Fifty years ago this year, Prakash Mathew left his parents and home behind in India and moved to Fargo to attend North Dakota State University. It was the beginning of a long relationship with the school, including a 34-year career culminating in a term as vice president for student affairs from 2006 to 2014, when he retired.
Mathew will be back on campus on Thursday, May 6, sharing lessons learned from his childhood in India and through his adult life.
He’ll read from and talk about his brand new motivational book, “We Are Called… To Do the Right Thing.”
Mathew had no plans to write a book, but after hearing him deliver thoughtful talks, friends and colleagues encouraged him to get his thoughts down on paper to be shared.
“That was a task,” Mathew says.
The book, published by NDSU Press, is about the values and lessons he’s learned in life.
“Most values and lessons are instilled early in life, most often by parents,” he says. “My dad is my hero, my mentor. He was an amazing man.”
Once, when he was growing up in India, his parents left their kids home alone. Mathew recalls a big mahogany table that had a seashell sitting in the middle. The young boy picked it up and accidentally dropped it on the table, leaving a mark in the wood. He decided to make a design by pounding the surface with the shell.
When the parents came home and noticed the damage, they lined up all of the children and asked who was responsible for the marks on the table. All of the kids, including Prakash, denied responsibility. The father asked again and again the children denied responsibility. His father knew his son and stood before him, asking Prakash one more time, if he had anything to say. The young boy broke down crying and the father picked him up and set him on his lap and held his son close
“He told me never to lie, no matter how hard it is to tell the truth,” he says. “That really made a dent in my heart.”
The book, which is less than 100 pages, also includes chapters on leadership, creating culture in organizations and addressing change.
“Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes and we learn from it,” he says.
Those lessons don’t stop once you’re an adult or even retired.
Three years ago he took his kids to India. They traveled around the country and were having a great time. Along the way they planned a stop at Elephanta Caves in Mumbai. Upon arriving Mathew spotted two lines for tickets, one for Indian nationals and another for foreigners with the former paying significantly less in admission.
Mathew considered which line he should stand in. He was born and raised in India to Indian parents, but had lived in the United States for nearly 50 years and is now a U.S. citizen.
“I felt my identity was questioned,” he recalls. “I thought, 'Well, I lived here. I am Indian.'”
He got into the corresponding line and bought tickets for Indians.
When he returned to his family, his kids weren’t happy.
“I failed miserably in doing the right thing and my children confronted me immediately saying, ‘Dad, what are you doing? You know better. This is not who you are.’”
He felt the sting of their disappointment.
“I was feeling terrible. In fact, I had tears in my eyes,” he says.
He called a family huddle and admitted he’d been wrong.
The lesson he learned then was to always be honest with who you are.
Mathews is excited to have the book out and discuss the topics in it, including his 80/20 principle, his belief that If your values conflict with your employer’s values by more than than 20%, it may not be a good employment match.
After today’s visit to NDSU, Mathew will host another book event at Zandbroz Variety on May 22 and another on June 3 at Dakota Medical Foundation.
Mathew says “a major portion” of proceeds from the book will be donated to DMF after expenses.
“I didn’t write this for money,” he says. “If I connect with people, I’m satisfied. It’s not how many copies of the book are sold.”