Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Filtering by Category: Fatherhood

This one couch

When I was a teenager and collegian, the world was barely big enough for my dreams. I distinctly remember thinking a think where I aspired to be mentioned in a history book (in high school, no less - how arrogant). I wanted to be a global citizen. And I hoped that in my lifetime, our species would be travel to other planets, other stars...making my world, our world, bigger on the journey.

And then my world became one country and I wanted to be in DC. Then I graduated, and my world became one city, one state. I wanted to make a positive difference here, in the place where I was from.

And then somewhere along the line my world got much smaller. At our wedding, our whole world was in one room eating dinner and dancing. All I needed was there.

And then it got even smaller. My whole world fits under one roof when the whole family gets together (whether in Gwalior, Sanibel, Rochester, Novi, Birmingham, New York, or at one of several towns near London).

And now, smaller. My whole world is one couch.

And not just any couch, this one couch. The one I am sitting on now. The one where we brought Riley and Bo home to. The one Robyn and I bought together. The one where our friends and family gather around, play games on, conversate and relax on, drink beers around, and nap on. 

This is the couch I never realized I was dreaming of.

I've gone from the planet being my world, to this one couch. And that has been a blessing I never ever expected to be grateful for.

And I still have dreams for this neighborhood, city, state, country, world, and even this galaxy. But my world...my world is this couch.

The best words (of my life, so far)

 “Good morning.”

“I do.”

 ”Welcome.”

”I forgive you.” 

”I love you.” 

“Om, shanti, shanti, shanti...” 

”You are a very capable person (son).” 

“Sweet dreams.” 

”See you soon.” 

“We’re home.” 

”...amen.” 

 “You make me wanna roll my windows down, and cruise.”

”Kush raho.” 

And for the first time, as of yesterday, “Mum mum mumma.”

These have been some of the best words of my life, so far.  

The things I blame

This is a non-exhaustive list of people and things I've blamed - rightly or wrongly - for things like suffering, fear, anger, and failure:

  • My upbringing
  • "The system"
  • My boss or someone at work with a position in the hierarchy higher than me
  • The President of the United States
  • Other politicians
  • Bad luck
  • God (e.g., when my father passed)
  • The person on the other side (of the table, on the phone, of the cash register)
  • The referee
  • Myself
  • "The "economy"
  • The teacher
  • American culture
  • "Technology"
  • Circumstance
  • My DNA
  • Lack of sleep

I've realized because of a number of blogs / articles, but most recently this interview on the Knowledge Project podcast with poker player Annie Duke, that when I have a failure event I have a tendency to blame something. That was hard to admit.

What's worse, I've realized how cowardly I am if I blame others, even if that blame is accurate and deserved. Blame, regardless of whether it's placed rightly or wrongly, is a digression from taking responsibility to solve the problem or be better.

If our goal is to be better, rather than to be right, blame is a waste of time and a neglect of duty. What's interesting that this is true, even if we blame ourselves. Even if we are blaming ourselves, it is a diversion from taking responsibility.

I hope that by admitting that I do place blame - on myself and others - and naming those things specifically, that I'll stop doing it. I'd rather cut the bullshit and move straight to taking responsibility for making things better or being better myself.

Easier said than done, but it has to start somewhere. And to be honest, even writing this is a liberating moment because I'm feeling my deep-gutted "I'm the victim" muscle start to atrophy a little bit.

Good Deeds vs. Good Decisions

I used to think that the key to being a good person was doing good deeds. If that's true, I thought, the hard part is just figuring out the comprehensive list of good deeds and working hard to do them. Simple enough.

What I've been thinking lately is that every conscious or unconscious decision I make ends up leading to an action. And just about all those decisions and all those actions (from how long I spend in the shower to whether I choose to run a red light, or how I choose to talk with Robyn, and on and on) has some sort of moral consequence.

If that's true, no list of good deeds or virtuous qualities is ever enough to cover all bases. Every moment of my life has a moral consequence, there's no list long enough to adequately inform all those moments.

Instead, if every moment of my life has a moral consequence, the key to being a good person is not to focus on doing good deeds. Rather, the key is to focus on making good decisions all the time. By that I don't mean effective decisions or high-utility decisions, I mean decisions that reflect goodness.

The problem is, most decisions I make in a day are not intentional. They are products of convictions, habits, and reflex. So the way I figure it now, I have to shape my convictions, habits, and reflexes in such a way that my decisions (both conscious and unconscious) reflect goodness during every moment of the day.

Here's the big shift. When pursuing good deeds the fundamental question is "what are all the things a good person does?". When pursuing good decisions the fundamental question is "how do I become a better person every day?".

Both are hard, for different reasons. I've abandoned good deeds as an anchor in favor of good decisions because I really believe that every moment has moral consequences. And, I don't think significant good deeds make up for being a selfish jerk between innings, so to speak.

And as a father, I know with 100% certainty our kids are going to become good people based on the choices they see me making day in and day out, not based on the significant and hopefully good deeds they see as an outcome every once awhile.

A batch of pancakes, 11 years in the making

There was a big moment in our home today. I made pancakes for our son, for the first time. Doing that has been a dream 11 years in the making.

I first started making scratch pancakes when I was the on-the-ground coordinator for my university's Washington D.C. summer internship program. I would make pancakes on Saturday morning for anyone wanting to get together. I've been doing it ever since.

It was that summer, 2007 in the George Washington University dormitories, that I imagined making pancakes for my future wife and children...someday.

Dozens of batches and thousands of pancakes later, that day was today. The reward was but a moment, but well worth 11 years of buildup.

Man in the Mirror

Changing myself, has been intense and rigorous. Even changing the smallest of my own habits, has been brutal. Seriously, it took me months just to start getting in the habit of not leaving the day's clothes on the floor, on my side of the bed, when I put on my pajamas at night. Months.

Changing my own backyard has also been hard. I mean this literally. I spent almost two hours doing yard work yesterday and our lawn is hardly up to neighborly standards. When speaking figuratively, the timescale of changing even our own little corner of the world is even longer. It takes years, if not decades. 

I don't really care about changing the world, anymore at least. In retrospect, glorifying and evangelizing the idea of being a "world changer" seems silly. First, I believe that all people should have agency over their own lives, which to me is an idea incompatible with the broad intention of changing the world (i.e., other people). Second, changing others doesn't seem to work anyway. Trying to influence and serve others so that they can and do voluntarily change themselves (usually through love, honesty, and compassion) seems to be the only lasting path to "change" there is.

A lot of people seem to have misinterpreted what Gandhiji said about "being the change you wish to see in the world." Regardless of what he actually said, I think the quote is more a call to change ourselves rather than to change the world. If anything, he seemed to suggest - and I agree - that if we change ourselves the world around us also changes.

All in all, I think Michael had it right (and said it best) - I'm starting with the man in the mirror.