Most Aspire To Be A Great Parent. I Want To Be A Useful Dad.
As parents, most of us want to be better than our parents. I feel different, I want to be a useful parent.
Raising children is not my aim. Nurturing them is.
Helping them is not in my radar. Empowering them is.
I do not plan to go out of their way when they turn 18 nor do I plan to micromanage their life before they are 18.
My 6th grade daughter knows one rule — if she has a tough homework question, I wouldn’t solve it but I will work with her to edit her first answer proposal. She always swings by with her reasoning. Best learning is self learning through iteration. I am a fellow passenger in her life within an ear shot. Nothing more, nothing less.
I adore it that way. Here is why.
Sometimes, best parenting inspirations come from an unexpected source — in my case from a social entrepreneur, Paul Polak, with a massive obituary tribute by NY times.
Like many families in the Americas (dating back to varying degrees of ancestry), Paul’s family immigrated. His father had the fortitude to foresee the marching German army to Czechoslovakia.
He had a flourishing plant nursery business, but he sold everything at a steep discount and moved his family to the Americas.
Paul grew up and became a psychiatrist, focusing on supporting the homeless population. As he prescribed medications to them, however, he noticed a recurring pattern: they consistently returned.
He felt a heavy weight on his heart that he was treating a symptom and not the real problem. So he decided to portray the entrepreneurial spirit of his father — he started to fully listen to his customers and showed up where the customers were.
By doing that, he helped one of the homeless men to start his own business of lending makeshift locker boxes to fellow vagabonds for a nominal amount. That gesture broke the recurring pattern. And Paul made it his mission for 40+ years to break poverty in unexpected ways.
Here is what he taught me — to shatter a long-held belief.
“If you give a man a fish, he can feed himself for a day. If he spends the time to learn how to fish [with your help], he can feed himself for a lifetime.”
The implicit words never stated that we all assume are, “If he spends the time to learn how to fish with a fishing rod, he can feed himself for a lifetime.”
Where Paul found his life-long meaning was the changed words, “If he spends the time to learn how to fish with tools he bought with his own money, he can feed himself for a lifetime.”
There are two subtleties here. First, every tool is not a fishing rod. Second, people exit poverty not when well wishers donate tools to them, but rather when they invest their own time and money on tools that can help them.
Paul’s life mission was the craft tools that they can afford themselves. A market solution rather than a charitable solution.
Ownership vs. doling out.
Connecting the Dots: What it means to the parent in you?
His aha took a long moment for me to register. When it did, I smiled — I could relate.
As a parent, I am always looking for ways to help my two young daughters enjoy eating vegetables. I often ask them to help pick vegetables at the farmer’s market or the grocery store.
Then, I sense their feeling of ownership when those vegetables are served to them at the dining table.
Opportunities to take ownership often lead to progress.
It’s the difference between nurturing a seed vs. raising a plant.
In my humble opinion, it’s the difference between being useful vs. aspiring to be a great parent.
Summary: Parenting belief system and choices.
The world famous entrepreneur, Elon Musk, built his world around fundamental building blocks that he calls — first principles thinking. First principles thinking is the act of boiling a process down to the fundamental parts that you know are true and building up from there.
As an entrepreneur, he has reaped great benefits ascribing to that philosophy of thinking.
Being a parent is core of my being. The first principles thinking are two — belief system and choices. Both are interconnected.
“You have a choice.” shared a well-wisher of mine with warmth in his voice. I still distinctly remember the words, “You can either give them a crutch or you can give them your shoulder to lean in to solve their problem. Then, they have a chance to lean forward on their own — with pride and self- sustaining confidence.”
The underbelly of choice is a belief system. A belief that there is someone with unshakeable faith in you. Who said that person needs to be your better half only? It could also be a parent.
My life revolves around that one goal. There is someone who believes in me, in my judgements, in my ability, in my cadence and in me being me. That someone is me for my two daughters. I don’t need this etched in stone by thumping a desk. Rather in their hearts and mind — lurching in the background. A belief that they belong.
After all, foreground is theirs to keep. Me in the foreground is overrated.
That belief is interwoven with choices. I hope my daughters choices lead them to be better every day from the day before — on their own terms, based on their own learnings.
Somewhere in the background are the invisible hands of their family — applauding their resilience, cherishing their balance and enjoying how they carry their full self to whatever they choose to do.