Today, I want to introduce you to a very important person in my life. I would like to introduce him to you, so you can learn a bit about the amazing, hilarious (I get my awesome sense of humor from him!) yet extremely disciplined man who taught me, and continues to teach me, some of the most important and most memorable lessons of my life. I would like you to meet my dad, Mr. Ratnam. V. Jeedigunta.
My father, Venkata Ratnam Jeedigunta was the 4th son of my late grandfather Mr. Parabrahmam Jeedigunta and my grandmother Mrs. Sita Lakshmi Jeedigunta (née Kantham). By the time my grandfather’s family finished growing, my dad was the fourth child (second son) of eight children. My grandmother was a housewife, and my grandfather was (and is, to this day) a well-renowned, highly respected and reputable educator in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh in India. The family was a single-income family. My dad went to school in the then-small town of Guntur, and graduated at the top of his class from Pattabhipuram High School. From there, he continued on to his Pre-University Courses at Hindu College in Guntur, where he graduated at the top of his class again.
After my father finished his Pre-University education, he got accepted into one of the most prestigious Engineering Universities in India, The Regional Engineering College in Warangal, India, where he successfully completed his Bachelors AND his Masters Degrees in Mechanical Engineering, graduating yet again, at the top of his class (what a surprise!) His journey then led him to a position as an Engineer in Hyderabad Industries Limited, in Hyderabad, India. All of this happened before 1980.
Then, at some point in 1980, my father’s marriage was arranged with this absolutely gorgeous, statuesque, well-educated (Bachelors in Electrical Engineering), Brahmin girl from a reputable family, got married, and had a child. This is where my learning starts. It hasn’t ended yet (thank the Universe!), but let me catch you up on what I have learned from my dad so far!
1.) My Dad taught me about R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
From as far back as I can remember, one of the most important values I remember my dad emphasizing over and over, was Respect. Respect for yourself, your elders, respect for your family, your kin, the community, your teachers, and even respect for the environment around you, and even the ant you are about to step on! Back then, I would just grumble about how unreasonable he was being giving me “lectures” for no clear reason, but now I fully realize the lesson he was teaching me.
Respect, in every aspect of the word, is the foundation of any good, healthy relationship ,especially the one you have with yourself! One of the most important factors that essentially determines the course of your entire life is self-respect! It affects every single decision that you make that affects you and everyone around you. If you respect yourself, you will start respecting those around you, and they will reciprocate. Respect also engenders compassion, empathy, humility, modesty, and several other lessons as you’ll see below.
2.) My dad really pushed me to always focus on education, learning and constant personal development.
My paternal grandfather was an educator, so, he instilled the value of continuous, life-long learning for the sake of improvement in all his kids. My father instilled this value in me by showing it to me through actions. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood involve me playing with my toys while my dad is sitting near by pondering solutions to problems.
My dad was constantly re-inventing himself, physically and behaviorally. He went through every hairstyle (back when he had hair!), beard style, glasses style, fashion trends and mistakes, and psychological conflicts known to civilization in the process of growing. He developed a game to improve memory. He tried to teach me how to drive a manual car when I was 11-years-old (He was very successful for the 10 seconds it took me to drive the car straight into a tree)! He sparked my interest and passion in cooking with his regular recipe experiments. What I admire the most about him, is that not once has he even thought of just being content with his growth thus far. He still continues to challenge himself, re-invent himself and grow a little every single day! It does need to be said that at the end of the day, his core values remain untouched and undisturbed!
Perhaps this is what led me on my journey to a bachelor’s, a master’s and eventually a doctorate, and even now my education and learning are still not done!
3.) My dad taught me to keep my promises.
This took a lot of trying on my dad’s part, but he eventually managed to instill in me the value of keeping my promises, no matter how small or large. Keeping your promises builds your character, your self-worth, and self-esteem and it also increases your positive reputation among others.
In fact, this is one of the things that amazed me (yet, didn’t surprise me) about my dad every time I met some of his countless childhood friends over the course of my life. I always felt like my dad knew EVERYONE! The thing that struck me the most about all these meetings was just how well liked, well-respected and admired my dad is just because of his personal life ethic.
Every single one of his friends told me how “Ratnaji” as they like to call him, was and still is the most reliable, the most generous, and the most helpful friend they’ve ever had. They told me over and over about how they can not remember a single time where he ever made a promise and went back on it. I would even go so far as to say that making good on his promises was and still is my dad’s signature trademark!
4.) My dad taught me how to be a decision-perfectionist.
One of the more important lessons that my dad re-teaches me to this day is the importance of questioning everything. A decision-perfectionist (yes, I might just have coined a new term in the English language) is someone who attempts to find out every last minute bit of relevant information they can about their decision, in order to make the least riskiest and overall best decision possible.
Now, this sounds smart, and it also sounds like it is something that many people do, or should do anyway, but, when several of us start thinking about the process, we realize how utterly tedious and unexciting this actually is, so we don’t follow through. So why did I want to emphasize this particular point? Here is why:
What I learned from my dad is that becoming a decision-perfectionist gives us a deeper understanding of the differences between our “wants” and our “needs”. It helps us curb our impulses. It forces us to question everything a thousand times from a million different angles before we make a decision. Ultimately, when we do make the decision, we make it, and walk into the consequences with our eyes open, and fully aware. This way, we are prepared for any surprises that may spring up along the way!
Since I decided to test out his system, and implemented this method of decision-making in my life, I have yet to make a rash, impulsive decision that I would end up regretting later. In fact, I have thus far made three amazing, life-changing decisions — two of which were finishing my PhD, and saying “Yes” to my now-husband! Now, while this may be due to the sheer exhaustive nature of the introspection required for this task, but I am truly grateful to my dad’s method for helping me make better decisions (especially the ones involving hundreds of dollars every single month on the latest fashions and hats)!
5.) My dad taught me the importance of self-sufficiency and independence.
He taught me this by saying “No” a lot. He also taught me this by expecting more out of me than any of my friends’ dads expected out of them. He taught me to NEVER settle for mediocrity when I know I am capable of real excellence in every aspect of my life. I didn’t realize the value of that when growing up, but, Daddy, thank you for saying “No” to me, so that I could learn how to stand up on my own, fall on my own, and get back up on my own again. Thank you also for teaching me that there is no such thing as “can’t”, only “won’t”.
6.) My dad taught me to show my sincere appreciation when someone does something nice for me, or my sincere remorse when I know I am wrong.
He taught me to stick to my guns if I know I’m right, no matter who the opposition is. While this did turn me into the stubborn person I am today (I’m just like you, daddy!), it also taught me the value and weight of every word, and every action. At the same time, he also taught me to own up to my mistakes when I made them. He patiently taught me how to fix my own mistakes after I made them, so I learned how to be self-reliant. He taught me this by telling me stories about my grandfather, grandmother, great-grandparents and other family members who achieved amazing things in their lifetime by overcoming the adversities prevalent in an under-developed country, with the utmost humility and gratitude. He instilled a deep sense of pride in me, about my family, my heritage, my ancestry, and my still untapped potential. His teachings allow me to appreciate the giants whose shoulders I am standing on and for that I will be forever grateful!
7.) My dad taught me everything I know about generosity and selfless-ness.
He taught me this by showing me unconditional love, support and encouragement. He also taught me this by showing me the value of philanthropy and “giving back” by graciously involving me in his multitude of fundraising efforts for Relay For Life. My dad has been involved with Relay For Life, Habitat for Humanity, and educational initiatives in the local high schools for several years now. Every year, he is one of the first people from his team who gets there, and he stays there the whole night, coming home only after he has walked a few miles to help raise funds. In fact, my dad single-handedly raised over $13,000 for his company’s Relay For Life team last year! He gives his time freely, not for recognition, but purely to make the greatest difference that a single human being can make by being involved in such tremendous efforts and campaigns.
8.) My dad taught me the importance of having both mental and physical discipline in life.
He showed me through his strength of character, integrity, and through his stellar reputation, that being a kind, strong person is not a matter of luck or personality; rather it is a result of a very rigorous and life-long practice of compassion and empathy! My dad is one of the toughest yet the most sensitive people I know. When I messed up (and I messed up… A LOT), his punishments were always educational. Even while he was punishing me, he was always reassuring me of his unconditional love for me. He was the first person I called and cried to after I lost my class elections in High School one year. He has “saved my day” so many times that I lost count years ago! I know that I will always be his princess. To this day, when I spend the night in my parents’ house, they leave an extra night-light turned on in the hallway just for me, and my dad makes it a point to tell me every night there:
“Our door will be left open as usual. Don’t hesitate to come get us if you need anything!”
Ultimately, whether he realized it or not (well, that is a moot point after he reads this post), my dad in his own brilliantly “engineer” way, taught me everything I needed to know to live a good, successful, happy life at a very young age. It only took me this long to realize the value of his priceless lessons. So, as a last note, Dad, I would like to thank you for all of these and the countless other lessons that you have taught me, and continue to teach me every day. I would not be who I am if it weren’t for your patient guidance, realism, and absolute faith and belief in me!
This post is one in a series of posts I’ve decided to call “Cultural Role Models”. Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the people who have inspired me in my whole life. I realized I am one of those lucky people who has always had inspirational people to learn from. Some of these people were and are people whom I know, and who are a part of my life (like my dad, mom, my parents-in-law and a few other people); some of the others are historical heroes whose journeys resonated with me at some point in my life; and yet others are people that I REALLY REALLY wish I could meet in person and learn from. What all of these people have in common is that they are cultural heroes and cultural role models. Each of the people I will be highlighting in this category has his or her own story of success, and they all have very important lessons they’ve taught me, which I’d like to share with all of you. And to each and every one of them, my heartfelt and eternal gratitude for teaching me everything that you did!