Two Wonderful Girls. One Day At A Time…

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Planting Seeds In a Garden You Never Get To See

Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
.

My Mom passed away 25 years ago today. I planned to get away for a few days to get some new scenery, get some work done, and get some quiet reflection on the day, but Covid had other ideas. I was starting to feel like I was going to let the occasion slip away. 

But then I realized the girls had a short day, so the three of us went for a walk and had a picnic of Sourdough & Co sandwiches while Cherise got some work done. As we talked and cracked jokes, I was constantly thinking about how my mother would’ve been in awe of these two. That was followed by seeing a pic of the parents of my oldest & closest friend (including his mom, who was quite close to my mother) getting their vaccinations. I was left with a smile on my face, proud of her surviving peers finding ways to survive through the pandemic and carry on the Assamese legacy with their grandkids in ways my mother only dreamed of. I’ve been lucky enough to talk to them on Zooms during the pandemic and there’s something empowering to seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing his mom recall my mother and how much she misses her.

And while writing this, as I shoot furtive glances at my 15-year old daughter working on her laptop, I’m reminded of how much she resembles pictures of my mother as a student, long before two sons wore her down. I don’t think I realized how beautiful my mother was until I saw those traits passed on to Iris. Though she has been gone for over half my life, she’s still very present. Anniversaries are simply reminders that these last twenty-five years of my life are the garden she never got to see.

Calling All Student Entrepreneurs – Summer Plans

This weekend marks 25 years since I left Cornell to start my professional career.

While I was excited to start earning money in my first job, I would much rather have been starting a company. Unfortunately, Cornell was expensive and my student loans made me risk-averse. In fact, each of my summers were spent working in order to help my dad cover the remaining tuition obligation. In the years since, I’ve always been jealous of the stories Bill Gates & Mark Zuckerberg, who could start companies as college sophomores.

Fast forward to 2020. I’ve now started three companies and those experiences are among the greatest thrills of my career. But I’m still grateful for those college internships as they made it all possible. So, as I see students losing their internships, it breaks my heart. Student debt is far worse today than 1995. I can imagine the pressure of a student who was counting on their summer earnings to help cover tuition. I want to do something to help.

And then it came to me.

What if I could find some of these students with rescinded offers and provide enough cash to cover costs so that they can start their own business over the summer? Forget about working for DoorDash or some minimum wage job to make ends meet. Spend your summer working for yourself and still defray tuition costs!

I bounced the idea off the prolific Sean Branagan at Syracuse’s Newhouse School and he’s agreed to help me navigate this. But I need to confirm my hypothesis that there are still students that wish to start a business, but are hamstrung by college costs. If so, the lemons of the pandemic can turn into the lemonade of an entrepreneurial summer. In addition to covering some costs, I’m hoping these students can lean on me and some of my network to fact-find, learn, grow, and focus on being an entrepreneur.

So, here’s what I’m looking for: college students with an existing serious business idea that they’re truly passionate about and a willingness to spend the summer focused on it. Extra points if you have student loans and/or an internship offer that was rescinded due to the pandemic. I can’t fund every great idea, but if I can’t help you, maybe I can find someone who can.

I still need to figure things out, like how many students we fund, how we select recipients, how much each student gets, whether this a grant or an uncapped convertible note, does all the money go to the founder or is part diverted to the business, and what the requirements are during the summer. I want to make sure everything is done properly and optimized for the students. I’ve been working to set up a scholarship to honor my father and learned that the process is anything but trivial, so I want to make sure I do things by the book here.

To the students, I’ll say that you won’t be as much money as you would’ve made at your Uber developer internship, but it’ll be better than some desperation job in the middle of a bad economy, you’ll have more fun, and you’ll learn a ton. My main goal isn’t to turn a buck. It’s to deliver what would’ve been water in a desert for me 25+ years ago. My way of giving back by helping the next generation of entrepreneurs. We need you now more than ever.

Given many students are ending their classwork and making plans for the summer, I need to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. So while I navigate the feasibility of the idea, I’d like to start assessing interest. If you think you know someone who’d be interested, share my post or tag their name. They can reach out to me at intern-preneurs@khaund.com and let me know of their interest (and share their business and situation).

Helpless

It’s hard to believe that it was five weeks ago that Cherise and I went to a birthday party of a good friend with a dozen or so other people. As the party went late into the night, coronavirus was a popular topic, but it seemed like one of those things that would just eventually fade away. Even I thought, “hey, a lot of people are saying this is just like a ‘super flu’, so let’s just be safe and I’m sure we’ll ride it out and it’ll be fine.“ The previous week, my employer had banned all travel and I had assumed it was a little bit overkill. I accepted it as a precaution and figured that we’d be back in business a few weeks later. And hey, I could use a few weeks off the road anyway.

Little did I know that we would shut in for such a long time. I think I was prepared to quarantine myself just as a precaution for a few days, but it was only three days later when Governor Newsom made the call to enforce a shelter in place. That’s when it got real.

But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise of sorts.

From a personal perspective, these last five weeks have actually been a relatively minor inconvenience. In fact, in some ways, it’s been great. I don’t know what it says about us, but I think we handled last five weeks better than we handled the 48 hours that we lost power back in the fall when avoiding fires for PG&E. Cut off my electricity & WiFi and I don’t know what to do with myself. Keep the electricity but make me stay indoors, and I can keep myself busy. Yeah, sports were cut off, but the Orioles were gonna be horrible this year and Georgetown was already out of March Madness. And besides, there is a new season of Ozark and Narcos:Mexico coming out. Thank you, Netflix. Sure, we’d miss Hawaii, but we’ve already been there three times and we eventually go again. The vacation timing was already a little tough for me with work, so maybe the delay wouldn’t be so bad. And I reminded Cherise not to look at the stock market. Let it go down, let it go sideways, let it come back up. We didn’t pay attention to it before and we won’t care about it now, no matter what the news tells us. I detest roller coasters in real life, and I sure as hell don’t like them when they are financial—and watching it isn’t going to help it.

In some ways, our family was built for something like this. We are all pretty much homebodies and never need to go out much. While we certainly enjoy our outings, a quiet night at home was just as fun as anything else. Iris and I would probably describe ourselves as introverts. In fact, there are a lot of things about the last five weeks that I’ve absolutely loved. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s been a couple of moments where the stress may have hit us or we felt a little stir crazy, as any family would. And I imagine I’ve gotten on Cherise’s nerves or the girls’ nerves at some point. And there are moments when girls might clash, though it usually ends up with them cracking each other up. They razz each other to the point where I keep wondering when they went from being sisters to being brothers. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of more than a couple of instances where things came to a head, and the great memories far outweigh those. Personally, I feel a stronger bond with the girls, and I have seen new sides of them come out. They’ve made this time an opportunity to create. Iris continues her fiction writing, while Robyn continues to write code in Scratch. They’re experimenting with stuff, they’re trying new things in the kitchen (I’ve been the recipient of many a delicious dessert), they decided to make an Easter egg hunt for me and Cherise (after 14 years of us doing it for them), they’ve been picking up the slack in housecleaning since our cleaners can’t come, and they’ve been putting little hysterical Post-it notes around the house to randomly crack us up. Their latest thing is painting toenails and fingernails, first their own and then Cherise’s toes and mine. We’ve done our share of karaoke, including many renditions of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Hamilton Polka”. We decided, after watching many episodes of Shark Tank, to do our home version of Shark Tank where Cherise and I come up with businesses to pitch to the girls, and then they come up with businesses to pitch to us. It’s a level of creativity and showmanship that brings out the best in all of us. We’re even talking about creating “Investors University”, a spinoff of “Inventors University”. We’ve had a lot of deep conversations about life, everyone’s future, and just what’s important. Usually, by the time we finally get them to go to bed, Cherise and I spend the next half hour talking about how amazing they are and how we just love being around them. It’s a really profound time.

Meanwhile, my opportunities at work grew right before the start of the shelter in place and, a couple of weeks later, a reorg added new members to my team. In taking on the new responsibility as well as trying to help the company manage through an unprecedented situation with postponed and cancelled events, I’ve never been busier. I’m on constant calls, I’m working weekends, I’m staying up late, and I am waking up early in the morning with my brain buzzing. Some of the concepts I dreamed up for years ago are finally getting the opportunity to get implemented and used by tens of millions of event goers (well, when events come back). I’m in the middle of a career renaissance of sorts and it is easy to be oblivious about what’s going on around the world. Oh, and even being shut in, I’m still getting in my 10K runs and 70,000 weekly Fitbit steps and haven’t missed any of my fitness goals that I said the beginning of the year. So thanks for asking. I’m doing great!

And in a way, that’s what leaves me so confused.

I look at the numbers every day. You know the numbers. The number of infections. The number of fatalities. I take a couple of glances at CNN a day, trying not to do too many and get wrapped in it. I read the NY Times & Washington Post with the economic impact of layoffs. A couple of weeks before the pandemic, I read a statistic about how many families were one lost paycheck from serious trouble. Well, no one plans for a pandemic. And now, there are so many people who find themselves applying for unemployment. I often find myself stuck in the rabbit hole of Twitter. While inside is Shangri-La, I’m very aware of what is going on outside of our house and how tone deaf the first couple of paragraphs might sound to those who are struggling. I’m particularly pained when I see the numbers in New York and listen to Andrew Cuomo. The NY/NJ area will always be home to me. I imagine my father still being there and how I’d be worried sick for him right now to be cooped up in an apartment on the Upper West Side by himself, knowing full well that he would be extremely susceptible to coronavirus due to his asthma and other issues. Of course, as an immunologist who spent a lot of his time working on a epidemiology during his career, I can only imagine his take on this thing (I can hear his words in my head now)—and how much he would’ve loved Dr. Fauci. But beyond the hypotheticals of my late father, I am aware of the very real struggles of those that I still love and care about who are completely affected by the virus. I think of my oldest friend, who is struggling with the guilt as his sister is taking care of their parents, one of whom is recovering from a pair of strokes, and he has to stay distant. And then last week, I sent a text to another truly dear friend of mine on her birthday, with my standard comment that I hope she was “handling the quarantine OK”. Little did I know that she had contracted the virus herself, her boyfriend nearly died from it, and she lost three coworkers to it. An innocent birthday text turned into a horror show starring this special friend of mine. I spent the rest of the day in a weird state as my face was on Zoom after Zoom, but my head was in New York. Next year is my friend’s 50th birthday and she somehow managed to be optimistic enough to mention it in the texts. She alluded a trip she wanted to take to Nashville. I don’t care if it’s in Timbuktu. I’ll be there.

And I think of my brother who, as a doctor, is spending his days at the hospital and likely exposing himself to this stuff. I caught up with him a couple of weeks ago, but had to cut the call short to hop on a Zoom and didn’t get to ask how he was doing. A week later, I called him for his birthday and left a voicemail when I couldn’t catch him, and I had a moment where I wondered if he was OK. When I posted something on Facebook the next day, he commented and made a remark that he was proud of what I did in the post.  Best comment ever. In addition to always wanting to make him proud, I’m just happy that he’s finding the time to flip through Facebook. Of course, maybe my reaction was helped by the fact that I just seen the movie “Onward” which I managed to hold in my crying (mostly) until the girls went to bed, and then spent 15 minutes weeping in gratitude of my older brother (what an amazing movie—literally got everything right that Frozen got wrong). Call me back, asshole!

And after all this, I see the conspiracy theories that suggest that this is all a lie, that this was an evil plan laid forth by the Chinese government, or that it was concocted by Bill Gates as a way to make more money. Because obviously, the guy that’s giving away tens of billions of dollars feels the need to profit from death and destruction. Seriously, fuck you all. I don’t like cursing in this blog, especially since I know that Iris and Robyn now know where it is and probably check it to make sure that I’m not saying too much about them. But I repeat, fuck you all.

And then I watch the most bizarre series of governmental decisions imaginable. Yes, friends and colleagues, I see you imploring me to not make a political and not play the blame game. “Let’s all be unified.” Sorry, but the lack of accountability and acceptance of failures are costing people’s lives only serves to prolong the pathetic response that the federal government shows. Speaking truth the power is the only way to change things. Fuck politics. I’m not concerned about November right now. I’m not concerned about who gets credit. I’m not concerned about egos. I honestly don’t care whose name is on the check. Just do your fucking job. So, to those of you who find the righteous path in telling me that this isn’t time to play the blame game, I remind you that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality. So take your sanctimonious bullshit somewhere else, because it ain’t gonna fly here.

I sit here and I feel helpless. And busy. And proud. And fortunate. And guilty. And worried. And sad. And angry. But mostly, just helpless. We’ve tried to help financially by donating to a number of causes, including local food banks. We continue to pay our house cleaners and gardeners, even though they haven’t been here in several weeks. When I found out that a recent college grad who was doing some minor work on a side project for me had been furloughed from her job, I’ve paid her in advance. Way in advance. Cherise and I keep trying to get takeout from local restaurants and we’re tipping uniquely large amounts, the level that my dad would frown at me for doing (he was a pretty bad tipper). I’ve been spending time talking to people to keep their spirits up, including a couple of random college students that reached out to me in LinkedIn to ask for career or startup advice. One was an international student at Cornell who was stuck on campus dorm (couldn’t fly back to his home country) and one of two people in the dorm. Cornell can be a lonely place in normal circumstances, but with only one other person in the entire building, what he must’ve been going through was insane. But for an hour, we got to talk about live events, concerts, and the thrill of the business. I think we both got to forget about what was going on outside and it was nice. Last week, I did a webcast to 40 engineering students in India (led by my cousin’s son)  as they all had their semesters cut short, but they were definitely up for a chat about entrepreneurship & Silicon Valley. We all know this pandemic would be over eventually, but I reminded them that they could be part of the solution to make sure we never go through this again—not to mention be the solution for our other challenges, such as Climate Change. Again, for a moment, it was nice to think about the world as better in the future. It can be. It should be. It will be. And it’s the kids in college today who will take this experience and do the most with it.

As I try to do these random acts of kindness, I want no credit and I deserve no credit. In fact, they’re probably more selfish than anything. They help me process the emotions and maybe ease the guilt or manage my role in all of this (“if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem”). I want the girls to know that I’m doing these things. I want them to think about who’s on the other end of that generosity. I want them to think about how the inequities exist are most apparent when we run into these situations. They have always existed, but they’re most apparent when situations go to extremes. I want to remind them that they are insanely fortunate (which they definitely know). I want them to know that if this was two years ago, this might’ve jeopardized their college funds and even our ability to stay in this house. Instead, we’re thriving and it’s our responsibility to use that good fortune to think of others. None of really know how or when this is going to end. But as long as it carries on and we carry on, I just hope to personally find some balance of the emotions I have and keep finding ways of being a positive force while not allowing the guilt to completely destroy the pure thrill I get from this amazing family and job that I have.

 

#GirlDad

I can’t say I ever liked Kobe Bryant as a player. After all, he was the brash young kid who came out of high school and went straight into the NBA, only to spurn the Charlotte Hornets so that he could play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Those same Lakers that I detested throughout the 80s when I was a big Celtics fan. When the sexual assault charges were brought against him in 2003, my disdain for him grew. I expect that people will think about this inexplicable mistake for years after his death as a question of his legacy and that’s probably fair (though those who bring it up within 24 hours really do so in poor taste).

But it’s really the years since that incident that came to mind when I heard the news on Sunday about his untimely death. I prefer his days wearing number 24 than number 8, and his post-playing tracksuits and business suits even more. You see, Kobe and I had something very important in common: we were the father of only girls–and we both took the responsibility very seriously. In fact, Kobe’s love for his daughters inspired the hashtag #GirlDad. But while I’ve seen a lot of the posts about #GirlDad, most show pictures of men doting on their cute daughters. That’s sweet and I love every one, but if that’s what you took away from Kobe Bryant’s role as a father, you miss one of the most important legacies is that he managed to leave.

You see, this ultra talented, ultra competitive gym-rat workaholic pretty much managed to put his girls above all else. In age of deadbeat dads and domestic violence from athletes (including one of the stars of today’s Super Bowl once being on record demanding that his child and his wife should both be scared of him), you had Kobe. He made a point of prioritizing those girls, but as they grew up, he didn’t infantilize them. No, he was focused on doing his part and turning his young daughters into strong, confident women. The man structured his schedule so that he could drive his kids to and from school just to get those 20 minutes to talk to them and listen to them–just like I’ve started to do with Iris. He didn’t force them to play basketball, but once his second daughter did show an interest, he gave her every opportunity (just like Robyn, who has turned into a pretty serious coder). Meanwhile, outside of his own girls, he worked to make the world a better place for women in general. I like to say that as I prepare Iris & Robyn for the world, I am also trying to prepare the world for Iris & Robyn. That’s what Kobe was doing. Great stories around his support for the WNBA, his support for women college players, and a special bond with the University of Connecticut basketball team (where his daughter Gianna dreamed of playing) and their legendary coach were examples of where he gave credibility ingredients to women in an industry dominated by men. In some ways, he was paying it forward–just as I try to do when I work with organizations like WAM or mentor young women in entrepreneurship and engineering. Of all the clips that I’ve been re-run that I hadn’t seen before, my favorite was when he was on Jimmy Kimmel and told people how everybody begged him to have a son to carry on the legend, and his daughter would interject with “no, I got this”. And most importantly, Kobe looked at her and said “yeah, that’s right, you got this”. It’s as if he was saying, you are not limited for being a girl. That’s no excuse and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise–just as I do when I remind Robyn that, if she chooses to go the entrepreneurial route, she’s gonna make a heck of a lot more money and be a whole lot more successful with her future company than her father ever could.

And that makes the loss of Gianna Bryant even more heartbreaking than that of Kobe, if that is at all possible. The fruits of that parenting would have been magnificent to watch come to life, just as I expect Iris & Robyn to be a lot of fun to watch and I’m really hopeful that I get a chance to see it all.

Last month, Cherise and I took care of our trust and our will, which includes a lot of language about what happens if something happens to us. There’s nothing more sobering than imagining your children without you around. I used to absolutely dread the thought ten years ago and it’s still the greatest fear of my mortality now. But in the last 14 years, I feel like I’ve forged together a body a work that will take the girls far. Still, I worry that they might someday lose the understanding of how much I cared for them. We’ve written 19 annual family letters, I’ve been writing this blog off and on for 14 years, and I post a lot on Facebook about the girls when something relatively major happens. A lot of people appreciate it and provide thoughtful comments in appreciation, while others undoubtedly think it’s some level of bragging. Frankly, I don’t care what anyone thinks. Because in case you didn’t know, the main reason I do most of those posts are because if anything happens to us, I never went there be a doubt that their father loved them, cared for them, and believed in them more than seems humanly possible–just like Kobe did with his stories on talk shows. His surviving daughters will miss their father more than can be put into words, but there will never be a doubt of how much he cared for them. And for that, every father can learn the real power of being a #GirlDad.

So Much More Than Awesome

I am not a San Francisco Giants fan and I don’t know who I was rooting for in Game 7 of the World Series in 2014. Nevertheless, in one of the most memorable performances in baseball history, Madison Bumgarner pitched the Giants to a third World Series title in five years. And yet my favorite part of the story didn’t happen in Kansas City that night. It happened a thousand miles away in North Carolina, where Kevin Bumgarner was watching his son make history. In the middle of that legendary performance, he sent a text to his son that read this:

“OMG. You’re so much more than awesome. To see you work on the mound reminds me of watching you in high school. You are willing yourself to perfection and dragging the team along with you. I couldn’t be more proud of your baseball accomplishments.”

As Kevin Bumgarner would later tell a writer, “I knew he wouldn’t read that text before the game was over, but I wanted him to know this was what his daddy thought of him.”

I think about that story a lot. I think about that balance of pride and love and appreciation of a child. Those moments where you can’t help yourself and you need for them to eventually know what you are thinking and there comes a time when you go so far beyond unconditional love that you just want to burst with pride.

This was one of those weeks.

On Thursday, Robyn won her second Science Fair, this time for creating a green energy source from…yup, our dog. She called her project “Energizer Puppy” and she credits me with the idea. You see, every time our dog Tiger Lily goes nuts and sprints around and wags her tail maniacally, I always say “wow, if we could only harness the energy of this dog”. Apparently, Robyn took that as a challenge. Ten years old and working on climate change. Fossil Fuels? No, Fido Fuels…

Saturday, she kicked off her third year of teaching young girls how to write code as part of Inventors University. She’s teaching 3D modeling because Scratch wasn’t challenging enough and she thought the kids would learn more from a new subject. So rather than lean on her old content, she built an entire new curriculum. It’s not a surprise that she pours so much of herself into this. She often talks about how she is looking for ways to make money so that she can put it into Inventors University. I remind her that she’d prefer to buy something for herself, but she insists she doesn’t want anything and would rather put the money into a good use. That’s usually when I remind her that I’m not crying, she’s crying.

And today was the Spelling Bee, which she won last year, and we were really worried that she’d get overconfident. As expected, her classmates were outstanding–but so was she. In fact, she and two of her classmates were so good that they ran out of time (and words) and need to continue tomorrow. I’m set to travel to SoCal for an overnight trip tomorrow morning and I spent part of tonight looking for later flights as I didn’t want to miss the conclusion. Forget baseball and basketball, Robyn is fast becoming my favorite spectator sport. Even if she doesn’t win, to get this far despite the pressure of trying to win again (that would’ve broken someone like me) amazes me. I kept leaning over to Cherise and asking “where is she getting this confidence?”

She just continues to outdo herself and confound every expectation (and I’m an Indian parent–I have very high expectations), but she’s never arrogant and always maintains an even keel.

And I must admit none of this means as much to me as her caring nature, her appreciation of the little things, and her ability to make me laugh on a dime. My heart still grows three sizes every time she walks in the room. She and her sister have brought Cherise and me constant joy since the day they each joined the family. Every year that passes brings us closer together. I don’t remember ever laughing this much every day. Even the ordinary nights of ordering in and watching a movie bring a joy I can’t describe.

But still, with weeks like this one, when Robyn is “so much more than awesome”, I need to take a page from the book of Kevin Bumgarner and post my admiration. After all, I know she won’t read this for a while, but I want her to know this was what her daddy thought of her.

An Open Letter To My Ten-Year Old Daughter

Dear Robyn,

Five years ago, I wrote an open letter to you. It was the most honest thing I had ever written in my entire life, but I didn’t want you to read it yet as I never wanted you to feel the pressure of being observed so closely. Five years later, I almost feel like a letter isn’t enough. I’m inspired to write an entire book about what a profound, beautiful experience being your father has been. And yet, I still fear you’ll feel some unnecessary pressure to live up to all that I’ve constructed in my mind about you. So I’ll share it with the world first and someday let you read this so you’ll always know how truly important you are to me.

Just like five years ago, you continue to be a comedic genius. Every time we lay eyes on each other, it’s a race to see who can crack the other one up first. Your ability to drop a Simpsons reference is amazing, and perhaps a little intimidating because you’re getting better at it than me. But you couple this humor with another level of savvy, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness where I’m beginning to see the adult you’re going to become and I couldn’t be more excited. Your caring, responsible nature of dog ownership. Your academic prowess and off-the-chart test scores that makes each of your teachers keep using the word “special”. Your willingness to stand in front of a room of kids older than you and give lectures on computer programming. You’re never bored, you never sleep in, you never ask me to buy you anything, and your only common request of me is “Dad, do you want to debug some code with me?”

But our relationship goes a layer deeper and it starts with your name. I am so grateful that your mother and I had the wisdom to give you your grandfather‘s name. It’s an important link that not only honors the sacrifices my father made for me, but the uncanny similarities make uttering your name a persistent reminder of his memory. Your smile. Your easygoing attitude. Your infinite quest for knowledge. And in some cosmic boomerang, in the time since he passed away, you’ve provided the sanity, tranquility, and levelheadedness that he used to deliver to bridge me through my most difficult times. When he died, I feared for the void in my life without his presence. I’m not saying you and I have the same conversations, but you’ve been an antidote to my stress and a reminder of what’s important, just as he was for the first 40+ years of my life.

Our bond is special and it’s often unspoken. I’d be remiss without sharing one memory that encapsulates everything about what makes you so special and what makes us so special. I hope you never forget it. I know I won’t.

It was at this year‘s spelling bee. There you were in the final round, knocking off word after word with a sly stoicism Down to the final two, your last competitor missed his word, so you were one word away from being the champion. As your principal said the word “facilitate”, I started getting nervous for an extra L that might slip in.

And then you did it.

You glanced directly at me, our eyes locked, and you shot a split-second grin as if to say “don’t worry Dad, I got this.”

At that instant, you and I were the only two people in the room that knew what was about to happen.

Five seconds later, all eyes and cheers were on you, which was fortunate as no one noticed me wiping away the tears from under my glasses.

Someday, I hope you’ll be a parent. Until then, you’re gonna have to trust me when I tell you that that was the single greatest moment of my life and I don’t expect anything to top it. The joys of parenting hard to explain to some one who has never done it, and the singular moments that make it all worth while often come out of nowhere. I have it on video (with the still here) and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it and smiled. It’s my drug to get through the worst days. I asked you about it that night, praying that it wasn’t my imagination. You admitted it coyly and flashed the that smile that melts my heart.

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You truly are the gift that keeps on giving.

But perhaps the reason I’m most excited about you and your future is that part of you that only your mother and I see. You, my beautiful daughter, are an assassin. You are competitive, you’re hyper focused, and you are aspirational. And the best part is, no one knows it. You will spend your whole life being underestimated. People will see your diminutive size, your soft voice, your easy-going style, and your shy demeanor, and they’ll dismiss you. And that’s when you blow them away. With that said, I hope you know when to selectively temper that intensity. I’ve seen you take losses hard and bottle it up until it explodes. Resilience is going to be a critical part of your future. Sometimes, we aim high and don’t quite get it–and that’s OK. I wanted to go to Princeton, but ended up at Cornell. I wanted to go to Harvard, but ended up at Wharton. Never stop aspiring, but accept and appreciate the results and aim to do better. Even though I didn’t reach my highest aspirations, I ended up at places that I was lucky to be and I can assure you that my life is a lot better than a number of people that pulled off the Princeton/Harvard combo. How do I know that?

Because none of them ended up with you as a daughter.

Happy 10th and thank you for all that you do to make every day truly special.

Love,
Your still-smitten father

Reflections on 10 Years Since Open Heart Surgery

Today, I became a statistic. Don’t worry, it’s the good kind. You see, 10 years ago today, I had open heart surgery to repair leaky valve in my heart. With this anniversary, I officially hit the “10-year survivor rate” and my last checkup has me as good as new. I don’t want to sound overly melodramatic about my situation 10 years ago. The prognosis was good, I was young, and it wasn’t a death sentence of any sort. Then again, whenever your chest is cracked open as mine was, you never know what happens after that. As my surgeon told me 12 hours before I went under the knife, “oh, by the way, you could die on the table.” Umm, what? It was almost something he had to say to manage his liability, but I was aware that medical procedures, and life in general, have a way of not always being predictable.

I was looking back on my post from one week after the surgery, where I felt like I had gained a considerable amount of perspective on things. But what with the next 10 years be like? Would I change who I am or what I did? I suppose I had hopes and ideas, but I was never really sure. At that time, I was almost more concerned about 6 inch scar in the middle of my chest as opposed to the mental scar that would forever change how I acted. As I look back, I confess that my experience actually made me a much better person. My life is different, my outlook is different, and I’m more excited about the future than I ever was.

I suppose it starts with the idea that tomorrow is not guaranteed. I was in my mid 30s, healthy, ate pretty well, and ran 20 miles a week. I was the last person that should end up with some sort of heart condition. But then again, healthier people than me or stricken with bizzarre illnesses or tragic accidents all the time. Death is inevitable, but we all hope to stave it off as long as possible. Sometimes it’s not our choice. I don’t embrace my mortality as much as I accept it.I feel like I’ve been able to appreciate the girls so much more, watching every achievement with an extra sense of joy. I’ve watched Cherise blossom into a public servant with political ambitions. I’ve watched my mother-in-law show tremendous strength and resilience in her transition to independence after the loss of Cherise’s father. I take pride in being able to witness these changes. I was also able to make an extra effort for my father in the last years of his life as I had to confront his mortality head-on.

But beyond those natural evolutions of life, the surgery also forced me to be more cognizant about my life choices and the impact it has on others. I am continually forced to confront my integrity and my legacy.

Who am I?

How people speak of me when I’m gone?

What can I do to leave the world a better place than when I got here?

Obviously, that starts with the girls.

When I had the surgery, Iris was still a toddler and Robyn was in utero. When I see the two of them now, I see my greatest responsibility and greatest legacy. I see my opportunity to have a positive influence to one woman and two future women who I hope and expect will change the world for the better. I take that as a serious responsibility and perhaps the most important part of my legacy. I never take my interactions with the girls lightly. Every conversation shapes who they are and what they will become. I strive to teach them to be thoughtful, caring individuals who think of their impact, regardless of their career path. I almost want them to think of getting an early start on thinking about their own legacy. Inventors University doesn’t happen without heart surgery. It was not only an opportunity for me to have an impact on these young girls who need it, but also for my daughters to think about how you need to turn ideas into action. It’s easy to talk about the world. It’s another thing to do it. No one remembers the talkers.

But that’s not the only part of my legacy.

By starting a company, I’m trying to put my stamp on the technological landscape as part of my legacy. I’ve been lucky enough to have a terrific team at UPGRADED, but as the founder, I know that business is synonymous with me and it’s success is my mark on the world. Maybe that’s why I work so hard at it. But despite my obsessive compulsion with starting a company, I have taken on a series of young people where I can mentor them, work with them, show patience for them, and help them reach their potential. Sometimes it’s lunch, sometimes it’s coffee or beers. Sometimes, it’s emails and texts. I prioritize these relationships and I take tremendous pride in this. I mentored people before the surgery, but I reserved it for Cornell graduates and Wharton graduates and a few Microsoft employees, as if to say “you’re part of the club and these are the benefits”. What a narcissistic load of crap. After the surgery, I realized how stupid that was. It’s not about exclusion, and it sure as hell is not about maintaining an elitism in some sort of “us versus them” mentality. It’s the same mentality that’s make me detest organized religion. So not only do I not care about where you went to school, but rather I pay special attention to those who look or act nothing like me. I ask for nothing in return, except maybe that they do the same when their time comes and they are older. Until then, their success is my success. And their gratitude means the world to me…

I’m not a religious guy, so I won’t say that God put me through the surgery to make me stronger. Sometimes, shit just happens. However, it did improve me as a person and made me appreciate the gifts I’ve been given. In some ways, my life wasn’t affected by the surgery. I still run 15 to 20 miles a week. I still eat fairly well, though I am less likely to deny myself certain foods as life is too short to completely stay away from “In & Out Burger”. But I do wake up every day with the special sense of purpose. I still have the scar, but every year, it fades a little. But the impact of the surgery on my life grows with every day that I am fortunate enough to experience. I try to treat each day as one step closer to achieving my legacy and having the greatest impact upon others.

 

The Course Of Nature

I’m sitting here in our living room after a Hawaiian vacation, sipping on a scotch (no more sugary drinks for me) while writing code for a demo next week as I head off to the east coast. It’s definitely back to the grind after a week in Maui. Iris and I came back early while Cherise went island hopping with Robyn to visit friends in Oahu. Before we returned to the mainland, Iris and I got to spend a special day together as just the two of us, sampling island fare at a restaurant that was way too fancy, buying roadside coconut to share, driving through windy, rainy roads, watching sea turtles on the beach, and just chatting about everything and nothing. And now, we are back and she is asleep, Cherise and Robyn are still in Hawaii, and Tiger Lily is still at her doggie hotel until I pick her up tomorrow. Alice In Chains Unplugged softly plays in the background, but I can’t seem to finish this code as my mind wanders to the week I just had.

I get pretty wrapped up in my work and often joke that I probably wouldn’t take any vacations if I didn’t have a family. I suppose I appreciation nature, but I appreciate the family more. Cherise and girls manage to keep me grounded and help me smell the flowers (literally, in some cases this week). As I was going through the week’s pictures yesterday, I kept looking at one of Iris and Cherise coming out of the water after paddleboarding.

Side-by-side, it was clear that, physically, Iris isn’t a kid any more–and the same goes for her, intellectually. She still has her moments (hell, I still have my moments), but she is clearly a young woman. We like doing Hawaii every other year, which means that the next time we’d do Hawaii, she’ll be comfortably (uncomfortably?) in her teens and in high school. But I don’t wonder where the time went. I remember every year vividly and every one has been a pleasure. I see the nuances that remain from when she was just a baby, and I also notice new behaviors that develop every week. Time passes and narratives change. 13 years ago, a pregnant Cherise and I went to a U2 concert, which we always defined as Iris’ first concert. Two weeks ago, Iris and I did a home karaoke duet of U2’s “Get Out Of Your Own Way”, a song she not only knows by heart, but also manages to mock my feeble little brain for not remembering all the lyrics. A part of me wants to freeze time and savor this. But the other part of me loves what’s up next. Watching her borrow more of Cherise’s clothes, take part in more adult conversations, find new passions, and hopefully, still able to enjoy an afternoon of touring around with her Dad, whether it’s Maui or Moraga. In the meantime, I’ll just stare at this picture and marvel at the amazing human being in this literal snapshot of a woman-in-making, and bask in the 13 years that changed me as much as her. And I’ll daydream of rainy afternoons of delicious coconuts and the smelling the flowers, not for my appreciation of nature as much as my appreciation of the course of nature and the joys of parenthood.

The Family That Laughs Together

Last month, I had just come back from a business trip on a Friday night. We planned a family dinner that night, so I went straight from the airport to the restaurant to meet Cherise and the girls. As I walked in, I immediately spotted Robyn’s white pom-pom on the top of her winter hat and electric smile underneath it. You could see her completely animated, telling some story and cracking herself up as she told it. All the emails, texts, and phone calls that I had been juggling right up to that point went into the recesses of my mind. For the next hour, we ate, told jokes, shared stories, and played games. All devices stayed in pockets.  They told me funny stories of things I missed when I was gone. I told them stories of weird people at the airport. On the way home, we played “The Trump Game” where we each did our imitations of Donald Trump based on an imaginary question and voted for the funniest response. Extra points were given for using the word Covfefe.

But before we went home, towards the end of the dinner, an older woman walked up to me with her husband, put her hand on my back, and said “Can I say how lovely it is to watch you and your family? The laughter coming from this table was absolutely wonderful. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Things aren’t always perfect with us. But for everything we could possibly be proud of as a family, I don’t think anything tops that compliment. The girls are overachievers and I am excited about what they’ll achieve on their own when their day comes, but I am most grateful that the time we spend together in the present is truly special…

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The Summer of 2017 Part II – Camp Khaund

As I promised, I want to counter the last blog post and the negativity with a story around what was absolutely a wonderful summer.

At the beginning of the summer, Cherise and I debated on whether the girls should go to camp or not. Neither one seem particularly interested in doing it, but we didn’t want them to just sit around all summer. While Robyn had plans to appear in a summer play (Willy Wonka), continue piano lessons, and eventually find a week-long veterinary camp at the local Animal Rescue Foundation, Iris didn’t have such aspirations. Now, I have to admit that many of my summers were spent some white unguided and those are some of my favorite memories growing up. Still, having a little direction is always valuable and I do remember some of those summers where my brother would give me some tasks of inspiration to keep me somewhat productive. And then it came to me.

Camp Khaund.

What is Camp Khaund, you ask? Well, I assembled seven challenges that I offered up to Iris. As the school year came to a close, we discussed them over walks with the dog, and settled on what was a reasonable expectation of how many would be done and how well.

CODING CHALLENGE: Begin learning a new programming language, specifically Swift, Apple’s new language for iOS.

ARCHITECTURE CHALLENGE: Design her dream house, complete with all the different rooms, architectural designs, and clever approaches to come in their problems.

SCIENCE CHALLENGE: Select a part of the body and do a report, learning as much as possible about it.

CURRENT EVENTS CHALLENGE: Every couple of weeks, write a small family newspaper which covers interesting events going on in the world.

MUSIC CHALLENGE: Even though Iris stopped playing the piano several years ago, I challenged her to learn this song using YouTube. I made a Spotify playlist, gave it to her to listen to a few times, and then let her select her favorite song.

READING CHALLENGE: Our book club, where one of us chooses the book and the other person chooses the restaurant that we eat at to discuss it. One hook: the restaurant has to start with a B, so that it’s “Books and ‘B…'”.

ATHLETIC CHALLENGE: Iris and I have always done our personal 5Ks, so we made a goal to do a bunch of them over the summer. We wanted to accumulate about 30 miles of road work and run in the Walnut Run in September for the 3rd year in a row and set a personal best..

CULINARY CHALLENGE: The surprise 8th challenge came when we were running and joked about the fact that we would run 3.14 miles, which of course is pi. Iris thought pie would be a nice reward for running pi. I said “maybe you should just bake a pie and let me eat it”. I was kinda kidding, but we your child responds to baking you a pie with enthusiasm, you don’t say no. Thus was born the next challenge where Iris would have to bake an apple pie by herself.

So, how well did it work?

It truly was lot of fun watching her go after some of these. While some challenges went much better than others, she made a pretty strong effort on every one and I watched with true pride as she turned a potentially lazy summer into one with personal purpose and creativity.

Challenges Accomplished

  • READING: “Hunger Games” at ‘Bucks (Starbucks). Jimmy Carter’s autobiography at Buffet. “Jurassic Park” at BBQ. Awesome conversations for each, including sharing some inside stories around the inspiration of Hunger Games (the author’s juxtaposition of the Vietnam War and reality shows), the impact of Carter’s years, and the subtext around Jurassic Park (the morality of cloning). It’s stuff like this that I imagined when I dreamed of having kids.
  • MUSIC: Iris chose U2’s “Every Breaking Wave” and practiced it when I wasn’t around in order to surprise me. The bigger surprise is how passionate she sang along with the piano playing, and even when it was just the music playing on our Amazon Echo or in the car. Iris is supposed to be the shy one, but she clearly has a performer in her and it was so much fun to duet with her. Neither one of us is quite ready for America’s Got Talent, but as I tried to tell her of my days playing a lot of pickup basketball as a wanna-be power forward in a 5’11” body, if you love doing it, who cares what the world thinks.
  • CULINARY: Wow, that was good. She really took the bull by the horns on this and had such a fun time. We selected the ingredients, assembled everything herself, and managed the oven work. Her only assistance was a ride to the grocery store and a copy of her grandmother’s recipe for (Apple!) pie.
  • ARCHITECTURE: Chez Iris includes a VR room (complete with padding in case you bump into the wall), reading spaces, a systems to send the food from the third floor kitchen to the second floor dining room. As much as the ideas were great, the tremendous detail and effort she put into this project kinda floored me. There must’ve been 15-20 sheets of papers, with drawn out schematics, images, and other depictions of this house. Throughout the design, she’d show me certain pieces, but hide other “surprises” that would be part of the unveiling. It was definitely quite a show.
  • SCIENCE: She decided on the brain and went to town. Seven pages and a 15 minute presentation that I’m still pushing her to share with her Uncle, the doctor. She blew through terms, commented on structural anomalies, and pronounced some insane words a hell of a lot better than I did. She gave me the presentation over iced tea at the local Starbucks and I was watching the woman at the table next to us out of the corner of my eye, her mouth agape with this 11-year old explaining the different between the nature of gray matter and white matter (I’m sure she was impressed with Iris, but she probably thought I was a typical “Tiger Dad” Asian parent–I felt like saying “She did this–I just wanted stick figures!”).

Challenges Mostly Accomplished

  • CURRENT EVENTS: Iris starting KSNN (Khaund Sisters News Network) and included Robyn to write articles as well, on everything from the Healthcare Bill to Robert Mueller’s investigation of the White House. Robyn didn’t particularly care for it, so Iris proceeded to write another one without her (in the newly titled INN–Iris News Network) and focused on things like the Donald Trump Jr investigation. I was definitely both excited and impressed with her diligence, including when she said to me afterwards during one of our walks, “Daddy, I was reading in the Economist that…” I don’t exactly know what she said afterwards. I was just mesmerized by those seven words…Still, while she liked reading about the stuff, journalism probably isn’t in her future as she grew bored of “covering” the events.
  • CODING: Iris starting using the Apple “Playground” app to ramp up on Swift, but while she understood the syntax and could clearly do the work, it just doesn’t excite her the way these things excite Robyn (who took Javascript lessons from me until I started falling behind and went on to just teach herself). Still, I think she learned enough to be ready to do Fall Workshops for Inventors University, though the lessons won’t be as immersive as her Python course.
  • ATHLETIC: We ran a lot, but the weather was tougher than we expected with lots of 100+ degree days and we tried to avoid that as it really cut down her stamina. Plus, no Walnut Run this year, so we couldn’t even follow through on that. Still, though we didn’t quite get all the way to our overall goal, we got up to 3.5 miles and I believe we can do a 10K next year. Iris is a competitive person, but doesn’t seem to take to team sports. I’m hoping that running can be her outlet first and foremost, but also perhaps a future competitive sport. Who knows?

As I said in the last post, I’ve refrained from blog posts a bit because the girls are getting older and I’m trying to be respectful of their privacy. But whether it’s because Iris truly blew me away this summer or that I wanted to mark the progress, or simply because I feel like I bonded with her in a new and meaningful way that I never want to forget, I feel like capturing these 10 weeks was something I had to do. I promised Iris that if she nailed the challenges, I would take her on a Daddy-Daughter trip to anywhere in the Continental US that she wanted to go. She definitely did enough to earn the trip and she’s already decided where she wants to go–Disneyland! Um, just kidding. That’s not the Iris Way. No, we’re going to Washington DC to visit all the government buildings, walk the mall, see some museums, and hang out. We’ll be sure to walk by the White House, where Iris will surely tell her favorite crack about Trump (“My dog is smarter than my President. Better hair too!”). We’ll probably go around her birth in October, sparing her from her father’s desire to take her to Camden Yards (for the Orioles) or the Verizon Center (for Georgetown Basketball). And all the while, I’ll keep thinking how grateful I am to have a daughter that actually embraced these goofy challenges that her dad gave her and hope she’ll continue to attack the challenges of life with the same enthusiasm and energy.

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