insurance….all of it. Later, she acknowledges, it was really boring, but she didn’t bring her headphones to the closing because she thought it was impolite. I am grateful she is here; I believe she is here for a reason more than, just that I asked her to be there. Just like my mother, twenty-four years ago, she is is providing me strength and support to nurture my dreams along.  

We get home and Daiyaan arrives; we unpack boxes and put things away. We are sleeping on air mattresses tonight, just like camping. Sheets are unfolded. New dishes are put in the new dishwasher; new towels are hung up. All to the girls’ favorite music – dancing, joyful and bright.  

In the evening, my friends Toby and Ray, bring champagne. We toast in our new glasses, nibble on tapas, listen to good music and break out into utter goofiness. I feel like I have been designing and planning for this day, all my life.  

The goal tomorrow is to make breakfast for my girls, at our new home.  

Multi-grain bread with Guacamole, sunny-side up eggs on toast, and a sprinkling of Sriracha. Orange juice, hot tea or coffee.  

This is a great day for my family. 32 years from landing in this beautiful place, to 24 years from learning to buy a new home, I am here today because I have been preparing for this day. This is no coincidence. This was meant to be; Guacamole toast for my princesses, and a hot cup of red-rose tea for me.  

Our First Drinks at our New Home

Magic School Bus and Convertible Dreams: May 2017

As a young boy in Joypahar, I had two very special dreams; ride a yellow bus to school, and own a “Noddy” car.

I am certain, both dreams were connected with seeking some form of independence of being my own person and being on my own.

In the early 70s Bangladesh,  yellow school bus service was not available; once, in the United States, I did ride a school bus and found it to be a jarring experience; uncomfortable seats and bullying kids were much more than any form of independence than I had bargained.

(The Classic Noddy Car: Enid Blyton Series)

The Noddy Car dream is more obvious. He was my favorite childhood character idol, who did good deeds and saved the world. Just after turning 40, I did buy a convertible, that looked very much like an adult version of the Noddy open hood car. And I loved every moment of owning and driving my Noddy Car around.

Consciously or not, we are shaped by our dreams, going new places, accomplishing things, and eventually, becoming who we are.

Dreams don’t have to be spectacular, world-changing or expensive, they just have to be dreams; something you desire, or think is worthy of pursuit.

I watch friends climb the K2 or run marathons, start businesses or bands, buy island properties, give all their best to a cause they believe in; all of this, pursuing a passion, changing the world or not.

Not all dreams are perfect, nor do they need to come true.

At a very young age, I dreamed of being like my Dad; wanted to wear a tie, and a suit to go to work – and to cocktail parties in the evenings. I did accomplish that dream – but soon thereafter, found ties and dress shirts to be “choking”, and prefer to go to work in jeans and a polo.

After traveling the world, having three “dream jobs”, living in “dream homes”,  and owning “dream cars”, I ask someone recently, if I have the right to dream more. One may wonder, whether one has used up their dream quotient. But if one doesn’t have dreams, how do we move forward, if you have nothing that you crave for or look forward to?

Since my mother’s passing last year, I feel like I have become unanchored from my by birth land. I speak the language and look like them – but I don’t relate to the aspirations of my contemporaries. Except for a handful of childhood friends, and a few close family members, I don’t have the urge to assimilate to Dhaka. When I land back in the US and the immigration official says, “Welcome home, Mr. Mahmood” – I get chills.

Stepping into my fifties, I have started dreaming of anchoring again. Earlier, I have written about Anchoring in An Uncertain Sea. This Anchoring has a different feel to it.

Interesting, that the young boy, who once craved independence in a school bus or a convertible, now seeks his own tether.

Today, I crave that opportunity to launch a kayak for lunch towards that café down river, and to live close to loved ones, who accept me as family, and are there when dark clouds of difficulty surround me.

Being part of a bigger whole, seems to make more sense now.

(My future kayak launch: photo courtesy Toby Blades)

Recently, I have also been gifted the opportunity to write, what I want my Chapter Three to be. The children are grown up, and I am still healthy, and in an emotionally open place to carve out what I want to do for the third quarter of my life.

Some say, start your own business, or do something truly philanthropic, or get into CEO coaching (because your’e so good at it!)

I know whatever I step into, the most important thing is that, I will have fun along the way.

I thrive in collaboration, versus confrontation. I am most present, when there is creativity and “puzzle-problem-solving” involved. I have twenty-five years of experience in a variety of environments that are worth sharing to do something meaningful. I know, that new opportunity/dream will emerge when the time is right.  Dreams are neither pushed, nor pulled.

I don’t want to ride a school bus, I want to get my (mental) convertible back.

In the meantime, the kayak awaits, the water beckons; let me feel the gentle breeze on my face, the sun on my back, the sound of the water slurping all around me.

This is good, for now.

Fear in a Father-Daughter Conversation: Feb 2017

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We find a great place in Delray for Dinner!

 

This is not the typical dinner conversation a father has with his twenty-one year old daughter on a Saturday evening.

Usually, when together, we talk about her friends, her classes, and her work. Within a few hours, we learn about each other’s worlds, and participate in our growth as a parent and a child. As my first born, she has taught me how to be a father. I experiment with her – bounce off politics, religion and familiar topics. Sometimes we roleplay in adversity and joy.

She knows that my optimism about America, borders on grandstanding; I have always been vocal about my aspirations about this nation. She knows, if one works hard and is willing to give our best, we can achieve everything possible, in this country.  I don’t compromise on this particular strain of feelings, and it’s been a consistent thread of our dialog, for life.

On this pleasant February evening, as the sun is setting, we walk west on the pretty bridge on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, and approach downtown, in search of a nice place for dinner.

I gently ask her if she has heard about Muhammad Ali’s son being subjected to harassment at Orlando Airport security for his last name and his religion. ” No Daddy, I haven’t heard of it”, she answers.

We go on to discuss that if she is stopped by the police, or any security personnel, how should she react. With a last name like Mahmood, this is more likely to happen now, than not. Most important is not to be surprised by the event – but rather to expect it.

If you expect the worst in life, and prepare for it, there are only two possible outcomes – either you’re prepared and deal with the calamity – or you’re pleasantly surprised (that the calamity never took place)!

I want her to be prepared; I don’t want her to be sad, confused or dismayed.  We discuss that if a cop stops and asks her whether she is legally in this country, she needs to be respectful and not get mad or respond angrily that she was born in Toledo, Ohio. We acknowledge that due process and the law-of -the land will ultimately protect her, but it could be nerve-wrecking and a complete waste of time.

We talk about the two Indian immigrants who were shot and (one) killed at a bar in Olathe, KS, this past week. She is stunned to hear the news; we discuss about being more aware, and not going out when I am visiting one of my plants in Middle America during the next few years.

The word, immigrant, has become such a flash point of discussion, in the land built by, with and for immigrants.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

When Daiyaan’s grandfather came to this country, back in the late 1950s,  foreign scholars often carried a “temporary white” card, so that,  they could ride the front of the bus, or drink from a “whites only” water fountain. That was only sixty some odd years ago. Things may not be perfect today, but they are a lot better than those times.

In my thirty plus years, I have seen tremendous progress in this nation, the attitude of it’s people and habits.

I saw Barack Obama get elected twice – never thought, a minority with a strange sounding middle name, would be elected as the leader (anywhere in the world).

However, now we know, even after all that, it’s not possible to let our guards down. We need to still teach our children to be aware, that there are people here (and many other modern industrialized places) where people judge you by the color of your skin, or what you wear, or how you speak, or what your last name is.

On this beautiful evening, it’s just sad that, instead sharing our joy and colorful experiences, I am scaring her into reality.

In her twenty-one years, I have never had to inject fear in our conversation to have her submit; it feels like one of those movie characters of the sixties, who taught their children, not to look into the eyes of the policemen, and to address them as “sir”.

I find my behavior and teaching method deplorable, shameful and very “un-American.”

But as a father, my first responsibility to her, is to teach her to survive, which requires moderation and modulation.

I am not proud of myself; just being pragmatic. I thought I was too liberal, too progressive for all this.

I never thought that I would need to speak to my children about the fear of being different.

I know this will come to an end one day. It doesn’t matter if its four years, or eight years. As a parent, however, you are often driven by a singular motive – wanting to see that your children are safe, happy and taken care of.

She calms me down gently, “Daddy, I know; don’t worry, I will be fine”.

I know you will be fine, Daiyaan. But I can’t be.

I am still mad, upset and just simply pissed. I want my America back where fear is not what I teach my children, but I teach them courage – to be the grand person they deserve to be.

daddydaiyaan-lunch-feb-2017
The conversation continues the next day

Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

unicorn-flag

About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

Turning Back Time : October 2016

I woke up from a disturbing dream, and felt sad to the core of my heart. The dream was sweet and nostalgic; I was listening to my mother as she was talking about the good old days, when we lived in Joypahar. We were playing Uno, over a cup of milky Cha, a few Nabisco biscuits, and talking up a storm.

harvard-square-with-uncle-and-aunt
Playing Uno with Mummy, Denver 2003

Within my dream, I realized, I was in the midst of a dream, and that soon I would wake up and the moment would be over. I tried to tell my Mom, but the moment was so joyous, that I couldn’t bring myself to reveal what I already knew as the truth.

I wanted us to remain happy, just like that moment, just with that cup of milky cha, over that game of cards, raising “gopshop” to a whole different level.

I am certain, we all have those moments, where everything just feels right;  the lighting is right, the temperature, the mood, the music, and most importantly, the people you love, and care about. These are precious times, times to cherish, sip like a good wine – just before you know that these come to an end.

Recently, my Aunt and Uncle came to visit us from Dhaka, for a weekend. We sipped a wonderful cup of latte while walking around Harvard Square, on a sunny fall morning;   took a swan boat tour on the Boston Commons lake, and discovered the magic of bonsai at the Harvard Arboretum.

harvard-square
Hanging with out with my favorite Aunt and Uncle, Rita and Aziz, Sep 2016

I had that same feeling; I knew these few days are precious – and we took it all in the best possible Bangalee way – food, music, adda! I am grateful for these three days I got with these two wonderful people, who make me happy, every time I see them.

Over the last thirty years, as I have left religion, something else has been on my mind about these joyous moments, old and new.

Major world religions talk about the gift of reincarnation or afterlife. So therein lies this possibility of heaven (and hell). There is a small chance, they remind us, of meeting those people we love, in life after death.

However, in my non-religious views, and the lack of confidence in heavenly interactions, I feel deeply saddened by the fact that I will never, ever see my mother again – not in this lifetime, or another. She will never remind me to walk straight, or eat slowly, or ask me about how we are doing; what I had with her, is done.

Deep breath.

I know I cannot wind back time.

But another really conflicting thought enters my consciousness. I am thinking of my beautiful daughters, my sister, or Matthew – those that surround me with love today.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016
Harvard Square, Jan 2016

Every night when I kiss Shania goodnight on her forehead – or when Daiyaan is visiting us and we have samosas together, while arguing about this or that, these moments are also limited and they too shall come to an end.

After this life, I will not see any of these loved ones again. This churns me inside and out.  Suddenly every second feels so much more precious. There is so much beauty on this earth – and I have so much to be thankful for – that I really don’t want this life to end.

florence-summer-2016
One of those perfect moments, with Shania and Atiya, Summer 2016

 I realize that every moment is precious with our loved ones. This time cannot be repeated – and it cannot be reincarnated. It is, what it is; it is all about NOW. And I have only responsibility – to make it as joyous, for myself and for them.

It’s a cloudy, drizzly Sunday here in Cambridge. Shania has a sinus thing going this weekend. We decide to stay in and just chill around the house. We have left-over Italian and watch a Disney movie together. We toast some samosas, and make hot tea, to keep us company.

At the end of the movie, Shania thanks me, for being lazy today and just hanging out with her. I am grateful to her, for reminding me, at this moment, at this point of completeness.

Not looking back, not winding back time, not even looking forward. Just Now.

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Daiyaan and I on Marco Island, 2003

We Will Carry On: April 2016

Five years ago, I came back from an overseas work trip and found empty card-board boxes in the lobby of our beautiful South Florida home; family pictures were off the wall, things were strewn all around the place, there was disarray in my carefully manicured paradise.

In the weeks following, my life changed forever. Unbeknownst to me, I became a FAMY (Father Mummy) that week.

Shania recently taught me this new term she learned on TV: FAMY (pronounced FAH-MEE).

Fifteen birthdays, five New Year Eves, one learning to read, and one high-school graduation, one learning to drive and one learning to ride a bike, one buying a first car, first loss of front teeth and one getting her first job,  and many other “firsts” later, here we are; undeterred, unapologetic and, each of us, in our new trajectory. There is no looking back; no retrieving time with a “back” button.

Five years ago, if someone had told me that Daiyaan, at almost twenty-one, is going to school in Florida, while building her career in insurance – or that Shania, at almost eleven, is growing up to be a sparkling, amazing, foodie-movie critic-worldly-loving and compassionate child, I would have been surprised; not because, I don’t want them to be this way, but more so, because I had no idea –how to be a FAMY, what it meant and what it entails.

I also had no idea that I would be in another global business leadership role, in a major publicly traded corporation, or living a new life, in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Five years ago, I blogged about Jumping into a Meandering River, because that’s how it felt.

We started swimming in a stormy dark night with no destination in mind; I could taste the saltiness of three streams of tears, while the rain beat down on us. Fear, loss, anger and pain, commingled, all tears taste the same.

At that time, a wise friend advised me, “Remember, YOU are the pole that holds up the tent, if you fall, the whole tent collapses.” I keep thinking about that phrase, and shudder.

As a FAMY, there is really no looking back, or falling sick, or for that matter, being out of commission. The tent could fall apart. It’s a lot to digest in one sitting.

Some thirty plus years ago, on a May morning, my mother also took up a similar role. In a lot of ways, I am following in her footsteps.

When my father died, there was a discrete reason for the change, it was clean-cut. Death happens and you learn to live with that. There’s defined mourning periods for death in most world religions.

In our case, the world of mental illness is undefined, taboo, and spooky as hell. You can’t really talk about it in public. There’s shame, there’s misunderstanding and guilt. Death is explainable and you know it’s inevitable; who does one blame for mental illness?

Even in movies, they photograph mental illness with a grayish hue, a cloudy or hazy lens. They usually end the movie with someone sitting on a chair and the lens moves far away. Worldly religious books don’t provide you with guidelines on how to behave when your world is struck by mental illness.

In situations of ambiguity, you create your own rules, define that path that brings the best possible outcome you can imagine.

So we started our journey, one-step-at-a-time. Didn’t pre-plan, didn’t have time to strategize a grand outcome. One school-lunch, one parent-teacher meeting, one birthday party and one doctor’s visit at a time. Just had to get it all done.

The Three of Us together Oct 2011
Three of Us Happy in October 2011

Once I was dating someone, who asked me who was “first” in my life; my answer was simple, I am not even first in my life!

Today, looking back, so many changes and heart breaks later, I look at these two beautiful gifts in my life, and feel blessed.

We didn’t choose this life, in many ways, this life chose us.

Our lives are not perfect, neither are they festered with disaster. All we know is to make the best decision we can, with the information we have, in hand.

You do your best, every day.

If life has taught us anything over the five years, there is no single path or stream of happiness. It comes in bursts, sparkles and shows up without notice.

We have to be ready to accept happiness, embrace it.

Recently, the three of us are vacationing in Amsterdam, just after Daiyaan’s close call with a terrorist attack on the Brussels airport; Shania turns around and tells me that she wishes that she could time-travel back to my childhood and be my friend. That’s when I realize the gifts of a FAMY.

Tomorrow may not be as happy as yesterday; it may be a lot better!