Nicole: Volunteerism and service have always been important for us, whether it’s coaching or fundraising for our kids’ sports leagues or the work I do with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF). I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in college and really went through my young adult life not knowing where to go for help or answers. I connected with the CCF upon receiving a flyer to train for a half marathon in support of the Foundation. I brought it to Justin and we both agreed: let’s do this! We ran our first half marathon and the whole experience was so meaningful. I finally found a way to give back and connect with others who suffer from these diseases.
I then joined the Foundation’s New Jersey chapter board and co-founded the “Touch of Football” charity tournament at MetLife Stadium, where I was working at the time. In its inaugural year, the tournament raised over $100,000, and is now a national event held at NFL stadiums across the country with over $1M in total fundraising. We bring our kids along on this journey. It’s important to us that they understand that every human being has challenges, but by tackling those challenges head-on you can often find opportunities to help others.
Kailash: I want my children to understand that they are as American as anyone else, but that they also have a rich heritage they should know about. We do this by serving both locally and globally. Here in Illinois, we started a North Shore Sanskriti, or “culture” group for nearly 20 kids to learn about their Indian heritage. I’m also on the board for an American India foundation that helps to fight the cycle of illiteracy, poverty and joblessness in India. As chairs for the foundation, we helped raise over $3.4 million for these causes. My family supports a program in India that’s helped fund education for about 960 children of migrant laborers over the last 7 years. Once you educate a child, you change the outcomes for not only the child’s life but their family, community, village and the country. We may have the next top scientist coming from one of these villages.
A few years ago, Mukta and I took the kids out to see schools we were supporting. It was a learning experience for Neil and Sohil to see firsthand the struggles of children around education while their parents had their own struggles with poverty. I was speaking to the children in Hindi, the local language, and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. One little girl answered in English, “I want to be a cardiologist.” When I asked why, she said it was because her mother died of a heart attack. We all had tears in our eyes hearing this, because we knew she was going to get an education and have an opportunity to make an impact in her community.
“Working parent” has taken on a whole new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nicole, how have you balanced work with family the past year?
Nicole: It was an incredible challenge being a working parent with two school-aged children who need your help with everything. It was a constant balance between being present for your family and your colleagues. At AbbVie, we learned a lot about each other’s personal lives and met spouses, children, families and pets virtually. In many ways it brought us closer as a team. While it was challenging to switch to online work and education, one positive thing about virtual education was that we were given the opportunity to get an up-close look at what our kids were learning every day. We were able to help them and celebrate their accomplishments in real-time. We learned that kids are resilient, and they can adapt to anything. And those morning snuggles are ones we will never forget.
Being part of a military family gives both kids and parents a unique experience. Kailash, please share experiences during your deployment and what you’ve taken away as a father.
Kailash: I’ve learned that all moments, including small moments, are valuable. When you’re away on deployment you miss soccer practice, putting your kids to bed and even listening to those tantrums. It’s stuff that shows your kids are growing up and we take it for granted until we miss it. It made me appreciate what we have; not everyone gets to see their kids grow.
The other point is that our communication as a family improved tremendously during my deployment. We had to find new means of communication. I started writing letters to my kids and I encouraged them to write letters not just back to me but to other family members.
My kids wrote letters to my dad, who lived in India. We lost him at that time to a heart attack, very suddenly. My kids had an incredible relationship with my parents. It’s emotional for me to reflect on but it’s a big point of pride for me as a dad that my kids had this loving relationship despite generational differences and physical distance. When I came back from deployment, I saw so much maturity and growth in my kids. Often times as parents we only look at them as our sons and daughters, but we have a generation of future leaders, scientists, athletes, professionals and artists growing in our homes.