The older I get, the more I appreciate my dad’s accomplishments. This Father’s Day, I want to celebrate Dad’s achievements in spite of the challenges he had to overcome.
His story isn’t all that unique. Many other men from our community of his generation could tell a similar tale. My father liked to say that the Partition of India and Pakistan left our families refugees in our own country. Overnight, Hindu Sindhis left properties, businesses, and success in modern-day Pakistan for religious refuge in India. Ours is a community that has prided itself on overcoming these losses and thriving despite having to start over from nothing.
These refugees settled all over the world. Both sets of my grandparents, once neighbors three houses apart, found themselves settling in India. My dad’s brothers later each left India to work in the Far East, some leaving as early as 8th grade to contribute to the family’s finances.
My dad followed in his brothers’ footsteps after a couple of semesters of college. Of his brothers, my dad may have had the most education, but he never actually got a degree. He said he had wanted to be a lawyer. However, the need to provide financial stability for the family took priority over personal ambitions.
He spent time primarily in Hong Kong working for more established uncles and then eventually with his brothers in their own company. That work led to his coming to the US. He traveled across much of the country as a salesman for custom-tailored suits. One by one, he and his brothers married and settled down wherever the wind blew.
Dad eventually opened a jewelry store. He pointed out that he couldn’t afford to take long vacations, which would require him to close the shop. He managed the store with my mom’s help and some occasional part-time employees. I grew up doing homework in the back room, assisting customers, and helping pack up the showcases in the evenings.
Now that I’m helping run a small business, I have a renewed appreciation for the types of challenges my dad faced. If I have a question, I can search the internet. If I want to learn about something, there’s likely an online course I can access at my convenience. Free accounting software—with tutorials!—handles my recordkeeping needs and keeps the math straight.
Dad used to keep a paper ledger for his accounts. He tried to teach me the basics of what he picked up over years of working and having to learn it all himself.
Without a business degree.
Without a reliable mentor to advise him.
Armed with common sense, limited resources, and a bitter need to single-handedly provide for his family ….
Honestly, I don’t think I could have done it. Look at my privilege. I have an engineering degree that makes me quite appealing to an employer even absent my now-many years of work experience. If I had to start “from scratch” right now, I have a lot of advantages and opportunities open to me.
My dad—so many dads—didn’t have the luxury of an education or a corporate job with paid benefits. Some lacked fluency in English. So add a language barrier to their limited skill set. I’ll note that some of his friends did receive a college education. It offered them a significant advantage when they immigrated, giving them more work opportunities than becoming independent shop owners.
Sure, it’s easy to look at the small business I’m helping run and find lots of ways to do things better, faster, cheaper …. It’s easy to say that it’s supposed to be done this way or that a particular decision or action was a mistake. Meanwhile, I have the luxury of good computer skills and time to improve things. I’m not building something from scratch, where I need to hit a certain revenue each month just to keep the lights on. I’m not trying to build a customer base—I’m trying to grow an existing one.
Awe fills me now when I try to comprehend the challenges my dad faced … that so many dads in his position faced. How much did I take for granted that was actually the product of a lot of hard work and even harder-earned experience? Only now, with some understanding gained from my own experience and perspective, can I begin to see. So I celebrate Dad’s achievements—so many dads’ achievements. They eased the way for their children’s successes, and there’s no great achievement than that.
With Deepest Sympathy
This Father’s Day marks the sixth since I lost my dad. In the past two weeks, three families dear to us suddenly found themselves facing their first Father’s Day without their dad. My heart is with them.