Last Sunday was a memorable day for my family. My son graduated from university.
It seems only yesterday that Ihsan started university education at Cornell University in remote Ithaca, New York. Today, four years later, he has earned a dual-major Bachelor's degree in Physics and Economics by completing the graduation requirements of both the departments.
Further, he was honoured as one of four students to address the Ivy League university's convocation ceremony attended by 20,000 people.
The occasion made me proud beyond words. It also made me pause and think about fatherhood.
My father often quoted a Bangla saying: sneho nimnogami. It means “affection flows downwards.” Caring for offspring is a force of nature, a force much stronger than we feel for others. My siblings and I benefitted from this unconditional love from my parents who made great sacrifices to raise their children.
So when my wife and I were blessed with children, life had made a full circle.
Time flew by fast. Now it all seems a blur – baby food and diapers, vaccinations and first day of school, shopping for kiddie clothes, reading aloud and watching cartoons. The first birthday rolled into the second, others came and went quickly.
We asked ourselves the same question other parents ask – am I a good mother or father to my children?
Most of us look to our own childhood for hints on being a good parent. But times change. How does one account for changes that have taken place between generations?
Some things remain the same through changing times. For example: the need for open communication, with at least one parent, so that the child can confide both good and bad things about their life.
Close friends of the youngster are extremely important. In childhood and adolescence I was lucky to have friends who pushed, inspired and challenged me, whether in studies or sports. Parents can and should monitor the behaviour and ambition of the friends.
Should parents take a hands-on interest in the children's studies? In my day, parent-teacher conferences were rare. My father taught me English grammar in Class III but that was his last direct involvement in my studies. But given today's demanding curricula, it becomes vital for parents to stay directly engaged to whatever extent possible.
When parents take an interest in their children's activities, it strengthens the bond between them. This must be done while minimizing intrusion into the child's space. For Ihsan who likes public speaking, his mother played a crucial role. For his athletic and outdoor activities I engaged him early on.
My parents always made me take my decisions (and deal with the consequences.) This helped me become independent. I tried to do the same with our children, but perhaps not to the same extent.
What is the most important gift that parents can give to children? I believe it is time. Childhood passes quickly never to return. But the time you spend with your children nurtures them for life and stays with you as cherished memories.
I leave you with a quote from Kahlil Gibran which resonated with me on this special day:
“Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”