Beloved son, ‘reverse mentor’ | Daily News


Nadeepa Dharmasiri:

Beloved son, ‘reverse mentor’

I never thought I would write this article in my life. Strange are the swirls that entangle us. My son, my hero, physically left us three years ago. I truly experienced “reverse-mentoring” by interacting with him, at least for five years, before his demise. This article is a recollection and a reflection of such glimpses.


Reverse mentoring is gaining momentum in management circles. It essentially means an older and a senior person being guided by a relatively younger and junior person. It applies to professional front, as well as personal front. This term became quite popular with the advent of millennials to the workplaces. In fact, it can be applicable even in a family, including between a father and a son.

Multiple generations

Generation X covers people born from 1965 through 1980. The label, long ago, overtook the first name affixed to this generation: the Baby Bust. The X’ers are often depicted as savvy, entrepreneurial loners.

The Baby Boomer label is drawn from the great spike in fertility that began in 1946, right after the end of World War II, and ended almost as abruptly in 1964, around the time the birth control pill went on the market. It’s a classic example of a demography-driven name.

The Silent Generation describes adults born from 1928 through 1945. Children of the Great Depression and World War II; their “Silent” label refers to their conformist and civic instincts. It also makes for a nice contrast with the noisy ways of the anti-establishment Boomers.

One obvious factor among all these generations is that the very names are associated with events that took place in the West, and to a very high extent, in the USA. The degree of its relevance and applicability to Asian countries such as Sri Lanka is questionable.

Emerging Generations

The millennials, or Generation Y employees who were born between 1980 to 1999, have differences in their perceptions, preferences, and performance. They are much more tech-savvy compared to their Generation X predecessors, having exposed to rapid advancement in Information and Communication Technology during past decades.

They are also for more flexible work arrangements. The rigid eight-hour work rule will make them bored and unproductive. They are also much more ecological conscious in going green. These triple aspects of tech-savyness, work flexibility, and green-consciousness, act as key indicators with regard to their preferences towards work arrangements.

There is another generation yet to enter the workplace. They represent those who were born after the year 2000. Popularly known as Generation Z, they were exposed to internet from day one of their life. Obviously, they are far more tech-savvy than millennials. Through research, Generation Z has already been identified as being curious, courageous, and creative.

My son, born in September, 2002, belongs to Generation Z. Me, representing Generation X, saw that smart devices from phones to tabs need smartness in handling. My son was my technology adviser. He used to play with my phone and tab and tell me multiple apps which of high relevance. His focus on to the tech devices was immense and he was immersed in learning software, games, and apps.

My son, my “reverse mentor”

Devnaka Abhisith Nadeepa Dharmasiri, my younger son, had to leave earth on August 8, before his 14th birthday on September 28, 2016. He was a Grade 9 student of Royal College. He left me; my wife, Ruklanthi; and my elder daughter, Navodi. The shock experienced not only by us, but by many others, was indeed, significant.

He was an all-rounder with a flair for music and favour for technology. He was loved by everyone who had an encounter with him. This was evident in the way students, teachers, relations, and friends alike, emotionally responded upon hearing his sudden demise. Being a junior prefect and a chorister at Royal College, he was in the limelight as a bright and an obedient student.

I learnt a lot by being with him. My association with him gave me many an exposure to discover him. As a life-long learner in management, it was indeed “reverse-mentoring” in action. Me, from Generation X, was being mentored by a young boy from Generation Z.

Lessons learnt from my son

Sadly but surely, I learnt a lot from my son, Nadeepa. He, despite the relatively shorter stay of 14 years on earth, has created an impact on many lives. Let me reflect on them through 10 Cs:


I learnt how to be cheerful from him. He was always with a smile and this was repeatedly mentioned by his friends who came to pay their last respects. When I was stressful and tired, his warmth and cheerfulness was a relief to me. From early childhood, he was a “hugging” boy. He used to request from me and his mom, “give me a big hug.”

A flying kiss was a regular feature when he was half sleep, when I had to leave early morning. He was the cheer-generator at home front. The popular prescriptions of positive thinkers were very much evident in little Nadeepa.


He was a guardian to his elder sister, Navodi. He was conscious of the fact that she was struggling with the pressures of the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination. He had to sacrifice many excursions because of Navodi’s AL encounters. His care was aptly experienced by my parents, as well as Ruklanthi’s parents. The way he showed his genuine love for me, Ruklanthi, and Navodi, was a classic case of caring. He showed us how we should care for each other through timely action.


The way school teachers appreciated Nadeepa was such a delight for us as parents. He was one whom the teachers could have confidence in assigning a task. Being a primary prefect and a junior prefect, this was further demonstrated. The fundamental elements of commitment we encounter in management could be seen in him.


Nadeepa was a member of the “Inspirational Choir” who sang the welcome song at the airport when Pope Francis visited Sri Lanka, last year. He had made many speeches in front of large audiences and sang many a time at a variety of entertainment events. He fell down in a pool and broke his ankle. Subsequently, he was on clutches for two months. Yet, he never lost his spirit. All these were signs of his confidence. I humbly admire his ways, compared to where I was at his age.


My son never skipped playing. He enjoyed playing cricket and soccer with his friends. He also enjoyed playing computer games. Though I did not understand what it really meant, he told me that he was a clan leader in the Clash of Clans video game. He often told me and Ruklanthi not to be too serious. We, in fact, were worried at times whether he was neglecting his studies. Yet, he proved otherwise in passing exams with flying colours. I learnt how to be relaxed, yet stay in focus, from him.


He was a natural leader. There had been many instances where he played a key role in organising class parties, trips, and other events. The way others rallied around him was amazing. He knew how to gather friends for a worthy cause. Whilst I was teaching teamwork, he really demonstrated it in his own way.


Nadeepa was naturally creative on many fronts. He was writing poetry and composing songs. He was handy with the camera I bought from USA and he took many uncommon shots. He won many creative writing competitions. What I insist on being creative, I saw clearly in my son.


I saw curiosity in him the way he asked many intelligent questions, especially when we were travelling together. He wanted to think deeply and to probe. No wonder he found science his favourite subject. At times, I felt he wanted to challenge the assumptions and have a fresh way. What I was teaching as “out-of-the-box thinking”, I saw in his own, original approach.


As a junior prefect, Nadeepa demonstrated credibility to the fullest. He was trustworthy in executing assigned tasks, big or small. That’s why teachers approached him as the preferred choice in getting work done. Whilst being credible is a major challenge in corporate fronts, the way he demonstrated it was truly remarkable.


Nadeepa wanted to be a scientist and a priest. That may sound as a unique combination. He was spiritual by nature. I saw a young pure heart brimming with genuineness within him. He was having asthma, but had got quite used to an inhaler. Strangely, he experienced an acute asthmatic attack that resulted in a struggle at the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for three days.

The way forward

We have created the Nadeepa Dharmasiri Memorial Trust Fund (NDMTF) with the website, to assist needy children of his age. Slowly and steadily, it serves many deserving souls without any pomp and pageantry.

I still recall watching through the glass door of the MICU whilst Ruklanthi was inside, sitting close to Nadeepa. She consoled me saying, “He is too precious for this world.”

One smile for all,
One heart of gold,
One of the best this world could hold.

Never selfish, always kind,
Many hearts warmed with your gifts,
Many souls touched with your voice,
Glorifying God was always his choice,
What a beautiful memory,
to leave behind.

Goodbye, my sweet angel. You will remain with us till we join you one day.

Prof. Ajantha S. Dharmasiri

Director, Postgraduate

Institute of Management

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