By Nayef Khan
This is the second post in a two-part series about Nayef’s reflections on fatherhood. To read the first post, click here.
I’m in the driver’s seat, with my parents in the back seat and my pregnant wife in front. Her water has broken and we need to get to the hospital as soon as possible. The moments leading up to it is a blur – although my wife will never let me forget that I put a plastic bag over her seat to protect the leather! I grab the wheels and start driving. I kept saying to myself “This is it. All the years of driving has been leading up to this. This is high stakes – one wrong move and it would all be meaningless“. I knew I could trust my Audi A4. I let it rip and get to the hospital in 25 minutes (normally takes 45). I caught a glimpse of my father in the rearview mirror – poker faced, looking straight ahead. Reminded me of a time when our positions were reversed.
I park the car in front of a sign saying “no stopping, violators will be towed”. I leave the car there, ask my father to wait to prevent towing and take my about-to-deliver-wife upstairs. It didn’t occur to me to give him the keys. Was my unconscious plotting revenge?
My mother used to say “You will only realize what being a parent means when you have your own children”. The impact of the statement didn’t dawn on me until a little human being was handed to me that day. The past couple of years have given me enough time to think of what it means for me to be a father. This is my chance to have a meaningful impact in her life. So, logically, I went back in time to search for things that I was inspired by as a child and lessons I learned in reflecting in my childhood. It has set the tone for the type of father I’d like to be. In my last post, I likened my father’s approach to parenting to driving a car through the busy roads of Dhaka. Since I’ve come this far with the driving analogies, why stop now?
Always check the mirrors
I now use my rearview mirror, not just to see what’s happening with the traffic behind me, but also to keep tabs on what the little one is doing in the back seat. I see her sometimes looking at the street, spotting the traffic lights, demanding that I stop at red, and speed off the block (Go! Go! Go!) on green. I feel that she knows I’m monitoring her. She’ll have a silly grin on her face when our eyes meet, trying to establish communication. It feels like I’m reliving an experience from my childhood, but in a very different context.
Always drive the way you want to be driven
The value of leading by example has been ingrained in me from an early age. When I see my daughter monitoring me from the back-seat, I know that she will learn from what I do. To me, it is essential that I set myself up to a high standard that sets the tone for her.
Build trust with the navigator
Driving takes a lot of focus. During long drives, it is usually up to the navigator (person riding shotgun/ in passenger seat) to figure out when/where to stop and correct course. Imagine if the driver and navigator had troubles getting along? To me, it is essential for me and my partner to present a common interface to our child. It is not possible for one parent to cater to all needs – working as a team can lead to becoming much more than just sum of the parts.
Don’t worry about a wrong turn
We live in a world that changes so fast. We need to stay engaged and adapt as surroundings change. My wife has been a great believer in engaging me in our child’s upbringing at every step of the way. For that I’m eternally grateful. It’s given me the opportunity to be present in the major moments of her life. Sometimes, I go on a work trip for a week, only to come back and see that our regular routine interaction has been replaced by a different ritual. No point trying to bring it back… just go with the flow and you’ll find a new way forward.
Preventative maintenance is key to longevity
13 years on, I still have my first car. Preventative maintenance has always been important to me for keeping the car running. That way, you can trust the car to deliver performance. The same is true for any relationship, be it with partner, parents of children. Identifying problem areas early helps build a trust in the relationship. Just like an adult, it also requires effort to earn a child’s trust. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “there’s only one right answer”. In the age that we live now, the permutation of possibilities are endless. Remember, the adventure is theirs, but the experience can be yours.
When my child grows up to take the wheels of her own life, all I hope is to have left a positive imprint on her mind. Sometimes, children don’t want you to teach them how the game works – they just want to guide you into their playing field. Maybe that is when they learn how to transition from backseat to driver’s seat.
*This post has been entirely written by guest contributor Nayef Khan. All thoughts and opinions are the author’s own. The post has not been edited in terms of content but has been adapted to fit the blog format. – Sonia Kabir