On Resilience and the Freedom of Choice
Dear Mom & Dad,
As I celebrate 25 years of life today, you’re celebrating 25 years of parenthood. 25 was a special year, and it would be so incomplete if we didn’t celebrate this milestone together. Since I’m not home in person this year, I’m writing you this letter to share my gratitude from afar.
Mom, Dad, you have raised such a beautiful daughter!
…if I may say so myself. Today is about celebrating me after all, so let’s just acknowledge that one more time: you have truly raised such a beautiful daughter. I could not be more proud of who I am today. I have the courage to love and spread compassion. I have big dreams and the drive to work hard towards them. I am investing in my own growth and development. I’m not perfect, but I am a person I am proud to be – and so much of that I owe to you. Thank you.
Growing up, we were never a family of long heart to hearts, and you instilled values in us not through your words, but through your actions. You showed me audacity, you taught me to work for my ambitions with grit, you showed me what it means to create small bits of happiness in tough times, and you showed me the power of a hearty laugh and warm smile.
Above all else, you showed me what it means to be resilient and you gave me the freedom of choice.
17 years ago, you immigrated to Canada with $200 in your pocket, and two young, confused daughters. I recognize today, what that decision meant for you – it was a decision lined with necessity and hope. Dad, I can only imagine what you must have felt the first time you heard your MBA degree had no meaning here, or Mom, when you heard that 10 years of experience as a college teacher were worthless. No matter how hard I try, I cannot understand how it would feel to be dismissed intellectually, and told that you were only capable of operating factory machines or driving a taxi. I wonder if I will ever have the strength and courage with which you accepted those roles, out of necessity for survival and the hope for Mehak and my futures.
Growing up, Mehak and I had everything we needed and more. Today, we see the physical marks of the stresses and hard work that went into making that happen in dad’s yellowing teeth from stress smoking over 15 hour taxi driving shifts, and the clotting nerve ends on mom’s legs from 12 hour standing shifts at night operating a chewing gum packing machine. Today, I can start to understand that the terrible decisions you sometimes made are not as irrational as we thought, given the constant stress and circumstances you faced the last 17 years.
But none of this stopped you, and for that, you are my heroes. I love that you stood tall against all of these challenges and rebuilt a life and an identity for yourself. The wall in our house with the diplomas of Human Resources, Millwright Mechanics, and Real Estate – all courses you did in your free time after the 12 hour shifts – are a testament to this. The way you speak to us in such a natural mix of English and Punjabi, and the way growing up, we hosted friends over for the most amazing Easter Egg Hunts, and then celebrated Diwali with pride on our street, show your determination to integrate your identity to your new world. Even today, 17 years later, when you still face racism at work, you stand tall and fight it silently with your attitude and hard work. Every single day, you embody resilience and do everything it takes to create the life you want for yourselves and for me and Mehak.
You taught me the definition of resilience is so much deeper than the dictionary version where they describe resilience as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
I believe resilience is sustained courage.
By showing me resilience, you prepared me to stand tall in the face of any challenge that comes my way. I only hope that one day, when I need it most, I will have the strength and resilience you had in your life.
This last year, I know, has been especially tough for you, particularly with the decisions I’m making that you don’t yet understand. You’ve questioned out loud why you made the countless number of compromises that you did, if your daughter was going to leave behind her well-paying, successful career to go live and work in a remote village of India, by choice. The answer to that lies in the last two words of that sentence – by choice. You compromised everything to give Mehak and I the freedom of choice. This choice is one that not many children around the world have – especially not here in India, even not many Indians abroad, and definitely not many girls in many countries around the world.
I can not be more grateful for the opportunities you created for me to grow up with the freedom to education and the exposure to radical ideas. You encouraged me to participate in programs like SHAD Valley, back when it was a crazy idea amongst your friend circle to let your 16 year old daughter go live away for 1 month, and you encouraged me to live on campus through university, even when we lived a distance that could be easily commutable.
Through this education and exposure, you raised daughters with bold, global ambitions. My education in Canada, and the savings I have today from the last three years of work, allow me the freedom of choice to dream boldly and pursue my questions.
I know that you’ll always support me in the choices I make, and I also know you have a responsibility to worry. But I hope you see that you don’t have to worry. In the worst of scenarios, if I fail hard and don’t find answers to the questions I’m pursuing, I’ll get up with the same resilience you used for the last 17 years. And if the day comes when I don’t have the same strength and resilience, I promise you, Mom and Dad, you will be the first people I call for help.
You did not work this hard for me to live a mediocre life. For you, the meaning of your work for the last 25 years was building a life of freedom for Mehak and me. I know how much it means to you, for me to live a comfortable life, because that will be the output of your life’s work. I hope you recognize that we already are living a successful life.
The output of our lives, having grown up with the success of your life, is going to be true equality, compassion, and freedom in the world. That’s what our generation is here to do.
You’ve raised me to have the audacity, humility, and courage to pursue this dream. Thank you, Mom, thank you Dad.
Here’s to the last 25 years of parenthood, and to the next 25 years of friendship!
With love and warmth,