Kids @ work

Denzil shares his stories about the beautiful experiences at workplaces in two distinct settings. As a father in Australia: then as a kid in Sri Lanka.

During the school holidays, I took my four kids to my workplaces in Sydney.

My kids loved it, the whole ritual of it. The experiences of travelling by public transport to the city, moving in office spaces freely, making coffee, talking to my team, co-workers and my bosses and lunch treats mid-day.

I worked light when my kids were with me in the office. In between work, I took them on city walks, and tours of pedestrian malls and city libraries. To see open-air theatre music and street artists. I took them to art galleries, museums, war memorials and architectural buildings in the city precinct.

Three of my kids on a day at work in train commute and Martin Place, Sydney

My son was an avid skater in his teenage years. He brought his skateboard and skated at Martin Place joining skaters there. The girls loved visiting malls, and fashion shops and enjoying the street artists. My eldest spent her time in city libraries.

A joyful moment with my kids in the city

Some of my workplaces had organised ‘kids @ work’ days. They organised a full day of events for the employees’ kids. Even CEOs turned up and mingled with them. They were taken to C level suites and treated to meals with the executives. Seeing one of my kids with an issue of the New Yorker magazine, one CEO was so amazed that he commented about my daughter’s cognitive skills.

I loved seeing my kids enjoying themselves freely at my workplace. They were great rewarding and memorable experiences, fantastic rituals. Seeing the joy on their faces was enough for a dad. It made my day. They were the highlights of my working career.

Now, my kids are grown up and are mature adults. They are successful entrepreneurs and business managers themselves living their dreams here in Australia. Lately, I have been trying to figure out why I did these things to my kids in their tender years.

I did these things, without thought. They were unconscious and natural actions. Now that I am a grandfather, in the process of unpacking my actions, I tried to figure out the thinking behind my past actions. I then recalled my experiences with my father many decades ago, the harbinger of my unconscious acts with my kids.

More than a half-century ago, going to my father’s workplace was the highlight of my school holidays in Sri Lanka where I was raised.

For a kid, going to his father’s big office was a huge deal. All I wanted was to become like my father. I wanted to ape him. I wanted to feel like him.

In the morning, after my mother dressed me up, my father put me up on his bicycle’s crossbar. He pedalled to the closest train station with me sitting on the crossbar. During the five kilometre ride, I was a complete chatterbox, asking crazy inquisitive questions sitting safely on the crossbar between his long legs, watching commuter traffic.

We boarded a train at the local train station, locking the bicycle at a parking station.

Kelaniya Train station, some 5 kilometres from my home. Ticket counters are on the left and the timetable, in the local language on the right.

The train ride was unreal. The carriage doors were not closed when the train was in motion. The train went over a wide river and passed a couple of train stations before our stop, a major interchange station in the capital, Colombo.

A Diesel-powered train in Sri Lanka

We then boarded a tram, a hugely popular option for inner-city travel in the sixties. The tram ride was smooth with no sound, another wonderful experience for a boy. It ran on electric power, supplied from overhead cables. From the last tram stop, we changed into a bus for the final leg of our trip to my father’s office. It was an authentic multi-mode travel experience for a kid, holding on to his father’s hand. It was also a lesson in travel safety.

A tram in Colombo in the early sixties

My father’s office was huge, a tall white building, two storeys high spiralled in the middle of a green curated garden. His office was the urban council, Kotte a suburb in greater Colombo. He was a senior clerk. The first thing he did in the office was to introduce me to his co-workers.

My father’s office, Urban Council, Kotte, Colombo Sri Lanka

That was one of my early lessons in social interactions and networking. My father’s co-workers irrespective of their rank immediately took to me. Or was it the other way around? Perhaps the free-spirited kid in me talked to them without inhibitions. Whatever it was, I moved easily between their desks in the open office. The co-workers went out of their way to keep me amused, offering me office stationery to play with.

Stationery is mental manna to a kid out to discover the world of adults in business. I drew using blue carbon pencils, cut shapes using scissors and pasted them with gum generously offered by my father’s coworkers. I played on their typewriters, enjoying the sound effects the machines made. While I was enjoying myself, my father regularly dropped in to check on me. At lunchtime, I ate with him in the staff canteen mingling with his co-workers.

Every school holiday, three times a year, I loved visiting my father’s office and chatting with his colleagues.

When I turned ten, my father was transferred on a promotion to a remote rural town, Tissamaharama in the south of Sri Lanka. He did not relocate the family, for there was no adequate schooling for us.

During the school holidays, my family travelled to Tissamaharama to spend time with my father. We were housed in a housing complex that was next to a river. Our immediate neighbours were my father’s co-workers and their families.

A few years later, my father was transferred to another outpost in central Sri Lanka. We spent our school holidays there, mingling with my father’s co-workers and their families. They were a diverse lot, from various ethnic, religious, and regional backgrounds. I had a great time with their kids.

My sister and kid brother were much bigger when we travelled to my father’s outposts on long holidays. I enjoyed these regular breaks, spending time in remote parts of Sri Lanka, and embracing the work and life aspects of my father’s career as a civil servant for the government of Sri Lanka.

In my mid-teens, my father was posted to a southern city, about 50 kilometres from home. My father could commute daily. Now as a part-independent teenager, I travelled to his office occasionally. Mingling with his coworkers and managers became an unconscious habit for me during these visits.

A year or two later, my father got a promotion to a commissioner. The best thing was his new workplace was the urban council, some five kilometres from our home, an easy place to visit within a short distance. Occasionally, I cycled to his workplace, sometimes to borrow pocket money and other times while visiting friends who lived near his workplace. I always felt welcome in his workplace.

When I turned eighteen, I faced my first ever interview. It was for a coveted apprenticeship role in the telecommunication industry. My father accompanied me to the office where the interview was held. He made sure that I was comfortable facing the interview and left for his work leaving me to it.

I had never been to a job interview. Neither did I prepare for it nor knew any better. Confidence was my friend, and I had no fear after a lifetime of learning to mingle with others. I nailed that interview and got the role beating many a qualified. That is a story you could read separately.

Two generations, later, it is no wonder that my kids are social beings and proactive networkers, brimming with confidence.

Nowadays, before Covid-19 restricted our movements and everyone started working from home, my adult kids regularly invited me to visit their workplaces. They proudly introduced me to their coworkers as their father. It is a blessing to experience the feeling in return. Now I think poignantly of my father and his far-reaching actions.

Thanks, Thomas, my progressive father and his ardent supporter, my mother, Susan. Your baton has been passed on to the next generation.

Also thanks to my father’s co-workers from all ranks back in the day in Sri Lanka who cheered on a curious kid.

Related links:

My first job interview

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