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!

 

Sharing The Hurt and Pain Index of Life: October 2015

You hurt when your child is hurting
You hurt when your child is hurting

Recently, I got an interesting comment on my Facebook page, “Are you ever unhappy or do you not take pictures at those times?” Pray Tell Zain Mahmood”

I am surprised and a bit taken aback, by this comment.

Since this is from someone who went to middle-school with me, about 35 years ago, and we haven’t stayed in touch, it’s difficult to decipher the motive.

And neither does it matter. This odd comment, makes me think.

I realize that, I am not really accustomed to, nor am I trained to express my frustrations, pain or anger in public.

I know how to smile wide, and accept whatever comes to me.

When I am frustrated, angry or hurt, I go for a long walk, or just take a nap. I don’t numb with food, alcohol or rage. Most difficulties, I have found, look and feel different, after a good nap.

In the midst of crisis, I reserve my emotions aside, and assume the role of a risk and project manager;  I look for every inevitable possibility, of things that could go wrong, and try to mitigate the risk.  This creates an interesting situation, where people perceive me as an emotion-free robot. I leave my grieving for later. And in private.

Recently, I experienced pain, anguish and frustration, all at once.

One morning, At 5 am, I get a call from a nurse, telling me that Daiyaan, my 20-year-old, is being taken to the ICU for observation, because her heart rate is unusually high.

My mind goes on overdrive, arranging logistics for Shania (my 10-year-old), and my travel arrangements to get to Daiyaan quickly, all the while, talking to her physicians and friends, and monitoring her condition.

At this juncture, I see no point of howling with pain or questioning the Universe about why my child is suffering.

After all logistics are complete, and I believe I have the necessary actions in motion, I  say a silent Universal prayer: to have the strength and ability, to handle this sudden and grave adversity, and do what is required of me: stand up and be a Dad.

The pain and loss one feels in a situation like this, is tough to describe.

One has to surrender to the vulnerability that surrounds us at every minute. This is not just my anguish;  I know every parent feels this, when they know their child is unwell.

I have felt the same anguish, as I saw my father pass away in front of me, and still feel it, as I watch my strong and athletic mother, lie in bed, unable to move freely.

About 5 years ago, I felt the same way, when my beautiful marriage of 15 years, collapsed in front of my eyes; I blogged about the emotions I felt at that time: Jumping into a Meandering River.

Every time, I feel I am surrounded by opaque walls; its like watching a bad movie, in slow motion, that I am a playing a role in. I have no idea, what’s behind those walls, and who I will become, when clarity returns.

I know, something inside me is churning and changing, at that very moment. Even though, I may want everything to remain constant.

During these moments, there are two things that help me stay focused.

First, I think of one happy memory, with the person who maybe hurting – this allows me to project into the future, and think about the possibility of more happy times and remain grounded.

Second, I imagine my particular safe place at my home, a quiet, simple and serene room, with zen music, and the smell of eucalyptus.  It’s that place I feel safe, and look to go back to go, whenever the chaos ends. I can feel Shania’s deep hug, and that same sensation, when I gently kiss Daiyaan’s forehead.

I am not sure why my inconsequential friend wanted me to journal my hurt, pain and anxiety on a public bulletin board. I have never understood, nor have I been trained to share my darkness; If you believe in Newton’s Third Law, Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction – I can say, every light has a shadow.

I will need a whole different Facebook, to learn to share my pain, anguish and sadness.

For now, I am comfortable, sharing my sunshine. God knows, everyone has dark moments.

My Sunshine
My Sunshine

Continue reading “Sharing The Hurt and Pain Index of Life: October 2015”

When Good Things Happen: November 9 2013

The last four weeks have been some of the most tumultuous times in my life.

After struggling for three years, with dissolving the institution of marriage, the divorce finalized.

I moved from one home to another.

I was offered another “once in a lifetime” chance to join a world-class team to take an organization from “good to great” – the kind of opportunity most people dream about.

Heading  into these four weeks, I was nervous, anxious, worried; I stayed up late thinking about all the possibilities of things going wrong. My analytical mind concocted up linear algorithms of disaster, trauma and tragedy!

Finally, the nail-biting stormy, triple effect night passed, and none of those disasters materialized; this morning, as the sunlight shines down from heaven, I feel stronger, motivated and relieved. The feeling isn’t euphoric – it’s just a “deep breath” moment.

When the lights come down from heaven

I have regained my confidence in the energy of the Universe; good things do happen, when you keep your intentions pure and clean and when you choose to do the right and beautiful thing.

Your expectations do become your experience.

All through my journey, I am grateful for the moral compass of my two beautiful daughters. Every decision I make, every step I take, I have made their safety and  well-being as the center-piece. This centering allows me to think clearly – even if my heart is wondering or my brain is analyzing and criticizing.

I am also grateful for a wonderful, supportive community of friends and family who watch me struggle – never interfering– but keep telling me over and over – “This too shall passyou are making the right decisions”.

Just before the three events took place, I went away to Key West for two days and just walked the streets or sat by the pool trying to re-focus my energy. When quandary overwhelmed me, I called a friend asking for his guidance – specially on this emerging new role; his answer was clear, “Dude, you have trained yourself for this role all your life – why are you thinking so much? Do you think Shania will be happy if you aren’t happy? “  It gave me the clarity of thought at that moment to stop being a worrier!

I remember the evening before the court proceedings, I texted a few friends about being a nervous wreck; they left their work early, and met up for a glass of wine and helped me divert my attention to other things in life.

I Skyped my sister on weekends and unburdened my emerging feelings and anxiety. She patiently listened and encouraged me to keep moving forward and staying focused on the day after – the day when all this drama will be over.

At the end of the day, as I look out to what the Universe has gifted me; my health, my two awesome daughters,  wonderful – supportive friends and family and a truly wonderful career that has availed me possibilities to learn, grow, travel and work with some amazingly talented people. I have re-connected with my spiritual side and found peace in boating, writing, reading, wine and food.

I have so many things to be grateful for.

I watch the Atlantic this morning – the surf on the azure blue sea and wonder about the changing scenery – the clouds appear and disappear in a moment’s notice; as if the sea and the sky are teaching me that same lesson.

Good things do happen, when there are good intentions.

The skies do clear up and the ocean does regain its blue; just have to keep believing in the immense possibilities of the future.

A Father’s Day Tribute to “History Teacher” Dads

Zain and Daiyaan Daytime Red RocksShania and Dad for 1st Dance

Our Sundays are usually bright and sparkly; on a typical, school-year Sunday morning, I embark on making breakfast for my two princesses. Nutella covered Paratha and freshly sliced bananas; we discuss the upcoming week, homework, projects, field-trips and many other things about school and how we may navigate through the next week.

Later, we decide to jump into the pool and splash around together, or maybe take a walk down to the beach to play in the Atlantic! In the evening, we fire up the grill for some hamburgers and hot-dogs and enjoy it with a spectacular sunset on the balcony.This is our typical Sunday; some food, some play, some homework and a lot of relaxation – rejuvenation for another week of work/school/routine. I want to keep my eight-year old energized while enjoying our time together.

This Sunday, when a friend comes to visit, Shania seems overjoyed, almost ecstatic. I ask her why she is so happy to see my friend; her answer is quite blunt, “Dad, you’re like a history teacher, your friend is more fun to play with!”

When did I become the history teacher? I thought I was the fun Dad!
I take my daughters to their first rock concerts, I swim with Dolphins with them, we discover exotic lands, and build castles out of cardboard boxes.
Learning and maneuvering through the different challenges of parenthood, I realize, at some point, routine and familiarity does cramp one’s “style” and the day-to-day monotony sets in.

I remember my father, as a quiet, serious man; I can count, with my fingers, how many times my Dad spent time with me for the eighteen years that we lived together. I don’t remember him ever laughing out loud with us. I remember him playing cards with me, or Monopoly, or reading books. I remember playing tennis with him once. But that’s the extent of our interactions.

I don’t remember him swimming or biking with us – or taking us to the ice-cream store for spontaneous mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream. It makes me wonder whether I have become the “history teacher” because, I just don’t have a great example of a “Fun-Dad” to emulate.

Striking that delicate balance of craving to be a fun Dad (or parent), while setting boundaries or maintaining routine sanity, is one of those most difficult, yet nuanced decisions in our lives . In fact, similar to a photograph, it’s not a particular decision or snapshot – it’s a series of decisions – more like continuously playing video. Every day you adjust, focus and continue to move forward.

I have found that while most children enjoy the “fun-Dad” specter once-in-a-while; they continue to like and respect boundaries, they like some structure, as long as it’s not burdensome, illogical, irrational or suppressive. With the relentless encouragement to do their best, children seem to thrive, push our boundaries and make us better Dads (parents).

This morning, my eight-year-old Shania tells me that she doesn’t want me to prepare her morning cup of hot-chocolate anymore; she adds, “I like your hot-chocolate, but I like the way I make my own”.

It’s awesome, when children grow up and take over their own responsibilities, and from far away, we can sit back and watch them grow up – and silently reminisce (almost crave) for that last Sunday morning, when the pool water was warm – and I was the History Teacher, soaking in every drop of my summer. I know these days of being a History Teacher are limited and not going to last forever.

Suddenly, being a History Teacher, for a few more days, doesn’t seem like too bad a role!

Darkness, Dogma and Everything Else: The Fears of Parents

When I was a teenager, my mother had an absurd rule; I had to return home before sundown. You could leave in the next hour and be out late – but you have to be home at sundown!

I always wondered what was her fear – was it the darkness of the night, or some sort of superstition of the Jinn? Or is it just a lack of spatial awareness in the dark.

This week, for the first time, Daiyaan, my almost eighteen-year old, is off on her own – far away in a foreign land. On the first evening, I sit on the balcony of my high-rise condominium and feel like crying as I watch the sunset. I wonder how she is doing, is she safe, did she eat her meals properly. Now, I know how my mother must have felt, when I first didn’t return after leaving home.

Such is the nature of parenting and a parent’s inner fears.

Some fears are inherent in us – unique to us – while some have been passed to us from generation to generation. As we grow older, our fears get embedded in us and we try to implant these in our children.

My father had some fear about children having their hair wet. Even in my teens, he would come out with a towel trying to dry my hair, just a bit more. He was convinced that we could catch a cold, if our hair was wet! This habit now has passed on to me and I keep running after Shania, comically, drying her hair after she comes out of the shower.

All irrational, unexplainable fears – but also part and parcel of who we are and what we have become!

Don’t go out after dark!

Don’t eat (bone-in) fish at night!

No Bananas to be eaten at night!

Don’t draw attention to yourself!!

Don’t enjoy life too much, and, if you choose to, don’t put it on your Facebook profile for others to see!!

We grow up with all sorts of dogma – all sorts of fear; often that fear takes over our day-to-day activities.

Once, some twenty-two years ago, driving through the New Mexico desert, as the sun was setting, in all its glory, I heard my mother weep at the back of the car; I couldn’t quite understand why this super-strong Principal of a High School was crying in this beautiful setting. I didn’t understand her fear of the dark – nor did I realize that it was something that was embedded in her, most likely at childhood.

Today, my fears are around my children – and them possibly getting hurt. I know there is just not enough time in the day, nor moments of sheer lucidity, to simultaneously keep track of every movement of a teenager, on a foreign trip – or a eight-year old who is just learning to spread her wings.

I think, the only thing a parent can do, is try their best.

Since we have very limited capabilities, the goal is to give them those values and decision frameworks that allow them to make the right choices to avoid a dangerous path – or try to make a decision to not associate with all that’s evil around us. Some of us try to give them everything we have (and sometimes what we never had); once we have given them our best, we just have to learn to take a deep breath and sigh.

The children have to make their own mistakes; take their own “road less traveled”.

The best we can do is not to install our dogmas and fears in their lives. Allow them to live on this beautiful earth – sampling everything with the fearless abandon of life.

Shania gets ready to go to bed; she reads her book for twenty minutes, says her prayer, clutches her stuffed toy and turns towards her pillow. I kiss her forehead and say a silent prayer so that she gets a restful night of sleep. That’s all you can really do. You can’t be there watching over them – or give her all your fears and dogmas. She deserves her own fears and her own new dreams!

Instruction Manuals for Children : February 7, 2013

I wonder, like new gadgets, why there aren’t instruction manuals for parents to figure out the whims and vagaries of their new-born or growing children. Originating from the same genetic pool, how two children can be so different from each other, and have completely unique personalities!

One of them may sit next to you and finish her homework five days ahead of schedule – and the other one, not want to even start her science project until the night before it is due. One maybe fascinated by pets – another, allergic to everything; one can’t wait to get on my boat and sail away for days – while the other one holds on to my t-shirt – the entire journey!

Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!
Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!

When my first born came to this world, I had no way to prepare myself. There were lots of What to Expect in Baby’s First Year type of books but very little practical advice about your baby’s temperament or why she wouldn’t sleep the first night she arrived home!

I had no clue how to put this baby to sleep; after a few hours of trying to sing, generating hair-dryer or vacuum cleaner sounds (these are days before the noisemaker app on your IPod) and trying multiple motions, failing to soothe the baby, finally I placed her ear on my chest and allowed her to connect with my heart beat and warmth; she was out like a light bulb! I lay there, in that same position, for hours, afraid that any movement on my part would wake my baby up.

I remember my mother always bemoaning to her friends, “Baccha Manush Kora Khub Kothin” (It’s so very tough to raise kids); I wonder why my mom would say that it’s tough to raise children during her times. In our luxurious childhood at Joypahar, we had a nanny and also had a seven other help in the house; I don’t remember my parents ever needing to coordinate a babysitter; uncles and aunts visited us frequently and we had a wonderful support system protecting us. In those pre micro-chip days, we were not exposed to the demands of video-games, Twitter, Instragram or FaceBook. I don’t remember my Dad ever have to wonder if the length of his teen-agers’s skirt is appropriate for a birthday party!

Being blessed with two beautiful daughters, I sometimes wonder, what life would be like with more children. I watch parents, and their delight, when their older children return home for the holidays. They make their children’s favorite dishes and look forward to doing those common things that they may have done together, like a round of golf – or going to the spa – or baking together, or in the case of my mother, playing Scrabble or just arguing over political views!

If I regret about my personal circumstances, it’s that we didn’t have another child, in-between my two princesses. While I am grateful for what has been gifted, It would have been fabulous to have another daughter (or son for that matter) !

It has been a pleasure watching my children grow-up and take on their own personalities. Recently, Shania, my seven-year old rolled off my grocery-list from memory!  I don’t need to write anything down any more.  When she goes for a school –entrance interview, I watch her eyes sparkling with inquisitive possibilities.

In my recent role as a single-dad, my beliefs have been re-affirmed that, children are the most important and enjoyable occurance in life – for the period that they live with us. I have learned more acutely how important is stability, re-assurance and a safe place for them, to come back to.

Shania is just as happy with a project she can complete with me – versus a super-expensive gift! Daiyaan, my seventeen-year old, just wants to share her daily experiences – without my judgment or commentary! She watches my eyebrow curve up and smiles and gets the message that that part of the information may just be just TMI (too much information)!

When I go out for the evening, I love it when my daughters approve my attire or tell me to change my shirt! I love the simple rituals we have developed; as I cook dinner, and the children are completing their homework – or when we quickly step out to the balcony to observe a spectacular sunset and wish the day goodbye.

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At night, when we read stories in bed, or say a quick prayer before closing our eyes, all of it becomes real;

It is the true joy in the discovery, of what we love about our unique and amazing children – without the instruction manuals!

Thank you God, for not sending instruction manuals with the children!

Being a Dad is Tough: Reflections on Father’s Day: June 2012

This morning, my seventeen-year old informs me what she would like to do, or not do, on this Sunday, Father’s Day!

I turn around and tell her my plans for Father’s Day; I tell her that she is most welcome to join me – but it’s not mandatory. Needless to say, her plans and my plans don’t match.

There are times, when as a parent, you have to let your child know that you are willing to accept certain behaviors and not others; even if one loves a child, we cannot simply roll over when he/she wants or doesn’t want to do something. During teen-age years, as your child gets ready to step into adulthood – their responses and reactions can be specially erratic and irritating.

Being a Dad is tough.

You know you love your children more than anything in the world; you know you want them to know you love them and always want to be there for them. Through your actions, you demonstrate that you care for them and are willing to compromise with your own needs to provide them with what you believe is good for them.

Still, once in a while, you get hurt by their actions.

Since I lost my Dad at an early age, I didn’t get a chance to really ask him how difficult it was for him to accept that I didn’t get “Star” (Distinguished) marks in my Secondary School Exam  – and barely scraped by in my High School Certificate exam. I don’t remember him getting mad at me.

One evening, upon some silly disagreement over the singular music cassette player in our home, I remember, rushing out of the house and not coming back all night – but that’s the last discord with him that I remember.

My Father was not a huggy-kissy Dad; the first time he watched me debate in a national tournament, I remember he came and shook my hand and told me he thought I did the best, even though I didn’t even get an honorable mention.

Even today, after twenty-seven years, every time I think of him, my heart is soothed by his gentle, caring smile. When I close my eyes, I can see my Dad smile.

In my imagination, he tells me that he loves his grand-daughters and he doesn’t really care what I think! I continue to argue with him, that Papa, you don’t understand, I don’t want you to spoil them!

I can just see him doting on these beautiful princesses – and completely disregarding my concerns.

However frustrating that figment of imagination is – I would give up all my worldly possessions – to experience that particular moment in real life!  My Father’s Day would be so much more complete, if he was here, watching me struggling with my fatherhood angst.

Just as I get ready to go to bed tonight, I get a text from Daiyaan: “Dad, I am sorry I was being rude and selfish earlier; I will do whatever you do, or want to do, on Father’s Day. I just want to spend the day with you”. As I read the text over and over, a tear swells up in my eye and a smile covers my heart.

Daiyaan and Dad at Holiday Party Dec 2011

I close my eyes and visualize my Dad again. As if, I can see him laughing this time, telling me, “See, you have nothing to worry about!”

Thanks, Pops, for being with me. I want you here, on all my Father’s Days.

Shania and Dad June 2012