#65 Dads

My dad was born in 1944 in the village Tarn Taran in India.

He lived in a small clapboard house on a sandy sidestreet and shared a tiny bedroom with his three brothers and one sister. He was only three when his mom died of unknown causes and the family suddenly had trouble making ends meet. With his dad running a Singer sewing machine shop in nearby Amritsar their aging grandmother came to watch the kids who were taught to scrimp, save, and raise each other for twenty years.

School was important and math was his specialty. Times tables and algebra were done on slate, “The Pickwick Papers” was his English assignment, and gym class consisted of running around a dusty schoolyard full of pebbles and crab grass. In the evenings he worked long hours ironing shirts at the sewing machine store … helping his dad stay on the sales floor by doing laundry in the back. To this day he insists on ironing my clothes when I stay at my parents’ place. Stumbling to the bathroom at six in the morning I’ll see a faint silhouette of my dad pressing my dress shirt in the upstairs hallway before I go to work.

I’ve only seen one picture of my dad as a child and it’s a blurry black and white shot of him with his older brother Ravi standing beside a bicycle. Tall socks, flat faces, and curtly combed hair give a quick glimpse into a simple childhood full of big dreams. He loved math and eventually abandoned Charles Dickens to scrape together his savings, tutor in the evenings, and ride his bike to the University of New Delhi for five years until he got his Masters in Nuclear Physics in 1966.

After university my dad applied for Canadian immigration and was accepted in 1968. He arrived in Toronto with eight dollars in his pocket … and spent it all the first couple days. Years later we’d take the train downtown from the quiet suburbs and rumble past a rusty restaurant beside the tracks. “That’s the first place we had chicken,” he’d say, and we’d laugh at the idea.

He got a job as the first physics teacher at his school. “It’s the king of sciences,” he’d say with a smile, and he even looked like a physicist too — with curly black hair, thick sideburns, and boxy glasses that never changed for years.

He never used the book but knew how to teach.

When I’d bring home my math or physics textbook and have trouble figuring out my homework, my dad would pull up a chair beside me and try to show me how to do it. When I still didn’t understand, he would try again, except this time he would try teaching me a different way. He didn’t just repeat what he said the first time, but came at the problem from a different angle. If I didn’t get it, he’d change again, and again, and again, until me, or one of the many students he taught, finally figured it out.

He never raised his voice, got impatient, or made you feel like you were slow because you weren’t catching on. He simply kept changing how he taught you … until you learned. And in some ways that’s all we’re ever really doing. Seeing things, trying them, and then, eventually, learning them. Teaching somebody how to add fractions or multiply decimals is one thing, but teaching them that they have the ability to learn… giving them confidence in their abilities… showing them they have the power to understand… and letting them feel the satisfaction of understanding… is something else altogether.

I can’t think of many greater gifts my dad gave me, my sister, and many other people, than simply… teaching them that they could do it themselves. Since we grew up near his school we were always bumping into former students, in their twenties, thirties, or forties…  at the grocery storein the bank lineup… or while getting an oil change. And when I was younger I still remember so many times the students would talk to him for a while and then look at me and smile and say “You’re lucky.”

“Your dad taught me math. He’s the best teacher I ever had and I bet he’s going to teach you so many things over your whole life.”

They were right.

When he came to Canada my dad decided to embrace every aspect of his new country. Some of his family members chose to live downtown near Indian restaurants, temples, and shops. While respecting their choices he preferred heading into the unknown and lived as one of a handful of visible minorities in a big city. Naturally curious, he started eating beef, going on school canoe trips, and chaperoning dances, where he’d swirl and twirl my mom at twice the speed of everyone else — in frilly baby blue dress shirts, dark velvet jackets, and a big smile — his boxy glasses flashing rainbow reflections from the disco ball.

He brought home our first Christmas tree, hosted birthday parties at Burger King, and took us cross country skiing a few years after he first saw snow. He didn’t know what he was doing but he knew he wanted to try. My dad saw awesome things everywhere and his sense of wonder with the world rubbed off on me and my sister. This blog is a reflection of his endless excitement.

Last summer a big company in Montreal asked me to come talk about the 3 A’s of Awesome with their employees on a Monday morning. I made it a weekend away with my dad and we enjoyed a couple days of strolling stony sidestreets, eating poutine, and watching French television from our hotel beds. After that I got really nervous about my speech and practiced it over and over for him in the hotel room on Sunday night.

Monday morning arrived and I headed off to the company office while my dad finished up in the city and made his way to the train station. (It was cheaper than flying.) When I finished up and got back to the hotel room there was a note waiting for me on the desk. It was written in faint pencil on a bright yellow cue card and said:

“HI NEIL, After breakfast, I went for a walk South to the water front & came back North and visited the Church. There was no line up at 9 AM. Then I went to the gym. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and the time with you. Any time in the future you need company for any trip, I will be privileged to join you. Of course your friends come first for your company. Your speech & presentation was wonderful. I am sure you will get standing ovation. Also on Tuesday you will enjoy the book store ceremony. You have surpassed my expectations as a son & professional competence. I hope to enjoy your company whenever possible and trips for many more years. LOVE DAD.”


Photos from: here, here, here, here, here, and here

134 thoughts on “#65 Dads

  1. Yes, you sure have an awesome Dad!
    Awesome photo of you and your Dad, as well.
    We should all be so lucky.

  2. oh how beautiful!
    just wondering??
    How come every immigrant to any country always turns up with only $8 in their pocket?
    My grandfather said this coming to Australia & I’m sure thats what the dad said in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?!?! :)

    1. My dad came with $200 in the mid-1970s, but I’m sure it seemed like only $8=)

      Anyway, in his case, his country of origin wouldn’t allow him to bring more than that.

    2. Back then, countries had stricter foreign exchange restrictions. People were only allowed to take away $8 from the country they left.

  3. Soo sweet!!! You’ve written with such sincere love and affection, I’m sure a lot of people are touched. Your Dad seems to be an AWESOME person!!

  4. This was AWESOME.

    You know I love it when people with awesome dads acknowledge them. I didn’t grow up with a dad bc I was adopted by a widow (I honestly never missed not having one). However, out of all of my friends (and I have many) none of them have a good relationship with their fathers. When you have something great, no matter how normal to you it may seem, you should cherish it.

    PS Chemistry is the queen of all sciences!

  5. I’ve been following your blog for a while and really enjoy it. This post was so special. Your dad sounds truly awesome. Thanks for a sharing a wonderful and inspiring story!

  6. Indeed.

    My dad has been an inspiration on my life. He was tough, strict, hard working … but he taught me that a true man loves his family and always loves them no matter what.

    And, I can’t wait til it’s my turn …

    Great story. This is one awesome thing I can definitely get behind.

  7. It’s wonderful that your dad is so great and that you appreciate him. He sounds like one of the best men in the world. He’s a pioneer with a heart. God bless him.

  8. Thank you for writing such a wonderful tribute to your dad before he is gone. Too often such things are left unsaid until the eulogy at the funeral.
    You are awesome. :)

  9. Thank you for sharing this with us Neil. It is such a wonderful story about your dad. I love the picture of you two at the end! You are so lucky to have such a great dad.

    1. I was one of the people that weren’t so lucky when it comes to Dads. My parents divorced when I was 7. I didn’t see him at all until I was 11. The reason? He didn’t want to see us.
      Even now, he never calls, when I call him he acts like he’s bored out of his mind. My brothers have all given up on him. I keep trying to have some kind of relationship with him so my kids will get a chance to know him, but he just doesn’t seem interested. He completely turned his back on one of my brothers who went to him for help and drove another brother away over his lack of concern.
      My second ex-step dad, though… he was a great man. Took all us kids in and claimed us as his own. When I read through your post, I thought of my step dad.

      1. My Dad is far from AWESOME too, Bekah. But I’ve known some great men — like my Pop!

        Nevertheless, it’s nice to read posts like this and know that the awesomeness still exists out there somewhere. :)

  10. What a heartfelt tribute to your dad. You both are so blessed to have each other. He sounds like a very brave man, and was born to teach. I wish I could have had him as a physics teacher – I might have actually understood it. I’m a biology girl.

  11. Wow, your dad must truly be a great person. I guess many people, including me, would be glad to have such a relationship with one’s father, too.

  12. This is a wonderful post. Well done.
    You are lucky to have such an amazing father but I can tell you already knew that! ;)

  13. Awesome! And timely. Yesterday would have been my dad’s 78th birthday. Your post warmed my heart, made me smile and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 85th birthday. It took me 3 tries to be able to get to the end of the post. You see – my dad was a teacher, too, and I was very touched by all the former students who came to pay their respects when he passed away. I salute all you teachers, and all you dads who take the time to teach things to your kids. You impact so many, many lives, and the world is truly a better place because of you. Hurrah, dads!

  14. “He never used the book but knew how to teach… When I still didn’t understand, he would try again, except this time he would try teaching me a different way… He simply kept changing how he taught you … until you learned.”

    A wonderful teacher!! I can name the teachers I had that had this same gift of KNOWING how to teach.

    Thank you for this post today – it made me smile.

  15. My dad was an English teacher in the town next to us. We were always bumping into former students in the grocery store, etc. as well. :)

  16. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to your father! This is just another reminder to me how good parenting gives your children a better chance to succeed and be happy in the world. Your dad sounds awesome and he is right to be proud of you too!

  17. Wonderful post. Thank you so much. (I confess I was worried this was going to be a obituary sort of tribute and was so relieved that you got to express this while you and your father can still enjoy each other.)

    I don’t have such happy childhood memories myself, and in your father I can see some of the wonderful optomism you share with us. It inspires me to be as good a parent as I possibly can, so my son will have these kind of immeasurable gifts. The kind of outlook you have is maybe the most significant ‘thing’ you can possibly have. To have a positive outlook is truly priceless.

    I hope my son will appreciate his father this much — I am so full of admiration myself when I see how wonderful a dad and husband we’ve got in him.

    1. I have to add to this to say how lovely to see two other people were writing at the same time to express similar thoughts!

  18. “He never used the book but knew how to teach”…Booowahhhh…blubber broke the dam and through swelled tears and tissues, this pierced my heart. Next to *your mom*, “flashing rainbow reflections”…Awesome!
    I feel so blessed to be standing in a *refraction* of this light! Thank you<3xo

    1. I’ve note yet been able to get through this without crying. I will however practice #854, until the tear ducts touched, empty. And I will try and try and try and try to be patient with myself. Find the power within myself to understand.
      I choose the train for its picturesque scenery. Its rock-a-bye sensation and lullabye whistle blowing confidence in my abilities…like the classic “Little Blue Engine”, a knowing I will and I can…myself.
      In part, because of you, it has just become more colourfully crystal clear and I can finally feel the satisfaction of understanding. *THANK YOU!*

  19. Thank you for sharing some of your childhood and family memories. So wonderful—it bought tears to my eyes. You are indeed blessed to have such a wonderful Dad.

  20. This post was beautiful. I can tell that you feel so fortunate to have such a dad. None of my three dads (my mom was married three times) were very good role models but I am happy to say that I married the most wonderful man who has been the greatest dad to our children. Breaking the cycle = AWESOME.

  21. As the proud new papa of a 3 week old. I can only hope that my son looks up to me like you did to your dad! My hardships growing up were not nearly as bad as yours, but I hope to one day have my son’s respect and admiration just as you have yours.

  22. My dad is someone I love and admire. I’m also blessed to know some remarkable men. It’s nice to celebrate them.

  23. Wow. That was positively heartwarming and incredibly moving. It reminded me of my dad, who I lost last March (I miss him every second of every day) and how close he and I were. Your dad sounds like an incredible human being. It is truly AWESOME to celebrate the dads out there who, while they may not be perfect, who do amazing work in raising their children.

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