I start from the end.
When I first opened it, I was reminded immediately that my father no longer lived. It is an extremely private world, the pages of a diary. And having entered his, I was taken straight to the core.
“The ideal man of Vedanta…” he wrote in calligraphy, “will accept pain as readily as pleasure; hatred, wrong, insult and injustice as composedly as love, humour, and kindness—death, as courageously as life. For in all things he will see the mighty will which governs the Universe.”
He had never uttered those words to us as children, or even as adults, but those were the words he lived.
As parents, we are inclined to perfection. We want our children to go to the best schools, to achieve success in their careers, to marry the love of their lives, and to do good in the world. To achieve this perfection, we often micromanage their lives, dictating their choices to make sure they avoid failure at all cost.
But failure, I have learned, is as necessary as success. We cannot be humble if we do not fail. We cannot understand gratitude if we do not fail. We cannot appreciate the pain of others if we do not fail. For all those reasons and many more, if we have not failed, we have not succeeded.
My father, a man of great personal and professional achievement, was a proponent of that failure—in every drawback he saw a hidden blessing.
I once got a terrible grade in an economics final, and called him on the verge of tears. He replied calmly, “Of course you didn’t do well in economics. That’s why you’re a writer.”
When I struggled to land my first job amidst a group of investment banker friends who were given offers before graduating, he would say, “When you do get it, it may not be the perfect job, and it surely won’t last forever; but it will be the job you’re meant to get, at that time, for that reason, to learn something you don’t yet understand.”
When I finally did, it was a job in a tiny town in the middle of the Poconos mountains. But it was an experience that changed my life. The value of what I learned then exceeded anything I had learned before, or have learned since.
So while we try our best to do our best for our children, we must remember to give them the freedom to live out their own destiny, and to fail on their own terms. Your children will not thank you for a perfect life, in a perfect house, with the perfect material belongings, be they iPods or fancy cars.
They will remember what you said, what you taught, but most of all, how you lived.
If someone insulted my father, he would remain silent. If he witnessed injustice, he would battle it with composure, not anger. If he felt outer physical pain, he would call on inner strength.
So I draw a circle and bring you back to the quote he scribbled down in what was perhaps a moment of reflection.
Although we must always make a good, sincere, and strong effort to be good, sincere, and strong parents—we have to leave some things to the unknown—be it God, be it the Universe, be it fate.
If we want our children to live fully, and to learn well, we have to teach ourselves to set them free.