As we gear up to celebrate my dad’s birthday next month – we are reminded of a running joke in the family that we will be celebrating his annual 62nd birthday. At first it was a joke intended on occasions where he parades around in his military jacket – proclaiming proudly that it still fits perfectly some 5 decades later. Other times I’d notice him declaring he is 62 without a treble in his voice to people who ask him his age, only to be completely taken aback when we corrected ‘his mistake’.
But maybe this is justified, for he doesn’t act, think, or look a day over 62. He says the trick is to first fool the brain into thinking it is inside a young body. Without fail, for as long as I have known him, he wakes up at 4:30AM every morning and works out with his trainer for a good hour and half on routines meant for men half his age. He then brews his own coffee, cooks his own breakfast, and starts the day by replying to his emails and organising the day’s work. He also never misses an excuse to play archery or golf or the chance to drop or pick us up from the airport even after all these years. Once the body is taken care of, he says he trains his brain by feeding it with interesting new information everyday – he is an avid reader who instilled this grand habit in my siblings and I from an early age. He is constantly obsessed with teaching himself the nuances of new technology (his latest obsession is block chain technology), and possesses the curiosity of a young boy – constantly dismantling and reassembling everything around the house – much to my mother’s dismay. And he refuses to retire – taking on more new projects to keep himself busy every day (including but not limited to bee keeping and setting up a carpentry shop for his weekend woodwork projects).
Over the years I have put together a list of phrases that I’ve had said to me when I turned to him for advice. These (often harsh) pieces of wisdom are little nuggets of gold I carry with me everyday – they have helped me see through times of uncertainty, put a smile on my face when I was down, and come as a reality check when I was too stubborn to admit defeat.
But more than anything, it provides a clear understanding of how he views the world, and his philosophy on living one’s best life.
- In this world there is room for sentiment but not sentimentality [said when I was unhappy with a certain situation but ‘felt bad’ to leave because of the people involved. I grew up hearing several variations of this – when leaving for boarding school, moving to a new city or starting a new job – the philosophy here is to learn from past experiences, but not be paralysed with nostalgia]
- January 1st is a state of mind – you can start a new resolution anytime of the year – why does one need to wait for a new year to do anything? [circa New Year 2015 – when I asked what his new year’s resolution was – he responded with this sassy statement]
- ནཱ་འབད་མ་ཤིན་ ལྟོག་འབད་འདི་ཤི་ནི་མེད་འོང་། Literally translates to ‘if one does not die of sickness, one should not die of hunger’ [Something my brother, sister and I grew up hearing on several instances when we (involuntarily) showed signs of helplessness – meaning so long as our bodies are able, we should work to fend and provide for ourselves]
- Don’t make the same mistakes in life – try as much as you can to make new ones [said when seeking his advice on changing careers – although a new job/industry comes with more uncertainty, it comes with new excitement and learning opportunities. Growth only happens when we learn from our failures, and aren’t afraid to throw ourselves in the deep end of the pool and make a fool of ourselves]
- Don’t go living your life thinking you owe anything to anyone [said when I once made the comment that I needed to pay him back for everything he has done for me. I try to carry this sentiment in all other aspects of my life, as we do our best work when we don’t have any mental or emotional anchors holding us back – see point no.1. Along the same thread, never expect anyone to owe you anything]
- You should never apologise for your ambition [said on a few counts when I tried to brush off or discount my dreams at the fear of sounding obnoxious]
- It is OK to splurge on good food [Yes I agree!]
- བྱི་ལི་ཤིང་ཁ་ལས་འབབ་ས་མ་ལྟ་བ་བྱ་ཆུ་འཐུང་ས་ལྟ་། Literally translates to ‘look at the bird drinking water instead of the cat falling off a tree’ [this comical saying may sound non-sensical to the non-Dzongkha speaker, but it means to conduct oneself with grace and elegance (like that of the bird drinking water) rather than with an anything-goes haphazardness (like that of a cat falling off a tree)]
- Whenever you invest your time or money towards something – ask if this will add value in the future, immediate gratification is overrated. [said on more than one occasion not just on financial investments but also on time spent with people]
- མཚམས་ཚོད་ཤེསན་མཁས་པའི་རྟགས། Literally means ‘To know one’s limits is the hallmark of a wise person’ [on the importance of knowing when to say no, having the courage to leave when times are good, and possessing the self-discipline to never over-indulge]
If I had to use one word to describe my dad – it would be discipline. I grew up hearing a lot about discipline – about how it is the only thing that will help us achieve what we want in life. About how discipline is the difference between what we want now and what we want most. And I try to carry this sentiment with me every single day.
To say he is the biggest mentor in my life is the understatement of the century.
Thank you for everything, Apa! Happy annual 62nd birthday in advance.