99: The Dad Who Dropped Out

99: The Dad Who Dropped Out

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

The Dad Who Dropped Out

A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty.

~Author Unknown

In winter, I often walk in a nearby park during lunchtime. The park is quiet, as few have the time to enjoy the winter sun on weekdays. The two people that often break my solitude there are a middle-aged father with his little daughter. She’s in her school uniform, pigtailed hair with red ribbons tied neatly around the ends. The father looks like he has all the time in the world — he refuses to hurry along the jogging path; instead he matches his pace with that of the little girl. Sometimes when I see them, they’re eating oranges. Sometimes they’re lolling lazily in the sun, laughing and chatting.

Since I walk solo, I often have little better to do than speculate about people I pass. How does the man find time in the middle of the day to play in the sunny park with his daughter? He certainly doesn’t look unemployed. What sort of job must he have that gives him the flexibility to walk in the park in the middle of the day?

A few days ago, the child caught me looking at them and smiled at me. I smiled back. Yesterday, I threw a ball that had strayed from them in my direction. And today, we finally sat on the rocks and had a little chat.

“You must enjoy the park very much to come here so often,” I said.

The father nodded. “We love coming here . . . there’s no park near where we live and little Guddi enjoys playing here while we wait for her mother to get free from work,” he said.

The child’s school was next door, as was his place of work, a private business where he was an accountant.

I couldn’t help myself. I just had to ask.

“How,” I asked curiously, “do you manage to leave your office every day in the middle of the day?”

The story that the father, Satyendra Dubey, told me showed me how if we dig underneath the surface, even ordinary people’s lives can seem quite extraordinary.

“I used to be no different from any of those thousands of office workers scurrying to work every morning in chartered buses,” he began.

His wife (a teacher in a government school) and he were comfortably off but rarely managed time off for leisure. Their daily routine consisted of dropping their child at school, going to work, picking her up from daycare and going to bed exhausted.

One morning, on his way to work, Dubey was hit by a bus. “I awoke in the hospital, unaware of the extent of my injuries, afraid I was going to die,” he said. “As I waited in that cold room for my wife to reach me, a terrifying thought crossed my mind. ‘How would my daughter, then only four, remember me if I died that day? Would she think of me as a stern man who worked very hard? Or more uncharitably, as a father who had little time for her?’ ”

As he lay there, racked by pain, he realized that his child would probably not have many happy memories of just “being” with her father.

Dubey made a full recovery from his accident, but something in him had changed. “I started having recurring dreams about floating high up in the air, watching people like myself turn into little ants scurrying mindlessly from office to home,” he said. “High above them, I could see that few of them were actually enjoying any bits of their lives. They seemed too busy trying to go from one day to the next!” he reflected. In the quiet of the night when he lay awake after one such dream, he resolved to be different.

The day he went back to work, Dubey used the excuse of his recent accident to take some time off at lunch. He picked up his daughter from school and took her to the park. The child was hesitant; she’d never seen this strange side to her dad.

At first the father and daughter didn’t quite know what to do with each other. Then, slowly, they evolved a set of shared activities they enjoyed together. “We talk, play, laugh and sometimes just sit silently. Our time together in the park is the best part of the day for me!” he said. “Now, when my wife finishes work early afternoon and comes to take Guddi home, I feel quite bereft. And then, I return to the office.”

“Is it easy,” I asked, “to take time off every day?”

He smiled. “My co-workers work much longer hours than I do. I know they’ll probably get better postings and promotions. But are these things really important in the larger scheme of things? I’m happy I stopped to think about this instead of blindly going on and on….”

It was actually a very small change he’d made to his life, he said, but it amazed him every day to see the difference it made to his life. “It brings me so much joy that I can’t believe why others haven’t thought of doing the same thing,” he said simply.

I got up to resume my long-forgotten walk, unexpectedly happy after hearing his story. When I passed them again that day, they were having a race. Just as he was about to win, Dubey noticed that Guddi’s energy was flagging a little. Immediately, he bent to tie his shoelaces while the child triumphantly sailed past the finish line, laughing gleefully. As she lay down on the grass next to him, I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about the man who’d dropped out of the race, only to see how much nicer a slow walk in the sun was.

~Geetanjali Krishna

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