I was 15 years old, and life was good. I went to school every day, came home, played tennis with my little brother, had dinner, did my homework, and went to bed. I was a good student. I got straight A’s most of the time, and my parents expected me to do well, and to be a good student. They always encouraged studying and reading. My father would turn off the television, radio and any sound-producing device just to keep the home quiet especially if I had an exam to study for. He would go out of his way to shush everyone up, insisting that I had an exam and the home should be made conducive to studying.
My work was always the most important in my home. If Lal (that’s me) had to study, you had to be quiet! No exceptions. My parents came to this country when I was only 6 years old and my brother was 6 months old. They struggled to make ends meet their first 2-3 years and they saved whenever they could. They wanted the best for us. They came to this country for a better life and they wanted us to do well. They put their personal lives on hold for us. Everything they did was always with us in mind….. me and my little brother.
I was exceptionally good at math, and I had made it to a math honors program in my high school. I was even on my school’s math team. One day, I came home with an unusually low test grade on a math exam I had taken. It was the Midterm and the Math Professor needed us to get our Exams signed by our parents if we got lower than a 70%.
I got a 65%. My entire world had come to an end! How could I get such a low grade? How was I going to show this grade to my parents? They expected so much from me and I was sourly disappointing them! I was so ashamed. I thought long and hard about it and I decided to forge my dad’s signature. After all, I had practiced his signature numerous times. I always wanted to sign like him. So, that night, I sat in my room under a guise that I had an exam to study for and I practiced his signature again and again. I signed my math exam and hid it away in my book bag.
I anxiously waited for math class the next day. I handed my teacher the Exam, signed and all. I felt a rush of relief swarm over me as I handed the signed copy over to my professor. I had done it! I had succeeded to pull it off and I didn’t have to disappoint my parents. I knew I had lied, but lying was all worth it as long as my parents didn’t find out about it. They expected so much from me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them.
That same day, I came home for dinner after my daily tennis jaunt with my brother. My father was home from work. He was not his usual jovial self at dinner and after we were done, he said that he wanted to speak with me. He asked me if I had anything to tell him. I said that I did not. He asked me again and I said “No.”
How could he possibly know about my score? There was no conceivable way! I continued to deny any knowledge of anything. My dad asked me how I had done on my math test, and I said that I had done fine. At this point, I probably should have figured out that he knew something, but I really thought that I had pulled it off.
He asked me what score I got on it, and I told me a 95% of course! He quietly asked me what I had missed, and I told him matter-of-factly about ONE of the questions I had gotten wrong. I continued to discuss the problem with him in detail. I was fortunate to have a dad who was an engineer and he had studied math extensively. My dad listened to me quietly, with a solemn, sad look on his face.
Then without batting an eye, my father revealed to me that my Math Professor had called and spoken to him about my test score. He said that the professor was happy that my father had signed the exam, and was aware of my midterm results. My heart sunk. My dad looked straight at me, disappointment and sadness haunting his eyes.
Then I felt the Royal Sting in my face. My dad had slapped me. It stung more deeply than anything else thus far in my life. I still remember that sting….
In his quiet, unabashed way, he said to me, “Lal, that slap was not for getting a 65% on your math exam. That slap was because you lied to me. Don’t ever lie, and don’t ever lie to me again. I will never get mad at you because you get a low grade. Not EVER. I want you to remember that. But I will get upset if you lie.”
Those words are forever engraved in my memory. That life lesson has stayed with me and I put a lot of weight today on honesty and sincerity. I was never again afraid of my dad. I was never again afraid of getting a bad grade, and of discussing it with him. He would sit with me for hours, as long as it took for me to understand and grasp an idea or a math problem. He taught me tricks in math that even the teachers hadn’t taught me or (I dare say) didn’t even know. We worked long and hard on my math. And I actually did get a 95% on the Final Exam.
“Failure is a Stepping Stone to Success.” My Father would say. “Use it as a way to learn from your mistakes. And more importantly, always tell the truth, for the Truth Shall Set you Free."