From Father To Son: Growing Up Indian In Canada
Beyond the passing of money and property, most baby boomers will leave their children for the world to inherit. Millennials are simply their by-products who carry the weight of exceeding their expectations. We’ll do our best to live up to them, however, life happens. We won’t all satisfy.
My parents immigrated from Kerala, India 35 years ago to start our family in Toronto. Like the classic immigrant story, they didn’t come with much except for their exceptional work ethic and the willingness to learn. They made every sacrifice for my brother and I to have a better life and as such dedicated their lives to their careers while raising our family.
They are very traditional in the sense. They would prefer my brother and I carry on the cultural traditions from India but understand that they raised us in a different environment. Alas, they know there's a good chance we may screw it up (They think i'm more of a risk than my brother).
Our relationship has evolved into one that is more open-minded, this has challenged their traditional Indian/Catholic values and beliefs. I sat down with my reserved, humble and soft spoken dad to shoot the ish and document a candid conversation about relationships, career choices, money and legacy.
Nibin (N): Is it fair to say that your marriage was the stereo typical Indian arranged type Dad?
Dad (D): Yeah.
N: How’d you decide you were going to marry mom? What did you even say to her?
(They only met once for an hour and that's all it took...it’s lasted 35 years)
D: It was a surprise, your grandfather told me there was a girl whose proposal came forward. I told him I wasn't ready for marriage as I just started a new job. He told me to go and see her anyways. Although it was small talk, I really enjoyed the conversation. She had a sweet voice and pretty smile. I liked her when I first saw her, she was “bhayangara sunthari” (meaning very beautiful in Malayalam).
N: (My mom bursts into the room and in a NOT so soft voice asks why we are talking about their marriage. “Is this a video for the internet!?” I explained we were documenting a candid father/son chat)
D: Arranged marriage is great, as long as you're ready to commit.
It's not about making our families happy, if I didn't like your mom I would have said no. I've never regretted it. I know I made the right choice. I have the right wife, she is loving and caring and wants the best for you and your brother. Love at first sight I guess (smiling).
N: Would you prefer I have an arranged marriage? Are you in the process of arranging one behind my back via Shadi.com or something dad!?
No. You have to know each other. It's not like the old days anymore. Back then you could just find someone and make a quick decision, it was more limited based on geography and family recommendations. These days you have so many options. You should get to know people, talk to them regularly and see them often before making a decision.
N: So you’re saying I should continue dating around?
D: Eventually you’ll settle down, I hope. (Shakes head and smiles)
N: Corporate loyalty is non-existent these days, why have you worked for the same employer for almost 27 years?
D: I liked the job from day 1. It was the first opportunity I got as a computer programmer in the IT field in Canada. The company has been good to me and helped provide everything we have. I am loyal to the company for giving me this much, I wouldn’t have any resentment towards them should things change. It’s been fun, I'm grateful. I got the job the day you were born, so my commitment to this job is just as strong as my commitment to you.
N: What do you miss about our childhood?
D: I really miss taking you guys to practices and games at the hockey arenas, baseball diamonds and soccer fields. I wanted to get more involved by learning how to skate or kicking and throwing the ball around but never took the initiative. I was scared I wouldn't be able to keep up.
N: Now that I'm living back home after 8 years away, what should I be doing with my savings?
D: If the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) was non-existent, I would recommend putting some money towards your RRSP (401K). Since you're already part of a defined benefit pension plan (rare AF) and have some pension money from your previous employer locked in, you should concentrate on maximizing your TFSA contribution limit.
If you put savings into an RRSP it's kind of locked in. They say you can always take up to $25K from your RRSP when you buy your first home but the thing is, it's only a loan. You have to pay that amount back into your RRSP within 10 years. If you have money wisely invested in a TFSA you can always take it out and use it for whatever you want. The good thing is when you withdraw money from a TFSA you regain the contribution room. Unlike the RRSP, once you contribute your contribution room is gone forever. The other drawback of contributing too much to your RRSP at this stage is if you decide to withdraw it at any time, it's considered taxable income.
Maximizing your RRSP contributions is great if you have maxed out your TFSA, pension (if you have one) and still have money left over that you don’t want to give to me (big smile).
N: How should I invest my TFSA then?
D: Since you're a passive investor, continue to invest in ETF/Index funds and your company stock plan. That WealthSimple robo advisor you use is a good tool since you don't have the time or energy to manage day to day investing. You don’t sleep enough so I like that you're automating your TFSA contributions with a fully managed advisor for a portion of your investments.
Be sure to diversify your portfolio. I know you have a high risk profile but as you start to gain more responsibility it may be wiser to hedge against your risk tolerance as it won't just be yourself that you'll be responsible for.
Have a long term horizon and stay invested. Don’t worry or panic about short term volatility. You should contribute regularly to benefit from dollar cost averaging.
N: What do you look forward to in the next 10 years?
D: Your mom and I want to visit new places. Canada East, West, Jerusalem, Europe. I want to do some volunteer work when I retire. I’m thinking about joining Habitat for Humanity so I can help build homes. I like the handy work and it would bring me back to days when I was a civil engineer.
Also, I look forward to you getting married and having kids like your brother.
N: (They really want me to figure this out eh? Fack.)
N: How do you feel about me dating or marrying someone who is not Indian or Catholic?
D: (Pauses and stares) As long as you're ready to commit and sacrifice it all for her, it should be OK.
N: (“Should” be OK? Wtf…Time to steer away from this before mom comes back)
N: Have I ever disappointed or really let you down?
D: Um, not really Nibin.
N: Not really? How about this Tattoo (pointing to my forearm)?
D: You know, if you could've lived without the tattoo it would have been better. You could just do those things vs. having them written on your arm as a reminder. Aren't you the one always preaching "actions speak louder than words?" (smiles and stares).
Other than the tattoo, so far so good! Is there something else you want to tell me that I don't know?
N: Nah. (Clearly he's not a hundo on the tat)
N: Do you wish I completed further education or attained supplemental credentials like my brother such as an MBA, CA/CPA, SCMP etc.?
(My brother has B.Math, Masters of Accounting, and CA/CPA. AKA "The Golden Son")
D: Well, it's up to you right. I can't push you, that's not my policy. If you really want to do something and have the passion, just do it. I can’t force you to become something you have no desire to be. The more education you have helps of course but it's not everything. It comes down to hard work, timing and some luck in the end. You’ve always been creative and a good executor, you'll do just fine with your street smarts and people skills.
N: Would you encourage family and friends in India to come to North America after your experience?
D: If they can come on their own and they want a better life or better education for their kids they should. The quality of life is better here but they have to be willing to work for it. I’d tell them to come early, it's not easy. The first 5-10 years will be tough. If they are ambitious and willing to work really hard, then by all means.
What are your proudest moments to date?
D: There are a lot, the ones that stand out to me are:
1) Marrying mom of course.
2) Witnessing both of your births.
3) Watching you guys play sports.
4) Seeing you both graduate from university and joining top companies right out of school.
5) Your brothers marriage.
N: What about when we both quit our stable jobs to focus time on very unsure outcomes?
(I left Diageo and New York City in 2014 to move home and work on Football for the World. I needed to remove myself from the corporate grind to figure things out as I didn't see where I was heading as sustainable long term. My brother left a long term position as a senior management consultant to dedicate time to immerse himself in real estate investing. We've both since returned to new corporate jobs but with a different perspective, drive and end goal we didn't have before)
D: That's what you guys needed to do. You both did a lot of reflecting and didn't act on impulse. We were confident and supportive with your decisions. It was a great learning lesson, I wasn't worried. You both gained more in personal development than the salary and benefits you sacrificed. I'm proud.
N: Was mom OK with both of her sons being unemployed at the same time?
D: Well, everyone is different (laughs).
N: We like to try and help others a lot. Do you think we get taken advantage of?
D: Occasionally. These types of things happen. We've learned and still have time to get better at saying no. We have to be sterner and really think things through before jumping into new endeavours or lending money.
N: Looking back, would you have signed formal agreements when doing business with family vs. just an oral agreement?
D: No, I don't think that changes when it's family. I'm fine with verbal agreements.
N: I disagree, I think we should always have a written agreement. Even when doing business with my brother and best friends there is a contract.
D: That's your way of thinking, mine is different. When I give my word to someone and they give me theirs I expect that both parties will honour their commitments. If the other side doesn’t keep their word, that will be the last dealing I have with them.
N: What's one thing you wished I did more or less of in my early 20’s?
D: I wish you drank less alcohol and saved more money.
You lived away, traveled often and were always out partying. Even when you came home to visit you went out to party, I didn’t always appreciate that. You would do it openly around the family too, you know you have younger cousins that look up to you. I get it, you needed to get out there and have fun. I guess it didn’t help that you got free alcohol for 3 years (My dad benefited from this perk as much as I did). I guess when you live in big cities with friends and work for an alcohol company it's hard to really save money. I recognize what you went through and happy you have it together now.
(I pray he doesn't really know)
N: Do you regret anything over your 56 years on this planet?
D: Not really, sometimes I think about what I did to help others. In hindsight, I could have held back a bit more. There are certain things that I had to do but others where I should've just said no. I just didn’t want to disappoint anyone. In the end, I was the one who got disappointed more often than not.
I'm proud you're getting better at not being such a “yes man” as you were at the start of your career. You have to say no more often when your gut says so.
N: What do you want your legacy to be dad?
D: You boys have fulfilled my legacy beyond what I could imagine, so, I don't really know. If anything, I want my grandchildren to know I was a simple and humble person who did whatever I could for my family and that I had a healthy relationship with my wife and sons.
N: You have fulfilled that, no doubt dad. Love you and thank you! (I give him a hug and kiss, he proceeds to turn around and walk out of the room). One last thing (dad turns around), how would you describe the type of girl I may end up with?
D: There isn't one particular thing, she'll be well rounded and really challenge you to be better and think different. Most important, she’ll be able to put you in your place when you cross the line with your jokes and sarcasm, that’s a guarantee.
N: (I silently stare and reflect as he smirks, does the Indian head nod, and walks away).