#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.”

AWESOME!

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

134 thoughts on “#65 Dads

  1. Every time I go grocery shopping I see things differently; more magically because of you! Thank you!
    I’m old enough to know I have an awesome dad too who will show me a similar world and I’m already smarter for the attentive love!

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. It’s beautiful. I haven’t seen my dad in a year because he’s in India and I study here. I’m calling him right now.

  3. I started reading your blog since this talk of 3 a’s od awesome in ted… Very nice talk, awesome history. really emotional

  4. Dads, right?! Miss mine so much, but this loving tribute to your dad made me smile as I remembered my dad and all that he was to me. Thank you.

  5. Of all the Awesome posts I have had the pleasure of reading, this one is by far the most beautiful, heartfelt, and personal of your “Awesome-isms.”. Thank you so much for sharing such intimate details of your beautiful father. You have a wonderful role model.

  6. Thanks Neil. The other truly awesome thing shining through in this post is the nearly inexpressible Love you, and all of us who are lucky enough to have great fathers, are blessed to feel. Feel it! AWESOME!

  7. Neil, this post is THE most awesome of all the 1000 Awesome Things! Thanks for doing what you do. You rock, dude.

  8. I remember his whistle and a widdled wooden boat. Jingling pocket change and our last camping trip when I was 8 years old.
    You are a marvel-model! Feel the love! AWESOME!

  9. Mr. Pasricha, you could give Fatherhood work-shops. With the breakdown of the family system, it’s just sad. Men today need a better frame of reference beyond books such as “Iron John”. I mean how does anyone aspire to a book! It’s novel, really.
    Men need men such as you as role models and then the family could have a chance of restoration! God bless you!

  10. I have to say, reading this was completely and utterly strange, as my father had a ridiculously similar story! He lived in Bangalore, India, with his 3 siblings. They all moved to Australia with $3, half of which he promptly spent on a lemonade! He became a PE teacher, and occasionally filled in for almost every other subject. My dad’s been a huge inspiration for my life, and I’m glad that yours was, too!

  11. I really loved reading this story about your Dad and the gentle but powerful effect he seems to have on people. Thank you for paying it forward by sharing your sense of wonder and gratitude for all the many small and large joys there are to find in this life. Awesome!

    In keeping with this tribute to Dads, I’d like to mention my own father, who I love and respect greatly. I’m blessed to have him for a Dad. Love you Dad! You’re awesome!

    I also want to mention my husband, who is one of the best Dad’s ever. My son and I are both lucky to have him. Honey, you rock :)

    Awesome

  12. What a wonderful glimpse into your life. Your dad is a visionary of the best, most humble kind, and you are truly a reflection of that vision. Imagine if every child had received that sort of influence, what a world this would be.
    Thanks for sharing, can’t wait to hear about your mom ;)

  13. Neil-That was one of your greatest posts! What a tribute to your fabulous dad with a humble spirit. Brought tears to my eyes.

  14. I’ve been following your blog for over a year now, and I have to say this has got to be my favourite awesome thing ever. Thank you so much for sharing the awesomeness of your father.

    Only recently (within the past year or so) have I come to truly appreciate my father for the awesomeness that he is. I only wish that I could express it to him as wonderfully as you have through your blog.

  15. Like so many others, I teared up when reading this awesome post about your dad. It is inspiring to all parents and teachers. These words touched my heart especially: “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.”

  16. What a beautiful tribute to your father. You are a very lucky person to have such a great man in your life.

  17. Through his own hard-ship came harmony and accord. Exactly the way a loving family with values pulls it together!
    Divine definition of Awesome!
    Thank you:)

  18. What a wonderful tribute to your Dad. He sounds like a truely AWESOME man and you are AWESOME to recognize him in this way. You brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for your blog. You bring a positive note to my day every day.
    P.S. I loved physics and I’m a zoology girl!

  19. That truly was wonderful. It appears that the two of you have a special bond born of love and mutual respect. I can’t imagine a better thing to have.

    I think a lot about the contributions my father has made to my life. He has taught me so many lessons. Some intentionally, some not so much. No matter what has ever gone on in our lives the number one thing was that he loves me and that has never once been in doubt. I hope so much that I manage to have that bond with my own son forever and I live to see him spread out into his own life and the world.

  20. Hey Neil. I’ve been reading your Awesome Things for a couple years, and this is one of my all-time favorites. I just found out this week that I’m pregnant with my first child, and I can’t wait to share this post with my husband. We’re both teachers, and I’d love nothing more than for our children to develop a passion for learning, exploring and giving back to the world. Many thanks to your dad and you for the inspiration!

  21. Thanks Neil for this great post. I hope to can be at least half of a great father as my dad is when i start my own family. I think your dad’s influence reflects on you with the way you write about him. Well written, got a bit teary there for a second.=)

  22. I went to see you when you came to talk to Heather at the Indigo store at Bay and Bloor a couple years ago. I picked the one empty seat in the front row and started talking to the man beside me. It turned out he was your father. I just remember him being incredibly sweet and I could tell that he was so proud to be there.

  23. I started tearing up from your first sentences and finished this post full on sobbing. What a beautiful post…thank you for sharing a bit of your father and your AWESOME relationship with us!

  24. Thank you so much for this – it is a pleasure to read posts on your blog :) I am from India and can tell you that so many of us have the same story. Our dads, from humble beginnings, studying and working hard throughout their lives to give their children the best possible future. Today I am an educated and successful career woman because of my dad’s math & science lessons :) – a story I share with countless other people I meet here! Thank you for reminding me to call my dad today and tell him I love him!

  25. one of my favourite entries :) we usually fail to recognize how amazing our family and loved ones are. I’m glad that you wrote this post, it was lovely.<3
    Truly AWESOME ;D xxxx

  26. Great post, Neil.

    As it happens, your dad is involved in one of my “dorky white guy stories.”

    You told me that he wanted to meet me at a family event. [Background for other readers, I hired Neil for a summer job].

    I went over to a 60something gent of Indian descent.

    Mr. Pasricha? I’m Mike

    Nice to meet you said Mr. Pasricha (your uncle) who didn’t have a clue who I was. Originally I thought it was a well-delivered epic prank by you until I figured out that he had the general understanding of your career that an uncle would without the exact details a dad would.

    Had a good chat with him then later met your dad who graciously made a big deal about meeting me.

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