By Amit Mallik, Medill, Immigrant Connect
My father is walking with my two older brothers and me along Lake Michigan in Chicago. It’s a misty morning and as we get to Oak Street, he pauses. He has something to tell us.
It could be almost anything. He has attained the American dream. Born in 1949, two years after the Indian Partition, in a small village in the largely rural and illiterate northern state of Bihar, he had become the first Mallik to attend university.
His marriage was arranged. Rabindra Mallik took 18-year-old Abha Das to be his bride. By 1976, the couple had moved to the U.S. My oldest brother Atul was born, the family moved around to take advantage of job opportunities – New Jersey, Washington state, and finally to Lansdale, a suburb of Philadelphia – where I was born. My parents still live in the same house they bought in 1985.
They’ve made ends meet. One end is having their three sons attend Lawrenceville, a private boarding school in New Jersey. My dad has made it work by establishing his own small business, an engineering firm that inspects bridges under government contracts. My mom started pursuing a degree in computer science to join the work force. One of my older brothers went to Harvard, the other to McGill in Montreal. As I say, the American dream.
My two brothers and I were born ten years apart from one another. As we walked along Lake Michigan, Atul was 40, Ronak was 30, and I was 20. Three sons spaced out by ten years is a weird, but impeccable, feat of family engineering.
Most of my upbringing I felt like an only child. I grappled with the day-to-day conflicts of having immigrant parents. Many of the stereotypes rang true. I faced extreme pressure to succeed academically, strict parenting rules about when I could see my friends, and weekly Sunday school at our local temple to learn about Hindu traditions that bored me. I enjoyed and excelled in school, like my brothers, but I never saw myself as an academic. Instead, I became enamored with sports. Playing, watching, reading, and writing sports. It all called to me.
By all outward appearances, my dad has almost perfected the secret recipe to success. We are all together; Atul earning an MD-PhD at the University of Chicago, Ronak working as a computer programming strategist in the same city in the Lakeview neighborhood, and I am now in Chicago too, in journalism school at Northwestern University.
My father mostly avoids confrontation and tries to show me his approval, but once in a heated exchange, he balked at Northwestern’s tuition and the idea that journalism, with a question mark and exclamation point attached, could lead to success.
His lifelong journey has conditioned him to believe otherwise. He asks for hard work, discipline and learning in pursuit of financial stability, in the way that he made himself. I want him to see that I have those qualities, just in a different field than what he expected.
Though reluctant to support my choice, he’s taken an interest in the stories I write, the teams I cover, and the games I call. Yet, my father never ceases to remind me of his own journey – living off of the fish in a large pond in a small village in India, slogging through mud, risking his life to inspect bridges.
Here we are, in the mist of a Chicago morning. All three sons call it home.
As we pause at Oak Street beach, my father, a soft-spoken man, wants us to know that he’s proud of us and admires us, me too, a college sophomore. It’s his dream come true, a half century in the making.