I think there’s two types of Afghan fathers.
There are those who are hands-on – who give their daughters advice and constantly make a presence in their lives. These types of dads are easy to talk to, not very intimidating, and make their relationships with their daughters pretty lax.
Then there are stern, stoic fathers. This is my father. My Aba (father) stands tall at 6’1, with soft grey-green eyes. He is the most handsome man I know. But for so many years, he was a stranger. The only conversation he had with me (about boys), as I entered the 9th grade of high school was:
“There will be boys. They will want to talk to you. Don’t speak to them. They’re wasting your time.”
This is how I came to have conversations with my father. Only when absolutely necessary.
As I grew older, I took the initiative to ask him more questions. I wanted to know about his family, his Bebe mother, his General father. I came to know them through stories I ripped from him – not because he wasn’t ready to share, but because I was so afraid to ask. My stoic father.
Then one day, as he was dropping me off to a Vegas trip, I told him that some peers were giving me sh*t for going to Sin City during the fasting period “Ramadan.”
My Aba looked at me and said,
“Don’t let those backwards Mullahs influence you. You are my daughter and I know what you do. Go have fun, go enjoy your youth and remember I support you.”
It was then, at 23 years of age, I decided I would never let my Aba be a stranger to me.
We have built a relationship since then. I try to be the son and daughter he has always wanted.
But coming to terms with his cancer has been a different story.
Afghans have a tendency to delay bad news. No, like REALLY, FOR AS LONG AS THEY CAN. My mother did not know her brother was dead for 2 months. And a cousin of mine JUST found out that her father had passed on – 2 years ago in Afghanistan.
So I found out about my fathers cancer last. Did they think I couldn’t handle it? I’m not sure, but for Gods sake, my teenage nieces and nephews knew about it before I did. One day, I was joking that I’d live in my nephews basement since being a Political Science major got me nowhere. Two weeks after this joke, my father turned to me and said,
“My Mado, my dream is to see you lead your own classroom. You are the strongest girl I know. You have climbed mountains – do not joke that you will live off someone else.”
I looked at my father, perplexed as to why he was so serious.
“I have saratan (cancer). I am sick, and my dying wish is to see you as a teacher.”
And so the tears streamed down my cheeks. Afghans also have a tendency to exaggerate, so I asked over & over, “cancer? Are you sure?” But yes, it was cancer.
I promised my father then and there that I would make him proud. Failure is not an option for me. Because coming to terms with my fathers mortality has made me reevaluate mine. And knowing he, or I for any matter, can be gone any second has pushed me to strive, thrive, and survive.
My dearest friends…wake up every morning to the sound of laughter. Even if you are alone – this dunya (world) is temporary. But how beautiful is it? How lucky are we that we have been given the privilege to hear laughter – even if it is our own? Love yourselves and love strangers. Remember your ancestral homes – the songs of your people and the melodies of your ancestors. Life is so precious. Kiss your parents feet and soak in the sun.
My fathers cancer is eating away at him. I bear witness to his slowed stride and his troubled breath. But I cannot stop chasing my dream – as should you all.
I beg you all – smile in mirrors and dance forever. Your time with God is coming soon.