O Captain! My Captain!

Published: June 15, 2014 at 11:07 am

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Chinese philosopher Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) is supposed to have said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. I am among the lucky few who can claim to have this luxury. I love my job.

Today, on the occasion of  fathers days, I would like to recount the role played by my parents in shaping my career.  It took me 14 long years after school to get the job I love (3 years BSc, 2 years MSc, 5 years PhD, 4 years of post-doctoral experience).

My dad retired 3 months after I started my PhD. That was the  first time in my life I ever thought about retirement. I realised that his salary would drastically reduce and I will have to chip in with my meager fellowship.

Not once was there any kind of pressure from their side to complete the Ph D soon. By the time I finished my Ph D, I was married. My wife had just began her Ph D and I was off to Berlin for a short stint as a visiting scientist. My mom had also retired and the family was being run on two govt. pensions and a Phd scholarship and no support from my end.

After 6 months in Berlin I decided to come back as I was severely home-sick. For the next 4 months I was working without pay in my doctoral lab. My dad told me that I could take all the time I need to get back on track and that I need not worry about finances.

Soon I got a project to work on and had a small but decent salary. For the fist time I was contributing a significant sum to run the household.

Unfortunately, that changed after just 6 months. I got a fellowship in a national lab. I choose to travel 70Kms up and down daily instead of taking up hostel accommodation close to my new work place. My entire salary was exhausted in travel alone. The household was back to running on pensions and my wife’s PhD scholarship.

Not a word of complaint from my parents. They quietly let me do whatever I was comfortable with.

A year and a half went by this way.

Soon my fellowship was converted into a permanent position. My salary had tripled overnight.

However 5 days after I received my first paycheck, my fathers right thigh bone broke on its own! He had no medical insurance.

With hospital expenses spiralling, my brother-in-law helped me out with interest free loans from time to time.

I was so busy travelling, working and tired from both that I ignored my fathers deteriorating health. Had I been a little more free, alert and aware I could have save his bones from breaking.

A month afterwards his left thigh bone also broke thanks to some poor medical advice. Soon it was clear that my father had multiple myeloma a form of blood cancer that renders the bones weak.

While I was in the hospital taking care of my father, I was called for the interview to my present job. There was severe opposition to this from my previous employer and one point, lies were fabricated in order to stop me from attending the interview.

There was a danger of losing both jobs – my present one and the one the I was going to attend an interview for.

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By this time my father had been shifted from a normal hospital to a cancer hospital with radiation facility.

The side effects from the radiation were painful and my father became weaker. So did his will to live.

When the pressure from my employer to not attend the interview became too much for me to handle, I told my father that I was not going to attend the interview.

He told me, ‘screw this job, you attend the interview for the job you love. If you end up losing both, don’t worry. I have confidence in you. You will easily find another’.

I was in tears. My dad was a father to me right up to the very end.

Buoyed by his confidence I made up mind to attend the interview and prepared for it from the hospital. The very day my father gave me confidence, my research guide also urged me to attend. He said, ‘I know you Pattu. I know what will make you happy. Go for it’.

I got the job and soon began an ordeal with my previous employer to get relieved. For the first time I sat down and read the rules concerning the employment. A practice that would help me reading offer documents!

After a prolonged delay during which I was out of pay for 3 months, I was finally relieved. Thanks to the expensive treatment for my father, the net worth of my family had plummeted.

Had the delay extended for another month, we would have had to borrow money for the next months expenses.

The day I was about to join my new job, my father and I shared an unforgettable private moment. We hugged each other tight  and were in tears. There were no words exchanged, but there was a lot said.

My father passed away about 14 months after I joined the new job.

Be it my career or choice of life partner, my parents stood beside me. They are my heroes.

About the title:

Wikipedia states,

“O Captain! My Captain!” is a poem written by Walt Whitman in 1865. The poem is classified as an elegy or mourning poem, and was written to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

It became popular after the memorable ending scene of  the movie Dead Poets  Society

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Pattabiraman editor freefincalM. Pattabiraman(PhD) is the founder, managing editor and primary author of freefincal. He is an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. since Aug 2006. Connect with him via Twitter or Linkedin Pattabiraman has co-authored two print-books, You can be rich too with goal-based investing (CNBC TV18) and Gamechanger and seven other free e-books on various topics of money management. He is a patron and co-founder of “Fee-only India” an organisation to promote unbiased, commission-free investment advice.
He conducts free money management sessions for corporates and associations on the basis of money management. Previous engagements include World Bank, RBI, BHEL, Asian Paints, Cognizant, Madras Atomic Power Station, Honeywell, Tamil Nadu Investors Association. For speaking engagements write to pattu [at] freefincal [dot] com

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46 Comments

  1. salute to your parents and thank you for sharing your life story , inspiring at least to a 66 yr old father of a sensible son , i.e. me.!

  2. salute to your parents and thank you for sharing your life story , inspiring at least to a 66 yr old father of a sensible son , i.e. me.!

  3. Dear Pattu,

    No doubt our parents scarifies too much for us and the amazing part is they never shows this or demand anything for this. Parents love is selfishness love in the world (same can not said about children’s love towards parents)

  4. Dear Pattu,

    No doubt our parents scarifies too much for us and the amazing part is they never shows this or demand anything for this. Parents love is selfishness love in the world (same can not said about children’s love towards parents)

  5. Its your ‘Punya’ that you got such wonderful Father and Mother. I feel you have to become their Father in your next ‘janma’ to repay the debt !!! Hope your children knew your father’s sacrifice so that they will treat you in the same fashion.

    1. Yes it is certainly my punya. My son was born many years after his death. When he is old enough to understand, I will tell him about my father.

  6. i like the most the poetic title of the post; ‘o captain! my captain!’ and your narration too! keep it please.

  7. Dear Pattu Sir,
    This is one of the best post I have read so far. It is great your father gave you the freedom of all things so does my father. I get tears when I read this. The thing I don’t understand till now from my father is, in my school and college days whenever I ask him money, he never asks me for what you need the money, he will give me if he has otherwise he will borrow it from some one else and give it, and I also made sure I don’t spend unnecessarily, and this is the case with my brother, sisters..

    I am in the UK for the last 8yrs, and whenever I finish my holidays and planning to get back to UK, the moment I take my luggage bags out of my home, I fall in my mom and dad foots to get Aashirvadam, but I can’t see my fathers face straight. The only thing I could do is I hug my dad and mum very tight, no words from mouth. With gods grace me and my brother able to take care of them, my father is 70+, agriculturist still wants to work like he was working when he was 25+.

  8. Dear Pattu sir, your pursuit reminds me of this poem…

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    Invictus – William Ernest Henley

  9. Dear Pattu,
    Very moving post. My Father is 80+ and has done similar things for me, Always supportive and considering.

    I am able to spend quality time with them now as i am working part time.

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