After thirty-six weeks, five days, twelve hours and thirty-eight minutes of waiting, my daughter was born and I, her dad, barely made it to her birth.
Being a master's student at the Harvard Kennedy School had caused me to be away from my home in India during most of the pregnancy but I had rehearsed this moment a million times in my mind. I was confident; after all, she was my second child. But as I stood outside the operation theatre, I found myself praying to all the gods that I could remember.
I knew that she was a fighter, just like her mother. Both had survived a very difficult pregnancy. She proved it again when she announced her arrival in the world with a thundering cry that I could hear beyond the closed doors of the operation theatre and all the way down in the waiting area. As the nurse handed her to me, all wrapped up in blankets, I held her close and was filled with a deep sense of contentment, as though my whole life had condensed in her tiny frame.
"Papa loves you," I whispered in her ear. Then she did the unthinkable, barely an hour old, she turned her neck to follow my voice. I would like to believe that she actually recognised my voice from the hours spent talking to her over the speakerphone from halfway across the world. In that moment, I fell in love again.
Our daughter completed us as a family. My wife, Pooja, and I were proud parents to our seven-year-old son, Shaurya, but we always missed having a daughter. For the past four years, I have been away from home on work-related assignments and felt extremely guilty that I had missed some of the most beautiful years of my son's childhood. Now, I had another chance to not only watch my daughter grow up but also make up to my son and my wife for all those years that I was absent.
We got her home when she was all of four days old. As soon as she was home, the relatives poured in. The most common discussion was, whom does she resemble, me or Pooja? Soon enough, we were discussing everything from our daughter's nose to her lips, trying to slot her into Pooja's face type or mine.
No sooner had we agreed to disagree, a second issue came up. Her name! The issue was bigger, more emotional and had multiple stakeholders. We did everything from conference calls to email trails to survey monkeys and finally, after hours of research and negotiations, we all agreed on the name "Aadya", which means "the beginning."
Her birth was indeed the beginning of a self-reflective journey for me. As I gazed upon her face, I started to slow down and began noticing the small things that made our lives special. I noticed every single expression that played on her face. I noticed the small smile that every once in a while caressed her lips. I noticed the twinkle in her eyes when she gazed about the room and my heart leaped with joy with her every chuckling sound.
The days flew by and all too soon I had to go back to my studies in the US, leaving behind Aadya, who was just six days old. As I packed with a heavy heart something nudged at the corners of my conscience.
I realised I had become a bit too busy, a bit too ambitious and a lot more self-centred. I had travelled to far-off places in pursuit of grand and elusive dreams, which included my work at Harvard. In the process, I had started feeling alone, more stressed due to the incessant pressure to perform which in turn made me frustrated or angry at the smallest setback. After all, I was an achiever who could not fail.
In this mad adrenaline rush, I forgot that my strength lay with my family who never stopped me from doing all that I wanted. I realized that my happiness lay not in faraway destinations, but at home, in the chuckles of Aadya, in the naughtiness of Shaurya and in the love of Pooja. My failure lay not in some inconsequential deadline but in the fact that I did not have enough time for the people who loved me most.
Aadya's birth made me want to come back home. I counted DLTGBH (Days left to go back home) as I toiled through another semester at Harvard. As I sat in class, this fall, I imagined Aadya taking her first baby steps, my son winning his first cricket match, and finally all four of us walking back home together, silhouetted in the evening glow.
Now I am back from Harvard, and I have seen the first two images come true. I have seen Aadya take her first baby steps and this time, I stopped. I stopped to take in the moment, to clap with joy and see Aadya's toothy smile appear on her round face. I also saw my son score his first runs. This time I had the time to hug my son and click a selfie by squeezing my family close. And in those moments, I felt all tensions melt away, I felt at peace, more calm, more assured, more loved which in turn made me feel stronger, more empathetic, more accepting and more forgiving of myself and of others. I smiled more and made in turn more people smiled with me.
I thought about this paradox: Slowing down made me go faster. Stopping made me go further. This paradox taught me to make time for people I cared about the most as they were the reason why I wanted to do well in the first place. I realised that I wanted to do well so that my Shaurya and my Aadya would look up to their dad. I wanted to do well as I wanted my family to be happy but I had not realised that for my children I was already a hero, albeit an absent one earlier. For them, their biggest happiness was me and being there for the small things made all the difference. We were the happiest when we were together. At that time I was stripped of all my achievements, all ambitions, I was just a loving husband, a loving son and a loving dad and guess what I loved it!
I dedicate this article to all of us who are fiercely ambitious, extremely successful, the go getters, the star achievers who unfortunately have become too busy for their loved ones. I have one piece of advice, please do stop a moment, take time to squeeze together in a small camera frame and take a family selfie. Make time for a parent-teacher meeting or to cheer your ward at a school race as though it were the Olympics itself. It's wonderful stress therapy which will put all things in perspective and magically you will find yourself more motivated, more inspired and above all feel more loved.
Sometimes stopping can go a long distance!