Stillwater, Oklahoma. Dad is picking up his son from high school. Mom is videoing the event. Dad rushes to hug the son. The only reason the video goes viral is that dad is in a Speedo swimming trunk (more of a thong), and nothing else. The boy's machismo, that takes 12 years to build, is reduced to dust in a matter of 12 seconds. It is a practical joke that the son is not likely to forget nor forgive that easily.
I show the video to my teenage daughter, adding that I will do the same if she doesn't do what we parents tell her to do. As an afterthought, I add, Don Corleone style: “Oh, and in my case, I will not even be wearing a Speedo…”
The parental demand? No, not straight A's, but physical fitness.
Daughter has no doubt of dad's capability of pulling the stunt off, fully endorsed by mom. And the belief is backed by daddy's “impeccable” track record. It is daddy who is sitting at the parent-teacher meeting listening to the music teacher giving a boiler plate response to every parent of every grade: “Your son/daughter is good, but needs to practice more.” When my turn comes, I stop the teacher before she starts. I pull out my wallet, take a photo of my daughter out of it, give it to her, and then tell her: “THIS is my daughter. Now, tell me how she's doing.” The teacher is shell shocked and the other waiting parents are mortified. But I don't blame the teacher, as it is indeed hard for one single person to remember the names and faces of hundreds of students—for I myself sometimes even forget the name of my wife…
Coming back to the main demand of physical fitness, I enthusiastically show up at the interschool sports meet. It's her school and several similar cohort institutions (local schools) at the sprawling campus of the American International School, Dhaka (AIS,D). Upon entering the campus, my daughter gulps, “Baba! This is a resort!!” And that is an understatement, for I, as a former substitute teacher of this magnificent institution, say to myself that if I were ever (affluent enough to be) a student here, I would deliberately flunk and never graduate, for this was heaven on earth in terms of facilities and education.
Anyway, back on the field. The competition is really among the visiting schools, the top position being that of runner-up, for AIS,D is untouchable, with every student of this school on the field being Olympic material. And the coaches yelling from the side-lines tell they themselves had barely missed their own Olympic trials. It was almost sad seeing “our” kids running, as though stopping half way through, panting and puffing and blurting out of breath: “Oi rickshaw [jaiben nee]!” to end the arduous 100-metre journey.
Dejected, I relegate myself to hoping to see glory at my daughter's school sports—just her school. I show up and make a beeline for where she's sitting with her friends. A serious looking gentleman asks me: “If you're a parent, you can't sit here—parents need to sit over there [1 mile away].” I ask the teacher: “Sir, do you have kids?” An irrelevant question usually takes the recipient aback so much, that he blurts out the answer before realising the ludicrous nature of the question itself. No exception here as he answers: “Yes, 2, why?” “Well sir, in that case, you are also a parent and should not be sitting here.”
At that moment, my teenage daughter probably wished I HAD pulled the Speedo thong (less) stunt which would have been far less damaging to her reputation than what just happened. Her other friends crack up, to whom, my wife and I are the coolest parents ever, so much so, that several of them had put themselves up to us for adoption.
You drop a bomb and you leave—that's strategic bombing 101. I immediately leave, not looking back. But I look forward to my daughter's 4 × 100 metre relay race.
After waiting for what seemed an eternity, it's time for the relay race. Then the announcement on the PA system (why scream? I can hear you man, unless a loud speaker means telling the whole world how loud we really are…): “The 4 × 100 metre relay race is cancelled.”
What? I've heard of classes getting cancelled, but a race? Upon enquiring, I find out that the other teams have not shown up. Wait, no show on sports day? That's one day I, along with all my fellow students, would look forward to all throughout the year! No show? For otherwise doing what? Was up late watching Netflix? Rather stay home and study and become the next Albert Einstein? Just didn't feel like coming? What's the big deal about “sports”? What is it?
And then, it all made sense. Remember the big splash I made on social media when I said that I have finally succumbed to getting a private tutor for my daughter, and it was a basketball coach? Yes, it started with fanfare with a dedicated coach coaching a small army of young girls, all hell bent on making it to the school team and the national trials. As time went, playing full court became playing half court which then became 1-on-1 coaching, which really made no sense. All the other young ladies, or should I say, their parents, somehow thought that foregoing one hour of fresh (polluted) air, burning calories, getting the adrenaline going, not to mention getting fitter, stronger, faster and even taller than Six Million Dollar Man, would be the difference between an A and an F in their O-Levels.
The playing field, if there is one, sadly ends with “and then, there were none”. But if going to a good university abroad is really the goal, remember, there is something called a sports scholarship.
Naveed Mahbub is an engineer at Ford & Qualcomm USA, CEO of IBM & Nokia Networks Bangladesh turned comedian (by choice), the host of ATN Bangla's The Naveed Mahbub Show and the founder of Naveed's Comedy Club.