My Dad recently turned 80. We organised a celebration party for him, inviting a number of old friends and relatives who have been a part of my parents' lives in England over the last few decades. It was a wonderfully special time. In the last couple of years Dad had not been in good health, but we are very grateful that his bypass surgery has been successful and given him a new lease of life.
With that in mind, this is a short life history of my Dad along with the lessons I have learnt from him.
Prem Kumar Raheja was born in a small town called Kamalia, Punjab before moving to live in Karachi until he was 13. With the partition of India in 1947 he travelled as a refugee across the border to settle on the Indian side of Punjab with his parents and siblings.
At the age of 21, he went to Lucknow to study civil engineering, but had to quickly take responsibility for the family when his own father died suddenly at the age of 45. Here are 4 lessons that my brother and I have learnt from my Dad:
In a place and time with little outside support and being the oldest son, Dad had to provide for his mother, 2 sisters and 3 brothers. I am sure that played a significant decision to leave India in April 1968 with my mother for a better life, as well as to send regular support back to the extended family. Mum and Dad married in 1964. They initially came to England only for 2 years. I remember my mother sitting me down and telling me that my parents had decided to stay on - "for you and your brother's future. So don't mess up!" (no pressure!). It took courage to move to a new country and culture that was very alien to them.
One of the consistent things I have observed in my Dad over the years is his willingness to make choices that ensure he is close and connected to my mother and his two sons. It took sacrifice to stay on even though they missed their wider families and had to live in a culture that they did not understand. Dark, dreary and wet England (especially in winter) is such a contrast to the life, noise and colour of India. This was also during a time when technology was far less advanced than it is now. News and communication could only spread relatively slowly. During my childhood we could only afford to travel to India every 4 years. Mum and Dad chose to sacrifice their connection with wider family for our sakes.
No matter what else he has to do, Dad has always gone out of his way to be available to us. Its something of a running joke between me and him that when I call and ask him what he has been doing, his reply in Hindi is invariably "Waiting for you to call!" As I've got older I find, as so many of us do, that life becomes busier and busier. People who will be unconditionally available to you are rare jewels to be treasured. One of the costliest things to give someone is time and attention. Mum and Dad are both very good at giving that in abundance.
4. Patience and perseverance.
My brother and I have at times proved very challenging to our parents. In particular our choices over faith (a video on that is here) and life style have not been what they would necessarily have expected or wanted. Over the years there has been tension and pain. However, over that same period of time what I have come to realise and appreciate is my Dad's unreserved love and concern for me. We may disagree over a number of things, but what I am sure of is that he genuinely has my welfare at heart.
So thank you Dad! Thank you, with Mum for your example of love and commitment. I share this tribute with you, reader, to encourage you, even though you may never have met my parents, to look at who in your life do you need to affirm and appreciate? Do it now and do it today!
Also the courage, sacrifice, availability, patience and perseverance of my Dad (and Mum!) remind me of the source of all the grace and love and I received. King David writing almost 3000 years ago in Psalm 103:13-18 echoes this powerfully:
"As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts."
What life lessons have you learnt from those who are dear to you? It would be great to have your thoughts and comments below