Forcing dreams

A dad struggles trying to make the 'right' decision for his teenage daughter



By Jagdesh Singh | OPINION

She gleefully finished her chocolate lava cake, her dimples from her smile now apparent again, as we finished the day with the formality of cutting her birthday cake. It wasn’t even a typical birthday cake. Just a small-sized lava cake enough for her and her sisters.

I’m told her day was a good day. She had participated in some rehearsal long distance run representing her school. Her new friends weren’t that new after all, acquaintances from her primary school days. And her dimples from her smile danced as she recounted her day.

It was a completely different picture a week back. She was stuck in a rut, depressed and sad. Her eyes had bags from crying every night, her face skin blemished. I know my daughter was trying her best to put up a brave front, to appease her parents but her free fall into sadness overpowered this brave face very quickly whenever we tried to console her.

Her acceptance into a well known sports school to start off her secondary education came abruptly mid-December. Typical of us, we rushed through our year-end vacation with minimal preparation for her to start her hostel boarding. And when I say preparation, I meant emotionally. Neither she, nor us, her parents, were mentally nor emotionally ready for our first born to be away from home so early in her life. We just pressed ahead with the optimism that her potential as a football player at the state level and even perhaps national level would do her good in the long run. We, her parents, did. She, on the other hand, reserved herself, knowing full well that she couldn’t adjust being away from her home and family.

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As her father, I already had visions of singing the national anthem at a packed stadium with her in the middle of the stadium to marshal the defense of her team. I convinced her and her mother that all she needed was time to acclimate to her new surroundings in the hostel. I had managed to mask her apparent sadness with layering this vision of mine above it all. “All she needed was time”, I repeated to her, her mother, and to myself.

By the third week, she was the same. Crying every night. An old friend, my mentor in life as a father and husband, asked me what my aim was to put her through this. It was an uncomfortable phone call as I waffled on about excellence, about her being exposed to the highest level of competition, her potential to grow as an outstanding sports person, playing for state, and so on and on. As I spoke, I dithered and faltered. I couldn’t even convince myself if this was my dream for her or if this was her dream. He listened, as he always has. And the awkward silence at the end suddenly made the visions I had of my daughter manifest into something physically heavy on my shoulders. “How about you ask her truthfully?” he suggested.

When I did ask her, she was brave. She told me and her mother that she was willing to give it more time. But the tears in her eyes were more truthful. Her tears told us more than her brave facade. She was doing this for my dreams, not hers. It was all in that moment. It clicked for me. I could’ve persevered. I could’ve pushed on, even if my visions of her in the future were now no more crystal clear. But it didn’t seem right, emotionally. Her mother’s eyes penetrated mine, as she silently tried to convince me that we should listen to our daughter.

As I write this, I still don’t know if if I made the right decision to transfer her to the school she had wanted to go initially, sacrificing the potential of her etching her destiny as a sports woman. And I don’t know if I should trust my young teenager daughter to chart her own path at such a young tender age of thirteen. But I remember being rebellious and how I vehemently objected what my father thought should be my path, as I had just done with my daughter. I also remember my father empowering me to figure out my own dreams and ambitions as I matured in my teens when he realized that dreams are not meant to be forced upon.

My generation, and the following generations, have the luxury to choose our dreams, to take time discovering. This is simply because we’ve been lucky enough to not worry about putting food on the table, our parents provided in abundance. Because of this luxury, there really shouldn’t be any justification to push and force upon our children our ideals, our dreams. At least not when it causes unhappiness. Perhaps she will find her way to flourish and to express herself in another way. This to me now, would be more valuable, than for her to achieve excellence that I define for her. Maybe her definition differs completely, and maybe that’s just fine for her. As long as her dimples dance in her smile. Always.

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


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