A tribute to my father: Ishwar Dean

Today is Father’s Day. Simply watching TV, walking outside, or scrolling your newsfeed will make that abundantly clear. But for me, it’s both the sorrow of my first Father’s Day without my dad, and ironically, the joy of my first as a father myself. So today is a bittersweet one, where both emotions are impossible to ignore, although my father’s absence is one that’s particularly conspicuous.

As such, I thought it would be cathartic to share an edited version of the eulogy my brother and I delivered. My hope is to honor his memory and share his spirit with the world, while also to reflect and find solace in the blessing that is fatherhood.


Edited from remarks delivered at the Jan 14, 2016 funeral service in Whitby (Canada), as well as the Feb 20, 2016 memorial in Curepe (Trinidad), delivered by Shiva & Rishi Dean. 

I’m Shiva, Ishwar’s eldest son, and I’m Rishi, his younger, and better looking, son…and truly saying our father considered himself to have two other sons alongside us, in my cousin Navin and uncle Naresh.

Delivering a eulogy is arguably one of the most difficult things someone can do. For one, it’s not something you really prep ahead of time, and when you’re thrust into authoring one, you are carrying not just the weight of your emotion, but also time pressure. Therefore, summing up someone as significant as our father in a few short minutes is impossible for even the most gifted of orators…far less guys like us.

So, we’re not going to try. Instead of a conventional eulogy, we’ll pay tribute to his legacy through the subject he truly loved – physics – by presenting three principles and relating them to his life.

Let’s kick it off with a simple one: quantum mechanics.

1) The Heisenberg uncertainty principle

The first concept we chose is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which loosely states that the more precisely you measure one quantity, the less precisely you can know another. Interpreted another way, how the decisions you make in life will unfold is inherently unknowable, and life unfolds in non-linear ways.

Born in Curepe Trinidad in 1938, our father faced a tremendous amount of adversity in life, with his father passing away when he was just 6 months old. Chronic asthma robbed him of significant portions of his childhood and early education, but never extinguished his thirst for knowledge. At 17, when his older brothers left home to study abroad, he suddenly became the man of the house, and was thrust into the workforce to help make ends meet. He began working as a research assistant at the University of the West Indies, while also juggling freelance photography and journalism for the Trinidad Guardian — making “5 cents a line”, as he would repeatedly remind us. He excelled such that the US State Department invited him, and a group of young, high potential Caribbean professionals to visit the US (the above photo is from that trip).

Deeply passionate and remarkably persistent, he completed his Bachelor’s Degree in physics, and received a graduate scholarship from the University of Western Ontario, in Canada, where he embarked onto the next chapter of his life, with his new bride Sandra. As a Trinidadian who had never seen snow, he landed in London Ontario — in “minus plenty” degrees, as he would tell us. While in grad school, and with a new son (Shiva), he earned extra money by working the nightshift in a copper tube factory. After graduation he returned to Trinidad working for the Bureau of Standards, where he helped to develop Trinidad & Tobago’s building code. Then, went back to Canada to work in Toronto for the Ontario government, and then finally landing his first teaching job at George Brown College, where he realized his true passion of teaching and helping to shape young minds to cultivate a love of math & physics. Inevitably he rose to become Chairman of the Department, and was also appointed to represent the Canadian Association of PhysicistsCanadian Association of Physicists at UNESCO, a position he retained until his last days.

His journey instilled us with the lessons to: work hard, work selflessly, and to work with a strong sense of duty & passion for the purposes of advancing opportunity for one’s children. Moreover, he guided us to never be motivated by what we might gain from our actions, but by what we can give when we perform our prescribed duties, and to respond to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were your own. In exemplifying to us his selfless thoughts, words, and actions he led his life with the truest embodiment of the symbiosis of what as we Hindus we call “dharma” & “karma”.

Which bring us to our second principle…

2) Einstein’s special theory of relativity

Our dad’s hero was Einstein, so the next principle we chose was Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. In special relativity, space and time aren’t absolute concepts, rather they are relative, and individualized, to each observer.

For our dad, this means that he dealt with people in a profoundly personal way. He was so many things to so many people. Whether as a friend and sounding board, a mentor to thousands of his students, or the gifted storyteller whose tales of people in his hometown of Curepe would make you laugh so hard until water came out your nose. Professionally, he was a cameraman, a radio host, a journalist, a photographer, a professor, and an author. He was also exposed to painting by the iconic Trinidadian artist M.P. Alladin; our dad’s most famous work is a watercolor entitled “My Mother’s Guru”, which portraits the first Dharmacharya (spiritual head of the Hindus) of Trinidad & Tobago, and was recently exhibited in the Art Gallery of Oshawa Ontario (the city where we grew up). Personally, he was also a romantic, setting the bar very high where he would routinely buy our mother flowers and write her poetry.

But what you may not know, is that he also had a secret identity…he was a “superhero”. Now, not like the superheroes you see in movies like Batman, Superman, or Iron Man but he was a Trinidadian superhero: we called him “Last Minute Man”. His superpower was to come through in the clutch against all odds. Whether it was speeding to make a train just before the doors closed, or bending space & time to fit 7 suitcases in the back of our station wagon to make the Oshawa to Pearson airport stretch faster than Hasley Crawford could run. He was the man who worked like no other when a deadline encroached, only to emerge successful & completely unscathed…most times to our mother’s vexation. I’m also pretty sure that that trait is a genetic one, at least in my case.

And while we can have fun with some of the more quirky faces of our father, he truly had so many relationships with so many of us and his energy has touched us all. Bringing us to our third and final principle…

3) Law of Conservation of Energy

This final principle is the Law of Conservation of Energy, which states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather it transforms from one form to another.

As such, while he may have left us, he leaves behind a legacy. In meeting and reconnecting with so may of his family & friends over the past few days, every single person has a moving story to tell us about how he has touched their lives in a profound manner. Whether it was instilling and nurturing the intellectual curiosity of a student, supporting someone through a time of need, or lighting up the room with his stories & laughter. He made you feel in the moments you spent with him, that you were the most special person in the world. We’ll never stop missing those moments.

He’s taught us what a wonderful father and devoted husband should be. He showed us what it means to be an amazing grandfather. His energy, passion, and selfless dedication live on in all of us, and especially his grandchildren – my 3 children and Rishi’s twins.

In Hinduism, our scriptures teach us that death releases one’s personal soul – the “aatma” – for reunion with the universal soul – the “paramaatma”. So, those moments and memories of love, generosity, compassion and humour will remain etched in our memories forever – we were truly blessed to have him in our lives and to carry on this legacy.


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