“If I can make him a good human being, that is what my responsibility is. That is the priority, highlighted, bolded, on the top,” said Priyanka. She and many others expressed that a child should be raised to be a good person. This raises the question: what makes a good person?
In India, values offered language to define a good person. People told me about how their father inspired their values. I admired the conviction and introspection in each story. Discipline, compassion, and patience are highlighted in these conversations about parenthood within the context of India. Their stories indicate that the primary goal of a human being is to be a good person. India’s diversity shows there is more than one way to be a good person. I believe the best way to be a good dad is to start with being a good person.
Salman told me about his father’s discipline and how it changed their lives. “My father always wanted to study, and my grandfather was progressive so he let him. My grandfather told him that the family doesn’t have much money, so he had to study with whatever they had. My father studied, and he became a judge. My father worked in my grandfather’s shop while he studied. He would go to the shop and keep reading. He did his bachelor’s in law. He did his master’s in law. He practiced law as an advocate. Then he qualified for an exam to become an entry level judge. The education in these towns was not very expensive compared to the U.S. or India today. The fee for that school would be half a dollar for the month. The bigger challenge than the money was having the discipline to study and not get pulled into other things.” His father lived in Meerut with his parents and 9 siblings. Salman grew up in different circumstances thanks to his father’s discipline. His father inspired him: “My father had done it from that environment then why shouldn’t I be able to?” Salman did not follow his father into law, but he did internalize his discipline. This value permitted him to create his own path in his life.
Saif emphasized his father’s compassion. “You don’t know what has happened in someone’s life and my father saw me talking to a waiter like he was my servant. In my home, I have servants. Everyone feels like they are a part of our family. I told them I want chai and I want coffee. I was talking in Hindi very bad to them. My father heard me talking to them like this. My father told me they are like his brother and sister. I said that we pay them to do this. My father said that he would give me a whole month’s payment just for 1 day to do their work. We lived in a 5-story home. I thought it was easy: clean a few beds, cook a little food. I started the next morning. After 2 floors, I was done. Now I understand their feelings. I give them respect. Give love. Take love. If they need help, just ask me. He always told me to feel them also, and not just feel myself. It’s not about the servants. You must feel every person.” One of the things that interested me about fatherhood is how people are taught to treat others. Saif’s father was deliberate in teaching him compassion. This is an appreciation of others’ troubles. This led Saif to connect rather than divide.
Aishwarya said that unlike many Indian parents, her father was exceptionally patient – almost to a fault. “I was not a very good student. There was one time I flunked very badly: I got 5 marks out of 100. Instead of scolding me, my father got me ice cream and said, ‘Let’s celebrate. We haven’t had anyone who has gotten 5 marks doing mathematics. She is the first one!’ He told me to do what I like to do. He was not going to take a stick and go after me. It was my life. Studies were important, but do something that interests me. He is not a person who would try to show his authority; he is very cool. He will give you proper guidance, but his role ends there.” In retrospect, it is easy to see how one has overreacted as a father. However, a family clearly remembers how a father reacts to bad news. In these moments, Aishwarya’s father was patient. This led her to have patience: “I just keep my calm and know that we can fix it. Think from a very cool mind and find a solution. If you are under pressure and you are angry or sad then you are not able to make the right decisions. This is something I have picked up from my dad. I saw him all my life and he’s been the same person. This has helped me in my personal and professional life.”
There are more values than discipline, compassion, and patience. A good person has values and makes a good father because the family learns those values. The impact of fatherhood can be massive for a single person. I came to India for its diverse perspective and different values. This single countries has different languages and customs and beliefs depending on the geography of you birth. Almost every day, I had a conversation about values a person should have. Each person emphasized a different value. These values did not contrast each other but worked together to define a good person.
People in India consistently respected differences in this diverse country. This respect is something I gained from this year’s journey. Listening to our different experiences teaches us different ways to be good people. This also teaches us different ways to be good parents.
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