By NAVEED GILANI
My eleventh grade Chemistry teacher in Notre Dame College Dhaka, Fr. Graham, once advised us to always aim high. He said something like, “to reach for the top of the door you have to aim for the ceiling” – his way of making the 14/15-year-olds understand the point. The message stuck because here I am, talking about it after 48 years.
As a young boy, I wasn’t particularly bright but by the time Fr. Graham gave his advice I had started enjoying the fruits of working hard at school. In class nine I was among the last in class and then suddenly in the first quarter of class ten I started enjoying learning and propelled myself to be the first. That and my other small successes during school and later in college gave me that self-confidence that is so uplifting for a young boy – ‘Today Germany, Tomorrow the World’ was the general mood.
We all know people in our lives who are naturally wired to go the extra mile at everything that they do. I too, was wound up like this as I entered my working life. I was young and I was hungry. My training in Industrial Engineering, that has to do with optimization of processes, systems, etc., gave further impetus to my ‘push the envelope’ attitude. I often set big goals for myself in both personal and work settings. Sometimes too big to achieve, I must confess. Anything that came my way, I took head on, never afraid of trying anything new or taking on something that I had never done before. Took on challenges with fearlessness, sometimes naïvely, but came out unscathed almost every time.
When it came time to raising our three lovely boys my world view was still the same. I applied the same expectations of them that I would often set for myself. High! During school I would expect them to come in the upper percentile of the class. My wife, on the other hand, who is from a totally different culture and background, was a tempering personality in the house. She was fine with a ‘C’ where I wasn’t. She was, and still is, the Cool one. I wasn’t then and still not. She made the best chocolate chip cookies and chocolate brownies in town. She was the classical ‘soccer mom’, cheering herself hoarse sitting on the sidelines at any game that the boys played or shouting and running along the edge of the pool when the boys were competing in their swim team. I, on the other hand, would show my face at the prize distribution ceremonies, school plays, or in the parent’s meet at school. The boys did go to the best schools that were available and we, both my wife and I, supported them in any extra-curricular activities that they wanted to be part of. They did well, not all ‘A’s but not all ‘C’s either.
Post high school, they went to good colleges. Of course, I wanted them to go to the best colleges in the world but by this time I had learnt the ways of my wife, ‘do the best you can and hope for the best’. They did well there too; after graduating with good GPAs they are now blazing their own trails. Who knows where these trails will lead them to but we ‘hope for the best’.
As I walk into my sunset years I also look back and take stock, how did I do; how far have I come? The scorecard is a mixed bag – some good, an odd great, some bad, and a wide swathe of average in between; have covered some distance from where providence marked my starting line. An unbiased bystander looking at my march through the years and the stars I tried to reach would probably go, hmmph……. And so, hmmph it is.
But what about my grade, what do I get? I know they are not all ‘A’s.
Here is an interesting story that is sure to lighten up the gravity of my grades. This was fall of 1982; I was living in Tennessee learning to become a hobbyist private pilot. I had just finished my final flight test when my flight examiner asks me, “how do you score yourself”? That day I had flown from Gallatin, a small town in Tennessee, to this other small town about 30 minutes (flying time) away where the flight examiner was waiting for me to put me through the flight test. In the USA, these small airports are spread all over the country and are usually uncontrolled, which means that there is no flight control tower and the pilots just announce their arrivals, departures, or their whereabout on the radio at a common frequency for all to hear. It was a beautiful sunny day and perfect weather for a single engine Cessna 152 to be flying around over the beautiful southern countryside. I announced my approach at the airport where the examiner was waiting for me. I landed perfectly and as I approached the airport building I realized, to my shock, that it was the wrong airport. I quickly checked my map and sure enough, I had landed at an airport 10 miles away from the one that I had intended to land. I didn’t stop, kept on rolling, and flew right out. Just at this time, the examiner asks me on the radio, “nine-eight Bravo, you said you have landed but I don’t see you anywhere”? I responded hesitantly and embarrassingly, “this is nine-eight Bravo, I landed at another airport, just took off and heading your way”. You can imagine my nervousness when I arrived at the appointed airport. The examiner was nice, he greeted me with warmth and assurance and told me that it was an honest mistake and to have a cup of coffee before we fly out for my flight test. Needless to say, my nervousness caused me to make a couple of mistakes, nothing life threatening but mistakes nevertheless. After landing I come to a stop, shut off the engine and while still in the cockpit, he asks me this question. I paused and responded shyly, “I give me a 75”. The score was out of 100 and 70 was the passing grade. He was pleased with my response and said that he would have given me an 80. He signed my docs and from then on, I was a bona fide Private Pilot.
I would have liked a 100 but settled for an 80. That afternoon, I flew back to Gallatin with a proud big smile.
Herein this article I set out to score myself as a father; how did I score? I know that this is not as simple as grading a math tests. The book says that a father-son relationship goes through 5 stages, viz; idolize, discord, evolving, acceptance, and legacy. Like with most people we zipped through the first stage very early. Beyond this stage, I am not saying where we are, but I sense the elements of the relationship and I recuse myself from giving a grade. I do however, think of all the wonderful things that we, father and sons, did together and all that I would still like to do but then………
As I now straddle the retirement age I am making plans for what I will do next. Again, I am wanting to do this, that, and everything – things that I haven’t done and there are plenty of those. I try and keep myself in-check on my desires, but my knee-jerk setting is to try everything despite knowing well that there is much less steam now.
I take solace in my wife’s advice, ‘do the best you can and hope for the best’. I did my best; I am at peace; I am grateful.