By Aaisha Wasi Khan
Some feelings defy words and some emotions escape expression. A father’s love or your love for the man who brought you to this world is one of them. Or at least it has been that way with mine.
Papa, Pa, Popsie, I refer to him by many names and even now, as I sit to write these words, I can’t find the right words to completely encompass the whirlwind of emotions it stirs in me. It’s been more than three years that I last saw him, before I came to Canada. But I am reminded of him every day, in my son – in his hair that take Nana’s curls, in his inquisitive learning mind, bright intelligent eyes and his quick wit.
My earliest memories of Pa have been of him as our friend, our confidante and favourite playmate. It was much later, when I grew up, that I started to open up to Ma, who was always the disciplinarian in our house.
Pa, he was different, even my friends at school were envious of the friendly relationship I had with him. He would play with us, jest with us and generally made us believe life was one endless party!
I often say that Ma is behind the person I am, but Pa is the one who perfected my personality, the one that the world sees, and is mostly impressed by. All Pa’s doing. In ways more than one, he is my Atticus Finch.
Long before fate turned me into a wordsmith, I grew to love words because of Pa. He encouraged our extensive reading habits. We are all voracious readers in our family; we read anything and everything that comes across our way in the two languages we are fluent in. We’ve had fights break out at home over magazines and books, over who got to read it first. Often times Pa would be a party to the scramble, where he unabashedly tried to play the Pa card. It did not really work, in fact, it made the contentious piece of paper even more covetable!
I’d say Pa has been my teacher, but that would be wrong. He has not taught me anything formally, but as I have grown I realize the many traits I developed over the years because he spent so much time on us. You know when they say that the best thing to spend on your kids is not money, it’s time – Pa did that.
I am a stickler for grammar and correct use of words, a habit Pa ingrained in me as he drove us to school, peppered us with questions and corrected speech mistakes. We could have been bussed, growing up in the Arab Emirates, but he chose to drive us to and back from school. It was his time and his alone, with his kids. That is when he taught us the third kalima, bounced back ideas and engaged us in conversations that would define us as adults later on in our lives. To this day, when I recite the kalima, I do it in the exact intonation as his. When I think up an argument, I think of a counter-argument in Pa’s voice, to make sure I have a balanced perspective. Quite often I hit a dead-end in my train of thought because Pa’s voice and reasoning has corrected me from total derailment of logic!
Pa loves tanz o mazah, classic Urdu satire. His other absolute literary love is poetry, both passions he’s nurtured in me. I remember him calling out to me when there was a good mushaira on the TV, passing on good books of prose and poetry my way. When you read so much, of such sophistication in thought, you are likely to acquire a bite in your own language skills, both written and spoken. Whatever mastery I may have over languages, I owe it to Pa.
I also get his quirks from him. I have a strong aversion to men who wear white socks; for Pa, the mark of a man is how well he could knot his tie. He taught both my sister and I how to tie a tie, just in case we ended up with husbands who did not pass the test. In fact, one of the things that he found impressive about my husband was how well he’d done his tie!
As a husband, I have seen him more participating in house work than any other man, my own husband included. He’d wake up the kids in the morning and help them get ready for school while Ma held down fort in the kitchen. He’d do dishes when he saw them dirty, include us in cleaning around the house to show us that there was work and anyone could do it. It was never a man or woman’s work when we grew up.
In raising his kids as well, he has never discriminated between a daughter or son. What was good for his sons, was good enough for his daughters. He’s allowed me to follow my dreams, take chances in life, and every step of the way, I know he’ll be there to cushion my fall.
I was the first girl in my family to have gone overseas for training. And while most parents would have thought twice about letting their daughter travel alone, Pa gave me the confidence to literally, fly all by myself. He did all the running around to get my visa and ticket issues solved, all I told him was that there was an opportunity and he made it happen for me. That has been true all our lives, we may think out loud a wish in front of him and he’ll make sure we get it. It could be as trivial as eating muffins past midnight, or life-altering as wanting to live and work in another city all by myself.
He’s also taught me the basics of plumbing, drilling curtain rods into the walls and general handy man skills around the house. I have handed him a pipe wrench as he explained a clogged drain to me, he’d turn everything into an exciting science experiment. Even today, he does not teach, he casually slips in wisdom as we talk.
That is what Pa is for me, he is the wind under my wings, the thoughts that I think, the words I write, the sight to my eyes, the cadence to my speech.
Pa doesn’t express feelings easily, you have to be attuned to his actions to know that whatever he does, he does it for you. I may have taken after him in that. But on this father’s day, it is time to let him know that if my world ever stopped spinning (and may it never) it would be because his love for me, or mine for him, had withered. And today, I revert to my original name, the one that had his suffixed to mine, that made me, me.
About the author:
Aaisha Zafar Islam née Wasi Khan is the executive editor of MuslimMoms.ca