I’ve written so much about my father here and there and in passing that he could easily be the most documented man in all of my writings. Part of the reason for that would be that I still miss him a lot, even though it’s been a decade and some years since he left us but a bigger part would be that nothing in my life happened without Papa and I talking about it.
My dad’s death wasn’t a surprise. At least not to me. He had been talking to me about it for months. I don’t think he had talked to my mom as much as he had to me. He had touched upon many aspects of his death with me. His fear of it, his preparation for it, his wait for it, and his acceptance of it.
Papa wasn’t an open book. And I’m sure he wasn’t perceived as warm by all people. He was however universally acknowledged as wise, helpful and compassionate. When people approached him with apprehension, he could sense it and would try to make them comfortable. He was gifted with the art of conversation and was a great company in a quiet, smart, funny way.
And he was funny. Uber funny. All of my dad’s relatives have been given the gift of humor and a tiny bit of sarcasm without the bite in it.
But what he was, above everything, was that he was a listener. He listened to people who worked for him. He listened to his kids and he particularly, was always available to listen to me.
Not sure why I had a special bond with him out of all four of us but I think being the oldest, being the one who made him a father and being his xerox in personality and physicality made us close. I also got him more. I could sense his moods and he could sense mine. I cannot remember a single time when he ate while I wasn’t home. He never went to bed until he had tucked all of us in. He never went shopping without his family. He had a limited number of friends who were just as family-centered as he was. We were only separated from our parents when we were in school.
My mom and dad had an interesting and passionate marriage. They didn’t look like a couple that had come together through an arranged marriage. They were kindred spirits. My mom’s hugely extroverted personality was the perfect complement for my dad’s quiet, strong presence. They both were each other’s confidantes and best friends. My mom has been my dad’s champion even in his death. She has never wavered in her love for him.
My dad was a reader. Of fiction and truth. Of politics and romance. Of poetry and prose. He was also a big fan of movies and theatre and singing. His love for entertainment was contagious. He would insist for us to watch a certain movie that he had watched years ago. If he couldn’t find it on tape, he would tell us the story. And it was every bit as magical as watching it on tape on a large screen TV.
When Papa got ill, and it looked like his underlying health conditions were going to become worse, he became worried for his life. He also became worried about how much time he had with us. During those days, I started spending even more time with him. I had always spent more time with Papa compared to any other human being anyway.
Those days became my reserves of patience and strength when Papa was no more. Those conversations became his lasting impression. For a 21 year old kid who is right in the middle of medical school, it is hard to watch a parent’s life slowly slipping away but Papa didn’t make those days only about his death. Yes we talked about the possibility of him going often, but what we talked about the most was happy things and Papa’s favorite topic……. Ideas.
Yes, ideas! Not an idea but ideas. Not innovative ideas that change the world but ideas about life, morality, beauty, love, marriage, friendship, belief system, religion, politics, patriarchy, cohesiveness, kindness, compassion, faith, chastity, and Allah. Ideas that changed me into the woman I am today.
My father was a liberal person and he infused his liberal views in me. Papa practiced Islam for Allah and didn’t practice it for his family or friends. A lot of people might question his lack of consistency with salah or why he didn’t always fast but he was as close to Allah as anyone can ever be. His spirit was always in accordance with Allah’s expectations.
Some things that Papa told me frequently were about Eman and the practice of Eman. His ideologies were simple and easy. He didn’t count a certain number of times to make sure a certain Ibadah was done. He didn’t believe in any auspicious days or months unless exclusively outlined in the Quran. He didn’t believe that women alone had the responsibility for chastity. He believed that men also have to be chaste in order for this principle to work. He didn’t think that a woman’s place is only in the home or in the kitchen. He also didn’t think that a woman should be subjugated.
May be because he had three daughters before he had a son, and had seven nieces of his own, plus a sister whom he loved and protected until his death like when they were children, he had a deep love for women. He didn’t approve of early, clueless marriages. He didn’t condone parents making decisions for children. He didn’t like parents oppressing their daughters. He was an open advocate for women of his family and his patients too. Because he was a physician, people respected his opinion. Because he was a family doctor, he openly talked to young men and women about sexual health, reproductive life, demands of a marriage and therefore advised their parents openly on the readiness of their kids. His advice was always taken graciously and was usually used by his patients.
One thing that Papa’s parenting taught me was to not raise my voice or resort to some punishment-type ways to get my point across. When a parent instills their love in their child, the child wants to make the parent happy. The child automatically works to not disappoint the parent. I was always wary of disappointing my parents. But this didn’t stop me ever from raising my concern or discussing with them my disagreement with a particular decision that they made for me. I knew that my parents would be disappointed to know that I hadn’t felt free enough to bring my concerns to them.
I can’t explain it and yet I still experience it with my mom. I don’t want her to feel that her word wasn’t important to me. So I always reason with her when I disagree. Always. I’ve never left a discussion incomplete or a thought unsaid. I always have communicated to her that her advice, even though would’ve been great under different circumstances, is probably not going to work this time. This has always closed the loop with us. And in a happy way. Papa taught me the art and significance of communication.
He always communicated. He never shut a discussion down. He always explained why he wasn’t agreeing. He always talked. And sometimes those talks were long. But he continued to answer patiently. His particular brand of parenting was overwhelmingly patient besides other things.
He also taught me compassion and kindness. He showed me how a physician is almost expected to have these traits in order to be successful and impressive. He held kindness above everything else.
When life threw autism at me, I used my dad’s very deep understanding of children to learn my daughter. My dad treated children like equals. He didn’t treat them as adults’ property to boss as they like. He also held children accountable. He helped us reach decisions by walking and chatting with us through them. Each time I’m with my kids and getting stuck with parenting decisions I try to look for answers from my experiences with my parents . And invariably I find myself looking for the trace of my father’s footsteps.