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Thank you Abba, for making me the woman I am

Published: June 19, 2016

All I want to do is be a good person like him, so that I can become the best legacy he left behind. PHOTO: PINTEREST

It’s been almost nine years since Abba left us. I have written much about Ammi since then, about how she did not take his going so well, about her dementia. But I have somehow avoided writing about my father. Perhaps there is too much to write and it is difficult, even for someone like me, for whom words come easy.

In the last few years of his life, his health was flailing and he knew. He started to wrap things up, though he loved life and fought for it till the end. In that twilight phase, what came up repeatedly was him and I mutually agreeing that he needed to pen down his biography.

“I can be your ghost writer,” I had suggested. “You can be my assistant, and help me edit it. The rest I can do myself,” was the expected reply.

He really didn’t like depending on others.

It is Father’s Day today.

It’s not that I am big on celebrating ‘days’ personally. But it is because he was big on celebrating every occasion and so everything would become an excuse to celebrate – me getting good marks in a test, Father’s or Mother’s Day, Eid, second day of Eid, third day of Eid, some uncle or aunt performing Hajj, a promotion, returning from a trip, or something as simple as making a decision.

“I have decided I want to be a journalist and writer abba. I think I wasted time studying Business and Economics,”

I recall telling him after I was midway an internship at a magazine after my Bachelors.

“If you are sure that’s what you want, then I am sure you will excel at it. Let’s celebrate, everyone, we have a writer in the family now,” he said, taking the family out to eat.

The celebrations were usually at Bundoo Khan near Quaid’s mazar or some old Chinese place in Saddar, with generous helpings of food and lots of conversation.

My father was born in a remote village in Sindh. I have been asked multiple times in my life that he must have favoured his sons, my three brothers, more than us three sisters. I honestly reply that he loved each one of us equally, but if at all he had a tilt, it was towards the daughters – he treated us more gently and with more tenderness and gave the same opportunities to all his children irrespective of gender.

There is something about daughters who have had a father’s unconditional love and support – they are inherently equipped to handle what life throws at them, both the good and the not so good. We have read it so many times but nothing could be truer – a father is the first and the most important man in a daughter’s life. He acts as the wind beneath his daughter’s wings in a world that may sometimes try to put her down. He fills up the gaps which life may create in the niche of her heart. He stays with her, every step of the way, whether he is there with her or not.

I choose not to sanctify my father. When my siblings and I sit down and talk about him, we do not pretend that he was a saint or perfect just because he is no longer alive. We still laugh about some of his things we used to laugh about in his lifetime and we still recognise where he could have made better decisions. But we could not be more thankful having him for a father – he was an unusually soft-hearted, brilliant, smart and sensitive man, who was par excellence in his roles as a husband and a father.

From a village in Sindh to Aligarh Muslim University to a never-ending journey of acquiring education to serving his people, so that today it is one of the few and almost completely literate villages in Sindh, he lived quite a life. His book is due soon.

Till then, I walk around this world with many of his ideals etched in my heart and I live by them. Like him, I believe books, education, travelling and health are most deserving of spending your money on instead of clothes, shoes and other tangibles, because the things we buy don’t last, but human experience does.

I hope I can do even a minuscule portion of the kind of work he did to serve humanity, but I do believe, like him, that we are here for a purpose bigger than just our own little lives. Most importantly, he taught me that one must not be afraid to be one’s self, he allowed me to speak my mind and voice my thoughts.

Thank you Abba, for not stifling my thoughts and allowing me to learn to agree and disagree with people, yet respect and cherish them. Thank you for all the times you allowed me to debate and engage and converse with you about politics, religion, poetry and the many faces of activism. That has helped me become my own person. And thank you for teaching me what selfless parenting is all about.

I look so much like my mother they say and I am so close to her. But here I am, walking around the world with my father’s imprints – the rock on the bridge of my nose, the impatience when the other person does not get me, that slight lack of tact, the desire to forever have something to do, the tilt towards the mystic, the excitement at seeing every day as a chance to do more and so much more.

It’s pretty worthless telling people the ceremonial things like “take care of your parents till they are there, you don’t know how it feels when they are gone.” If they love their parents, they do and will for sure. Each one of those who read this, especially the daughters, will have their own stories to tell, stories of them and their Abba, dad, papa, baba, Abbu – whatever you call that most important man in your life  – the man who unwittingly made you the strong, loving, feisty and dedicated woman that you have hopefully grown up to be.

The circle of life continues and you are giving back the same to your children.

On Father’s Day, I don’t want to cry remembering my father, or on any day for that matter. All I want to do is be a good person like him, so that I can become the best legacy he left behind. That’s what children are supposed to do when parents have left – become for parents a Sadqa-e-Jaria (a continual charity). That way, we can continue to serve them and cherish them. And love them.

Are parents responsible for their children committing suicide?

By Farahnaz Zahidi
April 3rd, 2014

Every year Pakistan has cases where young adults and even children commit suicide due to the pressure of getting good grades and being high-performers.
“Hum maaon ko sub kuch chahiye… sub kuch.”

(We mothers need everything… everything).

That is how disturbing certain advertisements aired on TV today are. They show a cross-section of mothers whose sense of validation and joy is dependent on their children becoming over-achievers.

Most of these advertisements are disguised with a ‘feel good’ message, the underlying message, however, is disturbing and sadly, a reflection of what our society’s parents are unwittingly morphing into – a race of achievement-hungry, hard-task masters who want their children to be their trophy to show off. The models posing as mothers stretch their necks upwards as a mark of pride and arrogance while the pressurised children push themselves harder and harder.

What do we parents actually want at the end of the day? A happy child who enjoys his school and college years, has friends and good social skills, is a responsible citizen, a good human and takes studies seriously?

If only the list would end there. But sadly, it doesn’t.

Children, from the day they are born, are our status symbols. And we tend to be misled into thinking that this is what good parenting is all about. There are certain types of body language parents display when they talk about their children.

Look around you at the times when someone asks another person which school their children go to, what the child’s hobbies are and particularly grades of the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE). If your kid got As and A-stars, you make sure to ask other parents what their kid got. But if your kid is a ‘shame to the family’ because he/she got Cs and Ds, you change the topic and adopt an unsaid apologetic stance.

The child is supposed to be super human.

He or she must play soccer, get all As, have friends, be in an elite school, be a member of the drama society, play a musical instrument and of course, his or her ultimate aim in life should be going to Ivy League universities or McGill.

That is why we gave birth to them right? So that they fulfil our unfulfilled dreams.

The pressure on these young people is often underrated but it can have devastating effects. Lowered self-esteem, psychopathic fear of failure and deep-rooted depression are some. It is worse if other siblings are achievers and one child is made to feel less.

Every year Pakistan has cases where young adults and even children commit suicide due to the pressure of getting good grades and being high-performers. Most top-rated institutes have such sad cases in their records.

A heart-wrenching case in point was a news story printed yesterday. A 14-year-old child from Malakand in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) shot himself because he had failed in his exams for the third time. This incidence is surprisingly not from an urban area. I am not implying that the bereaved parents of this boy were necessarily pressurising him. I do not know and it is not my place to comment. But generally, society is pushing children towards this.

Discipline is good and so is ambition. But everything has to have both limits and balance. And striking that balance is the key. Encouraging and even nudging the child towards a better future is good.

But what if your child is one who cannot get very good grades?

What if the child goes against the parents’ plan of ‘all sciences’ and wants to choose a social science majors?

What if your child is not a go-getter?

What if your child is not making you proud in the way you want him or her to?

What’s important is that your child, at any age or stage, is making an effort and is growing into a responsible human being who may tomorrow actually end up doing very well in life, whatever the grades.

But for that, you need to be your child’s rock. Celebrate your child’s achievements and make him see hope even in the face of failure.

They say no one loves you as selflessly as parents do. Today’s over-driven, over-ambitious parents may have to prove that by having realistic expectations and a better value system in which respect is not on the basis of schools and grades.

Seeing Children Off – What Happens When Your Kids Go Away To Study

Seeing children off

How do parents, especially mothers, cope with the situation when their children leave home for studies or work

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

We have grown up seeing dramatic clips in movies where the mere thought of a daughter leaving home after marriage makes an otherwise brave mom sniffle, and a father turn away to hide his moist eyes. Today, there is something other than marriage that takes them away from us and way too soon. What’s more, it is us as parents who facilitate this separation. That, of course, is our children leaving home for better education – abroad or to another city.

The mass exodus of youth phenomenon that our country is witnessing today has its plus points no doubt. Exposure, confidence, better education, promise of better lives for our children than we had – we know it’s worth it for the good of our children. But everything comes with a price. It is not easy for a parent to let go.

Saima Rauf, an artist and a mother of two, recently experienced this as her son left home for higher education. “It is very tough,” says Rauf, obviously grappling with the sense of missing her son. “You feel empty inside knowing that now they have left home and would only come for a few days as guests. But you have to let them go for their own good and have to deal with the emptiness. For that you must remain busy, like I have again started giving my drawing more time.”

The first time is the worst, as are the initial days and months, shares Tazeen Ahmed, home-maker and mother. “When they go for the first time you feel lonely, depressed and stressed out because you are not sure whether they will achieve the goal or the purpose they are being sent for, but then with the lapse of time you get used to it,” says Ahmed’s voice of experience.

It is not just emotionally difficult, but parents have very real fears about their children once they are away. Sadia Agha, a philanthropist, describes how she felt when her children left home for greener pastures. “As a mother, I am scared everyday of so many things. What if the kids get on to a bad track; I trust them and have taught them the basic values, but it’s a big bad world out there. Youth is a time when emotions are running high; girls and boys being together unattended, western influence, the threat of alcohol, them all alone out there,” says Agha, sharing her fears – fears which every parent faces but does not always voice.

This is doubly difficult as, today, many of us are prone to over-parenting. We have become “helicopter parents” hovering closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether our children need us or not. Parents try to resolve their child’s problems, and try to stop them from coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.

Hina Ansari, mother of three boys, is a self-proclaimed “reformed helicopter parent”. “Now if my son is unable to call for a week or two, I do not have the urge to die like I used to! It is a matter of adjusting to a new lifestyle. And the earlier you let go of the apron string the better for both. It is easier said than done though. But you have to accept that you have trained them well, and you have to leave them in God’s care. If you don’t have faith in your children, how will they have faith in themselves?” Ansari is now using the time she has on hand well by going back to school and pursuing a degree.

Thus, even after they have left home, many parents know of every activity of their child, or think they do. Dr Tarannum Ahmed, mother of two, has both her children studying abroad. Thanks to information technology and phone packages, Ahmed talks to her children several times a day. They still have to ask her when they decide to go to a friend’s for a day-spend. But this constant long-distance monitoring has taken its toll on her. She has to go and live with her children every time they move to a new dormitory, and shuttles between home and the US. Her son recently had a minor car accident. “It was the worst day for me; sitting thousands of miles away, helpless, not being able to be there. It’s not easy…That is all I can say,” says Ahmed, moved to tears by simply re-living that day.

Re-thinking, this monitoring is worth it, as the kids may have left the nest but the sense of belonging continues. And so it goes….their rooms remain intact, as they left them. The parents are always there for them in times of dire need. They come home for vacations and homes, once again albeit temporarily, are filled with laughter and chaos. Moms busily cook their children’s favourite meals. Dads come home early from work. Children have the best of both worlds – they get a taste of independent living and gain confidence needed to face the world, but always have a place to come back to.

Published in The News: