Kids Corner

Faith

Cultivating Pride

by PARDEEP SINGH NAGRA

 

 

Having read the recent articles and conversations on "Pre-Turban Grooming" and "Life before the Patka" in these very pages, I want to share the journey of my two children, Nanaki Kaur and Sahib Singh ... so far, as they are only five and three respectively.

Although from the very outset, my challenges related to my children's Sikh identity have been exasperated  because I am divorced and only have limited access to my children - my ex-wife was given custody, because of their tender age -  I have tried to not only make it a priority but have gone so far as to include a specific paragraph related to religion and the children in the final court order.

The paragraph reads as follows: "The children shall continue to be nurtured and raised in the Sikh religion and culture.  The child, Sahib, shall wear a patka and have unshorn hair until such time that he reaches the age of sixteen years, at which time he can make his own decision with respect to his religious faith."

Since it was necessary to make a special mention of the patka in the Court Order with respect to Sahib, the Order is now being misinterpreted as only applying to Sahib and not Nanaki. [The matter continues to meander through the courts. Yes, the children's mother calls herself a Sikh!] 

Although Nanaki's hair continues to be shorn by her mother and Sahib's hair was intially shorn by her as well, contrary to the court order, I am proud to share their stories.  

I vividly recall the weekend of May 15, 2009 when the children were dropped off for access and I immediately noticed that Sahib's hair had been shorn. It is etched in memory because ironically enough I was interviewed for a feature article in the Toronto Star with an accompanying web video, related to Kesh and the Sikh Turban [  http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/636064 ] the same weekend.

It was a hard pill to swallow.

Nevertheless, I continued to pursue the issue of the children's kesh and had gotten to a point where Sahib's hair was just long enough to put into a gut. Well, how do I now convince my toddler son with whom I only have access to accept this new identity that was not reinforced or validated when he was at his mom's house? What will make Sahib not only accept but also be excited and happy in keeping his kesh?

Well, who could be a better role model for Sahib than his grandfather (Baba ji, as Sahib calls him) - that is, my father. When my mother first dressed Sahib's hair into a gut (we referred to it as 'gutee' and at times "goodtee"), we all gleamed and told Sahib how beautiful he looks and to check himself in the mirror.

I then proceeded to take my turban off and showed Sahib that he and daddy were alike as I also had a gutee and so did Baba ji.

For the rest of the day, Sahib couldn't stop beaming about being a 'twin' of Daddy and Baba ji. I also made it a point to take Sahib's picture professionally soon thereafter to further create precious memories.

It wasn't all that easy, as Nanaki continued to remind me - incorrecly, but at her mother's instigation - that Sahib doesn't have to keep long hair and mommy says it is up to him if he wants to when he is older, just like her (Nanaki). There were also times when Nanaki said she didn't want Sahib to have his hair tied up.

Make no mistake, Sahib was one cute little curly-haired toddler; maybe his older sister preferred that look.

My family and I started to dress up Sahib's hair for every access that we had and continued to reinforce and nurture Sahib's Sikh identity through visits to the gurdwara and other Sikh events, having family with young boys in a gutee come to the house, having Sahib help me tie a turban, and always making the process of having his hair tied up as positive an experience as possible.

It was approximately five months later when I decided that, regardless of whether or not his mom dressed Sahib's hair, he may have to attend school with two different identities. I was prepared to drop Sahib off at school at the conclusion of my access with his hair properly groomed, although that was not being reciprocated by his mother.

So on March 18, 2010, Sahib attended daycare for the first time with his gutee. I shared with the school staff that Sahib has his hair tied up and that it is important and asked them to keep and eye out to make sure his rumaal didn't get loose, etc. I also asked the daycare manager if I could have the opportunity to speak to both Sahib's and Nanaki's class, as they were both at the same daycare.

Well, I was given that opportunity a few days later.

The primary premise for the reason I wanted the opportunity to speak to the children was to normalize the concept of turban and long hair and create a positive experience for not only my children but also their peers, the latter being most important because we have all experienced the negative.

Wouldn't you know it, as Nanaki's class was already seated and Sahib's class entered the room to join them, as soon as Sahib entered the room to take his seat, two young children right next to me on my right had the following poignant exchange of words.

"Sahib has something on his head."

"Yeah, like a girl!" They both giggled. I quickly leaned over and said: "No, like a boy ... and just like his daddy ... you will see!"

 Although I was given only five minutes, my presentation went something like this: 

My name is Pardeep Singh Nagra, but you can call me Pardeep. Two of you in this room, however, have to call me Daddy; do you know why they are?  "Sahib and Nanaki", everyone shouted aloud.

Nanaki and Sahib were already gleaming as their dad was centre stage.

I  proceeded to engage them further and asked them to raise their hands if they like playing the sports that I played, I listed off various sports including soccer, hockey, volleyball, wrestling,  basketball, baseball, tennis and running; each one not only received many raised hands but many cheers as well.

I pulled out one of my prized possessions, my medal for the Walt Disney World marathon and showed the children; yes, the Mickey Mouse medal was a hit. Eventually, I topped off the list with boxing and showed them a picture of me in a boxing pose along with a Canadian History textbook featuring me on the front cover and a game card from Trivial Pursuit where I am also featured.

Well, now I had to calm them down. I shared with them that I also went to school like them and then went to university and after that, I started working on a job. I shared a little about the different jobs and professions that I held including teaching and working with the police as an Auxiliary Constable. I then pulled out a picture and etching of me in police uniform and shared it with the children.

By now, I think, the cool factor was starting to rise for the children.

I then told them I like to do a lot of charitable and humanitarian work and help others and that on New Year's day I did something interesting to raise money for people and families who did not have a home. I asked them to think about an animal that is big and has white fur and sometimes swims in the icy water ... 'A polar bear!' a few shouted out.

You're right, I said, and proceeded to shown them a newspaper clipping of myself and a few friends running out of the water (Lake Ontario) at the Toronto Polar Bear Dip from last winter.

I told them I was also in the newspaper another time, and showed them the article that I referred to earlier in this piece, and told them it was about keeping long hair and the turban.  I asked them to guess how long it would take me to tie the turban, and after some very courageous guesses from the kids, I proceeded to remove my turban.

Before I began to tie my turban back and have the children start to practice their counting skills, I asked everyone: "Who do I now look like?" They all yelled out: "Sahib!"

I then asked Sahib to come to the front where I was kneeling and proceeded to give him a big hug, Aren't we cute,  I exclaimed. The children giggled. "Who's more beautiful?" I asked. All screamed in unison: "Sahib!" and laughed and giggled.

I started to tie my turban and the children started to count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 10!

My real job was done.

I had just normalized Sahib's identity and never once mentioned the word religion or Sikh, and to top it off, he was the beautiful one in the eyes of his peers.

Recently, in preparation for my cousin's and friend's weddings, Sahib and his Baba ji went to a local Punjabi shop to purchase some turban fabric. Sahib enjoyed picking out a couple of his favorite colours of blue and red. He enjoyed it even more having them tied, and wore them with great pride!

 

August 17, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), August 17, 2010, 7:52 AM.

Pardeep, in many ways, a heart rending story. But in our (Sikh) culture, we hardly ever methodically and kindly teach our children how to become good parents while remaining on the path of Sikhi. And if the mother is not, the chances of a child becoming one is small. Painful, I am sure it is, but you are walking a difficult road and tending to this not so rare matter with exemplary courage and chardi kalaa. All the best.

2: N. Singh (Canada), August 17, 2010, 8:02 AM.

Divorced, or not divorced, Pardeep, we need more fathers like you! It is time for Sikh men to step up to the plate and take a more active role in the education and nurturing of their children! Thank you for this wonderful article and your example of a good role model. Well done!

3: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, U.S.A.), August 17, 2010, 9:15 AM.

Pardeep, may I add one more volunteering task to your list of the extraordinary social and charitable work you already do? Train Sikh dads on making presentations in their children's schools, please! I for sure could use some training from you. I have a four year old son. Six months ago, we sensed that a lot of kids were asking questions about his patka in his pre-school. We used the well-known coloring book, 'The Boy With Long Hair' as the tool to do a short presentation on the Sikh identity but I must admit I came nowhere close to engaging and impressing the kids as you have done. Congratulations to you on being a great Sikh dad and a role model to many out there like me.

4: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), August 17, 2010, 2:22 PM.

Pardeep, I can totally relate to your pain when your priceless children came back with their kesh violated. Bless your heart. I have seen many divorce cases where parents use this sad recourse to get back at their estranged partners - not knowing what hurt they are causing to their children or their own soul. I hope your consistence and love will be the rock solid support to your kids. I hope your ex will see the light and Guru's grace will change her heart as well.

5: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 17, 2010, 5:10 PM.

I remember the story of a young mother who thought that a proper Sikhi upbringing would be the first step for her son. She took her young son to a well known dera and asked the sant ji if he would admit her son to stay at the seminary. Sant ji said: "Beta, you are some 25 years late. The training should have started with you. Your son has already learnt a lot in the last 5 years or so." Such was the role of a mother. Pardeep ji, you are indeed facing an uphill task. As a child myself, may I relate just one incident. My mother asked me if I would nip off and buy a match box from the shop nearby. I returned an hour later empty handed, saying that all the shops and kiosks were also selling cigarettes. How could I buy something from a shop like that? This is what was drilled into our heads. Even to this day, living in a multiracial society, I often find some half-smoked butts strewn around the office or house. I have to use a stick to push them into a waste paper basket. In the final analysis, it is the mother that rocks the cradle that shapes the future generations.

6: N. Singh (Canada), August 17, 2010, 5:59 PM.

Sangat Singh ji: you, too, sound like a wonderful father/ grand-dad! I always enjoy reading your posts. You are like a grand-dad that some of us never had ... Simply the best!

7: Harpreet Singh (Texas, U.S.A.), August 17, 2010, 7:57 PM.

I have to say that I feel very bad after reading comments from ladies here who are reinforcing and proving right the hidden message of what Pardeep ji's story tells - that some women are not interested in keeping the Sikh identity and asserting our religion.

8: Parmjit Singh (Canada), August 18, 2010, 3:04 AM.

Pardeep, you continue to inspire. Your role as a parent is to offer your children the best of what you know. Beyond that, there are many things we can't control, even where an entire family reinforces teachings. In many cases today, two parents cut their own hair and teenage children fight their 'Sikh' parents to keep it! Life throws interesting challenges in our way; our role is to tackle each with grace and courage. You continue to do just that as a most beautiful fighter. Your children are blessed to have such a courageous father. May their mom be blessed with the wisdom to see the living souls and beating hearts of her own grandparents and great grandparents in her children.

9: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.), August 19, 2010, 9:00 AM.

Harpreet Singh ji: can you please explain what you are feeling bad about? I see two comments from women here; they are both applauding Pardeep for being a great father - none reinforcing or proving right that Sikh women are failing their duty towards identity orreligion.

10: P.D. (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), August 19, 2010, 2:41 PM.

Yes, it is difficult to retain the Sikh identity. It is a lifelong process, a journey, a point of departure rather than a final destination. I would say that parental guidance is most important during the tumultuous teen years. Most teens, if given the choice, will often choose the easier route and cave into social and societal pressure rather than travel the road less traveled (I do not mean all teens, as Parmjit Singh ji has given examples). I know that with two young school children of my own, my work ahead is cut out for me as they reach the pre-teen years Helping them to retain and have pride in their Sikh identity will be difficult. As second generation Sikhs, we all like to give our children the right to choose simply because under our parent's authoritarian rule we really did not have the right to exercise our rights. However, we can't always give our children the right to decide. In matters of religion, it is more important to guide teenagers through the tough years rather than just letting the teen decide. This is when they need us most, when we as parents need to help them to problem solve and when the real work begins. Certainly this is easier if children have been exposed to Sikh teachings from an early age. On a different note, Pardeep, you and your wife both agree that your children have the right to decide and choose their Sikh identity when they get older. Unfortunately, after separation, both parties try to vindicate themselves by 'putting down' the other. I am not sure that this is within the realm of Sikhi.

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