LESSONS FROM A FATHER AND A TEACHER
India on the 5th of September every year (since 1962) honours one of its most illustrious sons, the former President Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan by celebrating his birthday, designating the day as Teacher’s Day. Dr.Radhakrishnan was a tireless academic, a renowned philosopher and a selfless teacher. Every one of us who have had the good fortune and privilege of completing a course in professional education will invariably have been influenced by one or more individuals from the precious fraternity of teaching. Although I am no exception to the rule, the most notable and indelible influence in my life has come from within the family, in the form of my father. I consider him to be the greatest teacher that I have had the privilege of accosting (and continuing to do so) thus far in my life. So on the 53rd anniversary of India’s Teacher’s Day, I deem it most appropriate to recollect and remind myself of a few precocious tenets and qualities which my father has constantly endeavoured to instill in me and my younger sibling. While the principles by which he has distinguished himself in his professional and personal life are too very numerous to recount, the following key values act as touchstones for me personally by which to course through life so that the act of mere existence gets transformed into a valuable art of living:
- A. The greatest satisfaction one can get is by GIVING
As far as my earliest and vivid memories go, my father derived his greatest happiness from the act of giving. Neither I nor my brother can ever recall ‘Dad’ living for himself. His avowed objective in life has been to advance and further the cause of people around him. Always there to offer a lending hand or an able shoulder, he never thinks twice before taking the plunge to help others, whether by way of offering monetary help or moral support. While this might not be a singularly unique attribute, what makes this quality worth emulating is that it is done in total disregard of any reciprocal anticipation.
Any act of generosity in general and spontaneous magnanimity in particular is worth doing ONLY when such an act is unconditional, bereft of any ulterior motive and totally devoid of any expected consideration.
- B. Think Before Speaking
This is a lesson which at times I have learnt the hard way, and in hindsight. My father by nature possess a gentle demeanour and is the very anti-thesis of confrontation. His chosen manner of bringing a boiling argument to its logical conclusion is to remain silent and back away, even though his stated position might be the most appropriate and rational one (which invariably is the case). As I have made the turbulent transition from youth to adolescence, the invariable spurt of confidence (over-confidence even), feelings of assertive superiority and more often than not, a bull headed conviction that my views trump that of the world, and with good reason, have combined to create a few situations of aggressive interactions between us both. While always supportive of a healthy debate, whenever I have crossed the invisible line of courtesy, my Dad has been quick to remind me of my transgression, but without resorting to the same tactics as employed by me. Deliberations come to an abrupt end as a sudden and overwhelming silence shrouds over the two us and Dad silently moves away from the scene of tumult. While I continue to rant and rave a bit more, the solitude inevitably gets me thinking. As the cause and consequences of the debate are played over and over in my mind, realization dawns that the person in the wrong is undoubtedly yours truly. Apologies are made, accepted and all is well that ends well when both father and son sit side by side engrossed in a book of each one’s choice.
The simple act of thinking before acting, and gauging the impact of the power of the spoken word before uttering it (in vain) makes a man a much better human being.
- C. Chase Your Dreams; but never lose Focus
Never one to impose his choice upon his offspring, our father gave complete liberty to us brothers to choose a career of our own liking. However, he was unrelenting in exhorting to us the twin values of focus and sacrifice. He always adhered to the principle that a clinical focus and an uncompromising passion constituted the two indispensable elements in furthering any career prospect. This invaluable lesson has aided me immeasurably well and all that I have achieved today is solely because of my willingness to abide by this fundamental principle. My father has never viewed my failures in life as matters of dejection or desperation. His unflinching confidence in and support for me has spurred me on and this act on his part it is a monumental debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
Always chase your dreams but never ever lose focus and be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. Hard work today means rich rewards tomorrow.
- D. You are what you read
One of the greatest gifts for which I am eternally grateful to my father, is the gift of reading. A vociferous reader himself, Dad passed on this beautiful habit to me with the result that I am now an inveterate reader. Dad has always been selective in the type of books that he likes to pore over. A man who values substance over entertainment, he encourages a reading habit that has at its core the accumulation of knowledge. Even though not completely abhorring the genre of fiction, the books that he used to gift to me when I was just developing a passion for reading were invariably the genres of biographies, memoirs and history. Always ready for a discussion, Dad always likes to hold forth on a few key and critical aspects forming the core and crux of a book. The fact that he has a prodigious memory bank sure helps!
Inculcate the habit of reading. Books have a beautiful ability to shape and define your character.
- E. Be True to yourself. Deceiving others means deceiving yourself
One of Dad’s pet hates is the vice of lying. A hurtful truth is preferred to a blatant and deceptive white lie. Being a man of principles, Dad’s life has revolved around a set of uncompromising principles. An integral component of such principles has been the facet of truth. Practicing what he preaches, Dad always leads by example in this regard. Ethical to the core, he abstains from the notion of deceit and deception. Forgiveness from his is a given when a confession is made about a transgression. However an act of folly that is attempted to be masked by a convoluted process of lying is viewed with undisguised consternation.
Construct your life upon the attribute of truth and transparency. Being ethical is never a sign of weakness. Never attempt to engage in deliberate deceit for deceiving others only means deceiving oneself.
- F. Be content with what you have
My father has been a man with the most meager of wants. Choosing altruism and utilitarianism over accumulation of fame and fortune, he has been a consummate role model for his sons to emulate. He has succeeded beyond his expectations in making my brother and I understand that frugality does not mean deprivation. We have never seen our father splurge hard earned money on material possessions. But at the same time he has been most meticulous and unsparing in caring for our deserving wants and needs. This has led to me understanding not only the real value and worth of money, but also the noble essence of sharing wealth(howsoever small it may be) with those who are in need of support the most.
Practice selfless service over untrammeled accumulation of wealth. Be content with what you have. Contentment directly translates to happiness.
As I step into my fourth decade of life, my father continues to be a pillar of inspiration and a beacon of hope. There have been innumerable circumstances where I have gotten out of a veritable dilemma by just asking myself “What would my father have done if he was to have been in my position?” Every single time the answer has been the one that has been the most appropriate and one that has never let me down.
So Dad it has been an extraordinary privilege and pleasure being your son and if I can succeed in becoming half of what you have been in life, my own existence would be one of rich fulfillment. In fact it would be a life well lived.
Happy Teacher’s Day Dad! Love You!