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Father shares parenting advice

Published: Thursday, Oct. 22 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

On Aug. 15, 1988, Arjun Sen arrived in Salt Lake City from India. BYU had offered him a scholarship and tuition waiver to pursue his MBA. He had $320 to his name.

Fifteen years later, Sen had earned himself the label of "corporate marketing genius." He had held senior marketing positions for Pizza Hut, Einstein Brothers Bagels, Boston Market and Papa John's Pizza.

He was on his way to the top when his 8-year-old daughter, Raka, changed his life with five little words: "You don't know me, Dad."

Sen was shaken to his core. He wondered how he had gotten to this point. While part of him wanted to run from the truth, he also knew he had to wake up and make a change.

Now Sen has just completed a speaking tour in Salt Lake City and Provo promoting his memoir, "Raising a Father" — a labor of love written as a Christmas present for Raka in 2007.

"Raising a Father" is composed of autobiographical snapshots from Sen's life, from his growing up in India to watching his now 16-year-old daughter grow up — and how she helped him turn his life around and become a father first.

"The book is hard to classify," said Sen, 46, who now lives in Centennial, Colo., as president of marketing consulting firm ZenMango and as a professor at the University of Boulder. "It's not a parenting book by someone professionally qualified; it's not a book by a superdad who's done everything right. It's more me sharing the mistakes I've made — more self-reflection than anything else."

Sen was nostalgic, pleased to be back in Utah. "Anytime Utah's in the news, I am always reading closely."

He says it hurts him to read negative press associated with Mormonism. "I look back and see how every (LDS) friend of mine here adopted me. We had discussions about religion, but no one ever made me feel uncomfortable for having different beliefs."

Four or five of Sen's closest friends are LDS. He pointed out how the wife of one of his Mormon business associates, Ann Hall, gave him and his then-wife, Gopa, selfless service, helping them when Raka was born.

"She was an amazing angel," he said. "And now that I'm a single dad, I can call up Ann, and because of her value system, and she knows how to help me when I don't know how to react or what to do."

Sen hopes that he can, in turn, help even just a few parents by sharing his story. While lecturing, Sen shared five principal themes:

1. Wake-up calls: "There are little wake-up calls that happen each day of our lives," Sen said. "They may come in the form of something your child says that makes you stop and think. Respond to them."

2. Addiction: Sen said that society frowns on addictions to alcohol or drugs but accepts workaholics. It is imperative to recognize when work is consuming your life and deal with it, one small step at a time.

3. Measurements: "Give me any business and I can analyze it for you," Sen said. "But before Raka 'woke me up,' I had no means by which to measure my relationships." He shared that if his company does poorly, it can bounce back, but there's no way to recover lost moments with his daughter.

4. Be in the present: Don't try to make up for lost time through presents or half-hearted promises — choose to be there. "I appreciate simple things now, like just knowing the names of every one of Raka's friends," he said.

5. Never give up: No matter how long it takes to make necessary life changes, keep trying. "Even if it takes you 30 hours to complete a marathon, you better finish because your child is waiting at the end," Sen said.

As Sen walked the streets of Provo as he did as a young student, husband and father, he wished he could relive certain moments and learn how small decisions had lifelong consequences.

"You really don't need that much to be happy," Sen said. "When I talk to parents, I ask them to visualize themselves down the road at 60 or 65 years old and to think about what they will have then."

Sen understands the dire straits many families are facing because of the struggling economy. Parents are working hard to try to provide, and time is sometimes scarce.

When Sen was a poor college student, his beloved grandmother wrote him a letter telling him to not lose his inner strength and not forget the presence of God. He passes on the same message, asking people to fight to strike a balance in their lives.

"My grandmother knew God wouldn't take her grandson and drop him in a foreign land and give him crises that would destroy him forever," he said. "She had full faith in me; she knew I could handle it."

With a little faith and persistence, Sen believes parents can take their own situations and recognize what can change — as well as what deserves to be celebrated.

To find out more about Sen, visit his official blog — raisingafather.blogspot.com." Raising a Father" can be purchased through www.raisingafather.com, www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com or www.iuniverse.com.

e-mail: eschmuhl@desnews.com

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