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As a professor of Aerospace Engineering at a Midwestern university in the ‘90s, I taught a course titled
“Introduction to Engineering,” designed to give incoming freshmen an appreciation for what engineering was all about. Every month, we invited a leading engineer from the community to provide a professional perspective and practical advice.

I recall one excellent presentation from a speaker who was then Vice-President of Engineering
at AT&T. He spoke on the role of engineers in society and the importance of analytical thinking,
problem solving, teamwork, integrity, ethics, careful consideration of other viewpoints, respect, and
punctuality. In closing he said: “however, the most important advice I have to offer has nothing to do
with engineering. It is this: ‘call your Mom!’” Whatever you do in your lives, never forget those who
enabled you to become what you are. You may accomplish great and important things, but none of that will matter if you don’t make time for your family and those who helped make you what you are. “I call my mom every day – no matter what – and spend at least a few minutes with her,” he ended.

In 1976, a freshly minted PhD and a prestigious national fellowship under my belt, I weighed my next
career move with my wife. We had been married for two years – a bright and promising future awaited us. Then came a letter from my mother. Appa was unwell, she wrote, and I need your help. Will you come home? It was an easy decision for me; not so for my wife. Put on hold all her dreams and aspirations for a life together and move back to India to live with her in-laws? After a few days of reflection and soul searching she decided the right decision was to move. God bless her.

We never regretted it the rest of our lives. The three years we spent being there for Amma and Appa enriched us, gave our lives meaning and fulfillment. Amma was the strongest, selfless person I know. Her quiet determination as she looked after Appa day and night is unforgettable. She never once complained about her lot in life. Her infectious smile and inner radiance shone through even as caregiving took its physical and emotional toll.

One evening as the three of us chatted, there was a sadness in her eyes. She ruminated on the
length of time since she’d heard from her other children. “It’s not enough to keep your love locked in
your mind and do puja to it,” she reflected, “you have to show it!” I often think about what Amma said that evening. If we don’t pause now in our busy lives to make time for what’s important, we may regret it later, when it’s too late.

Folk-rock fans will remember Harry Chapin’s haunting 1974 melody Cat’s in the Cradle:

A child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you;
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, Dad, I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then

You know we’ll have a good time then
My son turned ten just the other day
He said, Thanks for the ball,

Dad, come on let’s play
Can you teach me to throw? I said,Not today

I got a lot to do and he said, That’s okay
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, I’m gonna be like him, yeah
You know I’m going to be like him

Later in the song, the father laments:

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head and he said with a smile
What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin home, son, I don’t know when
But we’ll get together then, Dad
You know we’ll have a good time then
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind
He said, I’d love to Dad, if I could find the time
You see my new job a hassle and the kids have the flu
But was sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you
And as I hung up the phone it had occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me.

In this age of social media, a Whatsapp or text message often passes for checking in with our parents
or loved ones. It should not – make the time! Call, and more importantly, make the time to listen to them. It may be inconsequential to you, but it’s important to them. You will have no idea what that means until you’re in their shoes.

Cats in the Cradle lyrics © STORY SONGS, LTD., Songwriters: Harry F. Chapin / Sandy Chapin

Mukund Acharya spent 40 years on three continents as a professor, scientist, manager and technologist in aerospace. He currently promotes healthy aging and wellness, advocates for patients and their families, and is exploring the use of short stories, photopoetry, and blogs to spread the message on the importance of living substantive, impactful, fulfilling and contented lives while giving back to the community.

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