Is it a good idea to set aside one day in a year to honor dad? Or does the day merely boost the sale of cards, ties and techno gadgets for the paternal figures in our life?
While every sentiment has the potential to be commercialized, it is, nonetheless, heartwarming when children do something special for parents. The imprint of a little hand that a preschool teacher helped a toddler create, a generic mug with the inscription “My Dad is #1” scrawled in imperfect letters, or even a handmade card with shiny paint and glitters are all part of special memories that are proudly displayed and treasured for years.
This year Father’s day was extra special for our family. We hosted a kirtan and gathered friends and family to offer gratitude to our divine Father whose gifts are innumerous, and whose protection one always seeks. Sant Anoop Singh’s kirtan was mesmerizing and his selection of shabads expressing gratitude and seeking grace brought many to tears.
Even as I was grateful for my son’s presence who came especially to honor his dad, the joint celebration with my extended family, the gift of faith, the blessing of kirtan and simran; my thoughts turned to my father, the man who was the center of my childhood years.
My dad was the person I went to when I needed anything. There was no one I loved more, or trusted more. There was no one who made me feel safer, or more loved.
My dad was an ordinary, simple man. He was not a great intellectual; nor did he amass a large amount of wealth. He was not a profound scholar, or an activist. He was not a mover or a shaker in his career; or for that matter in any sphere. He was moderate in his religious beliefs; never overly zealous. But there was something extraordinary about this very ordinary man. He was scrupulously honest.
Integrity was his religion, his hallmark, his way of life. I would often hear him quote Guru Nanak sahib’s verse:
Sachho urey sabko upar sach aachaar (SGGS page 62)
“Truth is high, but higher still is truthful living.”
He lived truthfully every day of his life.
Albert Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
My father’s integrity was visible in everyday small matters.
As an employee of the Indian Railways, he was entrenched in a bureaucracy wherein everyone from the top brass to the lowest ranking clerks accepted bribes as a matter of routine. Nothing moved until the palms were greased. He was obstinately honest in refusing to accept bribes much to the annoyance of his superiors and peers for whom an income padded with bribes came with the territory.
In his early career he worked for a brewery. As part of the perks employees got free liquor. He remained a teetotaler in spite of the freely available spirits; furthermore when his friends requested that he avail himself of his free quota and pass it on them, he stubbornly refused their requests. He was adamant at not accepting or currying favors.
In a world full of sycophants, he had the courage to turn down his bosses if their requests steered him away from the straight and narrow. He never for a moment acted as though he wore a mantle of greatness because he followed the most important principle of his life. Nor did he look for any recognition. In fact, there were instances when he was passed up for promotion because he did not play ball.
As his only child I was very proud of him. And looked askance at folks who I thought were less honest. And then, one day, his integrity clashed with something that was important to me.
In my high school year I was selected as an exchange student for study in the US on a full scholarship. There was a slight problem. I was under age by a few months.
There was, however, a solution. It was possible to change my date of birth, if my birth parents provided an affidavit stating the original date was incorrect. (I was adopted. My birth dad was my dad’s older brother, a lawyer who could have easily provided such an affidavit)
My dad had never refused me anything in my life. I was confident that he wouldn’t let a small technicality stand in the way of my going abroad on a much coveted scholarship.
Was I wrong!
Dad refused to submit a false birth-certificate. I was beyond myself with disappointment that very quickly turned into rage. I refused to eat. I cajoled and pleaded. I yelled and screamed. My father was unmoved. The man who had never refused me anything in my life was denying me an opportunity of a lifetime. I accused him of not caring for me. My father looked terribly hurt, but stood his ground.
Reluctantly and slowly I came to understand that even though I was dearer to him than life, his integrity meant even more to him.
I may have lost an opportunity of a lifetime, but I learned a very important lesson – that principles are not something to be practiced only when it is convenient.
Thank you, dad, for being my role model. For setting a high bar for yourself and those that loved you; for teaching me, your darling child, life lessons that have endured.
And yes, it is a wonderful idea to set aside a day each year to honor dad.