Thursday, July 10, 2014

One of the most influential leaders in my life turns 79 today

Today marks the 79th birthday of my father Radhey Shyam Dwivedi who taught me about a lot of things in life and set the example for me on how to be a good father and to have compassion for those in greater need.  He shared Pavi Mehta's story with others and me when he learned of her work with Karma Kitchen and her uncle's work offering free eye care in clinics around the world because it immediately touched him as a message to share with others. That's the story of my dad.  He is a humble man that lives simply, and well below his means to this day.  He earned a comfortable and quiet life of financial security after a near 40 year career as a professor, retiring from Howard University after running the university's electron microscopy lab.  He showed me and my brothers how to be helpful to others wherever and whenever we could.  

Everyone has a biological father or someone that acts like a father figure to them in this world whether actual, adopted or figurative.  They are not all equal however in their abilities or capacity to care, support and love their children, or in the gifts they can pass to their children.  My father is an interesting character.  He was incredibly strict with my brothers and me growing up.  Some could arguably call his style of parenting a fault, much as "Tiger Mom," Amy Chua, was criticized for her style of raising her children.  Our mother was every bit a Tiger Mom, and used my father as the enforcer to mete out justice for major indiscretions, insubordination, or general mischief we got into as kids and teens.  My brothers and I, unfortunately, gave them a lot to worry about and as a result I spent a lot of my teen years restricted to going to school and coming back home.  I fought a lot with other kids (they were bad guys though), and got suspended quite regularly in junior high school.  My suspensions were occasions where I had to go to work with my dad at his lab.  I would meet his graduate students doing research in his lab and hang out with them.  It was very boring for a kid.

He had a typewriter there at his office, and would let me use it to write.  I can say that his encouragement in those formative years is what made me love writing.  I was not a bad kid, but I did need the discipline that he handed out.  Otherwise, I don't know who I would be today based on the friendships I was making in those formative years as a teenager.  It was not easy for our immigrant parents to raise three boys in America with different values from their Indian culture, and I am amazed at how we all turned out.  His family has 8 grandkids and four households with more ups than downs over the last 50+ years of our lives in America. I realize though, that this was not by happenstance.  It was due to the steadfast resolve of my father and mother before she passed away from cancer.  Back when we were growing up, my dad was a role model for justice, dependability, integrity, knowledge, loyalty and endurance way before I knew what those words meant as a leader.  When my mother got sick and died at the age of 48 and my father was around age 50, he was the rock in our lives and his example of how you grieve and deal with great loss made a lasting impression on me as an 18 year old.

I don't know if he understands to this day what his steadfast resolve to always care, expect the best from his kids and grandkids and others he meets means to them.  His love and support often comes with deserved criticism that he delicately shares.  It always comes from a place of love and well meaning to enlighten and share his thoughts and opinions.  He continues to set an example for me as a father to my kids and as a role model to follow for being a good and compassionate person.  I am amazed at the depths of his compassion and concern he has for his family and friends, and his willingness to bail everyone out of jams financially, emotionally or spiritually if ever needed.  I don't know how I can ever pay forward, as in the Karma Kitchen example, all that I owe him in life.  If I can amass half of the compassion for others that he has, I will be on my way to being a better person and will try.  

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