PRIDE 2020: Coming Out Late in Life and the Most Frequently Asked Questions

9623B548-AAA2-47C6-935A-DF5917984B66

“I had no idea you were gay”, is something I am often told by my heteronormative friends; after navigating this terrain for over 8 year now, I know that there is no one “type of gay” – and neither is this meant as a compliment/rebuff; it is, what it is. At first glance, most people think I am from India (and don’t know where Bangladesh is), similarly, they may have a stereotype of a gay person they have seen on TV.

In a heteronormative world, it is automatically assumed you are straight, unless you do something different – or “look”/dress differently than the norm. Since I have two grown children, this also confuses many about my orientation.

On PRIDE 2020, I am telling you my story of coming out, over 8 years, in a series of questions that are most frequently asked of me as this conversation typically unfolds.

When did you know you were gay?

IMG_3264

My first exposure to homosexuality was from a TIME magazine cover on Homosexuality in 1979 and I was 12 years old; I am confident that I had a crush on a friend that I couldn’t explain to myself; growing up in Bangladesh, as a teenager, there was no context of being gay. There were no role models, tv shows, or even books to read/understand the concept. I kept telling myself, it’s wrong – and something was wrong with me. After years of soul searching, and therapy, I realize that this denial of one’s sexuality, is quite common in my generation of young people, male and female, everywhere in the world.

To compound my confusion, at a very early age of five or six, I was sexually abused by a temporary chauffer for my family; I never told my parents because, I was simply ashamed and thought something was wrong with me. This early childhood trauma kept playing tricks on my psyche by denying my sexuality; I kept telling myself that my attraction towards men was due to that incidence and I would grow out of it! Again, after years of therapy, I learned to shift the blame away from myself; I have learned and accepted that this is not something I caused, and I didn’t have the tools to protect myself or complain about it. And most importantly, this incidence, has nothing to do with me being gay.

How did your family take it when they learned you were gay?

One of my biggest regrets is not having the chance to come out to my mother who already knew I was gay; she talked to others about this, but never directly asked me. I am certain, she knew at an early age, I was gay. I used to play with dolls, dress up in sarees and once, in second grade, I played a female role in a play. Since she was a child psychologist by training, my mother never discouraged my desires and gave me freedom of expression. However, she also never directly enquired about my sexual identity and accepted the projection of “straightness” presented to her in my 20s and 30’s.

My father, was cooler to my early childhood behaviors; I remember, once he came home from work and yelled at our nanny for dressing me up as a girl; this very early childhood trauma scared me about behaving a certain way, to gain his acceptance. I was not athletic as a child and leaned towards art and music; I don’t think my father knew how to be an accepting Dad to a “different” child like me. He was the academic Dad who taught me mathematics (in a fun way) but he never took me out to play sports with him or actively trained me on tools, fishing or some sort of trade. He accidentally passed away when I was eighteen, and we never had a chance to connect on these issues.

51879936531__2FAF360B-D065-45D7-A9C1-C4F402A817E6
My sister, Shania and I go to our first ever PRIDE in Boston (2017)

I am very lucky to have a loving, caring and broad-minded sister; her family, my brother-in-law and my nephew, have been accepting of me from the day I told her, over text, that I am gay. She has always been supportive of my choices and came with me to my first PRIDE parade in Boston.

I have Aunts, Uncles and cousins who have also openly supported my decision to come out and live my own authentic and safe life. Most have told me that it makes no difference to them. A handful have used religion to try and create confusion; I have  disconnected from them.

The conundrum of a gay person often is, we have to come out every day to the people we meet. It’s relentless and burdensome. With so much media attention to gay issues, I am a bit fatigued in educating people about the ways of the world.

How did your children accept it?

IMG_1148
Daiyaan comes to a gay bar with me the first time (2018)

My children have been by number one supporters, since I came out. My older daughter, who was sixteen at that time, found out inadvertently. She left me a message on my voicemail that she loved me and needed a few days to process the information. After a couple of days, we sat down had an open discussion. She had specific questions about when I knew that I was gay and about my relationship to her mother. Since then, she has fully embraced my life, and we often talk about gay issues and politics. Many years ago, I remember refusing to buy from Chick-Fil-A, a fast food chain in the US, since they heavily contribute to anti-gay issues; at first, she didn’t understand my hesitation; over time she has learned to appreciate the pain and anger that we feel over corporations (or individuals) who use their financial might to suppress something that’s natural and/or use religion as a shield to discriminate against one group or other.

IMG_0723
Shania and I at our first PRIDE in Boston (2017)

My younger daughter was only six or seven years when I came out; she grew up with a gay dad and has been one of the staunchest supporters of PRIDE and gay causes. In 2017 when I escaped Boston during PRIDE, she went to the parade with her friends in support of me!

Why did you get married if you knew you are gay?

I fell in love with my wife in 1993 at our first meeting in Toledo, OH, over a cup of coffee. We talked for hours over phone and had a life time of common roots to get started in our relationship. We fought with our families to get married quickly (after 9 months of long-distance dating) and moved in together. I believed I had “cured” myself of my desires for men and loved my wife and family during our fifteen beautiful years together.

We had two amazing kids, lived in 5 states and seven homes, and I still believe, we loved each other. Not every fairy tale has a happy ending; in 2011, our marriage was afflicted by her depression and bi-polar disorder which led her to ask me for a divorce in 2011. I was shocked and saddened by this and resisted divorce for over 12 months and went for individual and couples counselling. In May of 2013, when my life was in danger and my children’s safety was in serious jeopardy, I consented to divorce and decided to move forward with my life.

Once, I consented to divorce, I went for therapy over two years, before I accepted my own sexuality and came out to my friends and family. It took me another 3 years, before I came out at work.

What has surprised you the most, about coming out?

IMG_1391
Shania posing with a Rainbow Crossing in Seattle (2017)

I am most impressed by the love and support of my family over the years of this journey of self-discovery.

There were at least twice, during my early years of therapy, that I wanted to go back into the closet; I was confused and perplexed by the complexity of this ‘new’ gay world and rejection; I had never felt this lonely in my entire life. Over time and lots of therapy, I visualized a world I could feel safe and build a community where I would be accepted for who I am. I have now met amazing gay and straight allies who have known me over the years. I have remained close to most of my childhood friends; we get together often at weddings-anniversaries- birthdays!

IMG_1086 (2)
Ten of my childhood friends from 4 states and Canada came to celebrate my Birthday this year with me!

Had someone told the scared Zain, some seven years ago, that one day his own confident self would autobiographically describe his coming out story, as a gay-out-Bangladeshi-single dad, I may not have believed!

What is your message to others as they may consider coming out?

IMG_0221
Therapy Saved My Life

Coming out is an entirely personal journey and there is no one perfect way to do so! It is your choice and no one can judge you on your journey. And, there is no perfect time for coming out.

Ultimately, it is about happiness, expression and being true to yourself.
From experience, I can say that,  the energy required to hide and “shadow” yourself every day, can be put to so much better use once you are free of these games. When you are free to be yourself, the joy is better than anything you have experienced.

What is your message to your straight allies?

Today, everyone has a gay friend, cousin, sibling, or a child. By respecting and celebrating them, you create a world of acceptance that is the most innate of human desire. I invite you to reject derogatory terms, such as, “gay lifestyle”:  a lifestyle is something one chooses; or saying, “that’s so gay”, really, in today’s world?

I once had a straight friend (of 40 years) refuse to hug me because he thought I would be attracted to him, if we hugged! Let me assure my straight friends, just like you are not attracted to everyone of the opposite sex, gays are not attracted to everyone of the same sex!

On PRIDE 2020, and every June going forward,   I am inviting my straight friends and family to deliberately wish their gay friends and family a Happy PRIDE (maybe, with a rainbow emoji)! This small gesture, costs you nothing; very similar to a Merry Christmas, Happy Diwali/Eid/Easter/Hanukkah greeting.

To a gay man or woman, this may be an affirmation that you respect them and celebrate their differences. This gives them a sense of belonging, and not being the “other” in this dynamic equation called life.

A little Holiday Cheer: December 2018

It’s nice to receive a simple holiday cheer in the mail: holiday cards, photographs, holiday letters, and postcards.

It’s one of those old-fashioned things in life, that I picked up from my parents; every year, around this time of the year, as children, we used to pick out UNICEF cards, and also took holiday photographs. In those pre-digital days, there was no way of converging holiday cards with photographs. We kept the photographs in the albums and sent out the cards all over the world.

Now, every year, right around end of October, we pick a day to get together as a family, and pose for photographs. Sometimes with the beautiful fall leaves of Boston Commons, sometimes on the beaches of Hillsboro Lighthouse, or as we build a new home for our selves, a place that we can call our own, and rest our souls. By routine, we create a memory, a mile marker in our lives.

As I look back at these card projects today, so many memories keep flooding back, glimpses of happiness, from a far away canvas.

We order the cards in Mid-November, create the labels, go through the list of people we truly love, or remember with love, new and old friends, born and chosen family.

Sometimes we write little post it notes, sometimes we just send them a reminder of our presence. Yes we are still here, and yes, we still remember you fondly. Maybe it’s a memory we share, or its in anticipation of some memories we want to create in the future.

Why bother to spend time and money, sending Holiday Cards? There’s so much going on, there is so much social-media and so many photographs on Instagram.

Every year, the number of physical cards keep dwindling. Some people claim environmental jurisprudence and then others just succumb to laziness and send a generic digital card. And then there are those, who don’t bother with all this fuss, or find this tradition just “outdated”.

There is something charming in a end of the year tradition to send a little hand-written cheer. There’s something about sealing that envelope, and looking at the names of people you know, remember and love.

Our Holiday Card Photo from 2011

This year, I saw the name of a friends’ widow, who is celebrating her first Christmas, without her beloved partner. That thought made me remember my friend fondly. Another friend I know, is possibly celebrating her last holidays – since terminal illness is yet to find a permanent cure.

We notice in the cards we receive, many friends have had new lives join their family; children, their loved ones, and grandchildren, dogs and cats.

It’s nice to know what you have created something special in your life. It’s nice to get a note relaying all the things that have changed in this year. In this high-pressure, digital world, it’s precious that you took the time to tell us about the new mountain you climbed, or the marathon you ran, or the new magic trick you picked up. One friend sent us a card as a fund raiser for a charity he has started. It’s warms your heart, when you see someone find their purpose on this earth.

It’s these little memories that connect us on an every day basis.

There will come a day, in not to distant future, when I will stop sending these cards to you. Maybe it will be illness, or some other reason why the cards must stop. No one really knows, right?

But today, as the sun shines, and we are grateful for completing another “calendar” year, in a manner we believe, is meaningful, it’s our turn to remind you that we are here, we are alive, and for this day, we are smiling and thinking about you.

An Extra Day in Paradise : August 2018

Inspired by a movie she had seen, for her thirteenth birthday, Shania asked to go to Hawaii; we have been to there a couple of times ~ ten years ago but she was only a couple of years old, with no discernible memory. With frequent flier miles, I booked a late August trip to Maui. This would be our end of the summer 2018 father-daughter trip – as much of a gift for me – as to her!

I lost my father when I was eighteen; I have memories with him on our birthdays, and day-to-day life, him telling me about what I should my college major should be – more of the transactional stuff. One of my regrets is not having enough “happy memories” with him or, “care-free” time, where we experienced joy, together.

I decided, early on, I wouldn’t wait for these “happiness moments” to just show up! Instead, co-create, with my own children, amazing memories of joy.  One day, they can look back to their childhood and adult times, and be able to say, we had some amazing times together!

We are fortunate to be born (or have migrated) to the only country in the world, where the Pursuit of Happiness is a constitutional right. Just like anything else, In addition to providing a loving and caring home, we have the responsibility to show our children that happiness is attainable by design. It may require hard work (funding), and some planning – but happiness doesn’t (have to) accidentally show up at our doorstep – we can go searching for it and attain it. By doing so, we leave our children experiences of joy – this way, later in life, they can go searching for, or designing their own happiness.

Happiness: Hanging in the pool

To do this, first, you need to know what makes you happy in the first place; a day kayaking on calm waters? Cooking an amazing meal together, a library full of books, hunting for food-trucks, or some dare-devil adventure somewhere! Each of us have different expectation and certain things fill us with joy (and others with anxiety)!

Once we understand and accept your own source of happines, you can be a lot more deliberate about creating opportunities to do more of that and and deliberately plan “memory making” in your life.

If we don’t plan for happiness, life, and especially work, consumes most of our time!

Hawaii, is an ideal place to go searching for and creating amazing memories! We planned eight days in the island of Maui; amazing tropical setting, sunsets, blue skies, sparkling clear seas, marine and botanical examples, amongst a super-kind, warm, easy-going and hospitable people.

Having traveled ~ 14 hours, we arrived at the hotel with fresh juice and a traditional welcome garland; within minutes, we were enjoying the infinity pool overlooking the blue ocean and ordering lunch/cocktails. Late afternoon, we took a nap and set out to enjoy Kihei and watching one of those magical Hawaiian sunsets.

Amazing sunset the day before we left

Over the next 7 days, we went biking down from Haleakala volcano, experienced seven micro-climates in a matter of 3 hours, parasailed off Kahaina, snorkeled off the natural island of Mahana. On the way back from our snorkeling trip, we met a family of dophins and large sea turtles. We collected matching souvenir t-shirts, went searching for fresh coconut water, looking for island sushi, sashimi and poke bowls.

Island Food Truck Breakfast!
001.JPG
Parasailing off Lahaina

Shania marveled at Jeeps on the resout; so I surprised her with a jeep rental for a day, which she kept hugging; later, we took the treacherously winding northern track of the island which becomes a one-way road for about 20 miles – which means at times you have to back up for the incoming traffic to pass – while looking down at scary elevations at the same time! Shania said this was one of the scariest “roller coaster” rides she had ever taken. On this journey, we stopped and checked out waterfalls, bamboo forests, local artists galleries and amazingly spectacular vista, complete with ocean blow-outs, rocks, flowers the crashing waves.

Shania hugging our Jeep Wrangler for the day!
Fake Shark Photo!

Towards the end of this day, Shania told me that Maui would definitely be a choice for her honeymoon one day!

On the sixth day of our trip, as were ordering breakfast at the Kihei Café and someone mentioned a Category 5 hurricane with over 150 miles/hour wind barreling towards us and would arrive in two days. Anxiously, I called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get out of the island so that we don’t get stranded. Everything was booked solid and we had no practical way out.

Over the next two days the forecast for the storm fluctuated from “nothing” to “devastating.” Shania looked at me to see if I was worried or anxious. We discussed what are possible outcomes of the storm. What’s the worst that could happen – that we get stuck here for a couple of extra days – is it all the bad? We were in a safe hotel, with built-in power generators, ocean front views from our balcony, of a once in a 20 year event, on Paradise.

I guess it’s worth learning that happiness may have a darker side!

Over the next 48 hours, the storm did brace the neighboring Big Island with ferocious winds – however, left Maui – specially Wailea – untouched. We got some rain – but not even the monsoons of Florida – just a continuous drizzle for about an hour at time. We took long walks by the ocean every day, dined at the neighboring  restaurants, spent quite a bit of time at the pool, watched Netflix and took long naps! Our original flight back home was canceled, and we spent an extra night at the resort and traveled back a different route. All along the way, the resort and the airline staff were impeccable and helpful in providing us information and helping calm our fears.

Today, as I look back at the pictures of those 9 amazing days, I believe, we have successfully created what we set out for, complete with a (unplanned) storm surge and canceled flights. We have experienced joy, anxiety, adventure, confusion, and a little bit of discomfort – the microcosmic cycle of life – all in one big gulp.

Upon seeing our social media posts, a friend sent  a note saying that I am spoiling the girls and that no man will meet up to the standards that I am setting for them! My response: by setting out on vacations, I am just teaching them that happiness doesn’t come from anyone but from within yourself! We are creating memories of happiness that can be easily co-created, if you set a goal and put your energy behind it!

Another Magical Sunset!

Since I have no confidence in after-life, the concept of Paradise is at best nebulous, in my psyche. Hence, an extra day of Paradise, complete with confusing weather patterns, strong coffee, a warm pool, Netflix, and gourmet Asian style is something I am accepting as a gift!

Driving down the Haleakala Volcano and experiencing 7 micro climates in 3 hours!

I Like Where I am : February 2018

Last week, preparing for a routine colonoscopy (one of those uncomfortable things one has to experience after turning 50), in the early haze of mild anesthesia, my mind wanders. For a change, there is only a light angst, making me think, what will happen to my children, if something happens to my physical self.

The curse of a single parent, with no “back-up” parents, is that you worry incessantly, in your hypothetical absence, what will happen to your minor children. You understand that one is constantly vulnerable to changes in health or external circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you stop worrying. You buy extra life-insurance, you draw up a detailed estate plan, you have conversations with your loved ones, asking them if they will look after your children, and provide them with guidance. But there is always this lingering concern, at the back of your mind.

Moments before my last such hallucinogenic state, I remember wondering exactly what an 8 year old Shania may have done, if I somehow managed to escape during a routine check-up.

But today, Shania is a teenager, and Daiyaan is over 22 and working, paying bills and making her way through this world.

When I observe them together, fighting, arguing, doing sisterly things together – but at night, leaning on each other, when watching their favorite TV show, somehow I accept that, they will be ok, if something happens to me. It’s not going to be easy; but it’s also not impossible. I have also collected enough “together” memories, to leave them Facebook reminders, and digital moments that will spark joy, love, excitement and other emotions, that we commingle to build a life.

With this sense of relative “relief” comes a sort of satisfaction; a deep breath.

As the fog settles, the mind explores. I start imagining, what if something unexpected does happen during routine procedure. At this point, I am looking for bright spots. I think about my smiling mother.

This is the first time, since her passing a couple of years ago, I am in this state of mild cognitive disrepair and I get into an imaginary conversation with her; joking, cajoling, asking me how I have been and how the girls are doing. She asks me what I had for breakfast and if I had brought her back some “Baklava” from the US. We play cards, she makes those facial gestures or little noises, that only she could do. My father, joins us, quietly, smiling – not saying much – thirty years of silence has made him even quieter in my sub-conscious.

This entire haze-filled imaginary interaction, somehow makes me relaxed and fills my heart with an unanticipated calm and joy. To believe that, one has loved ones, on many dimensions, and that escaping from one dimension to the other, may not be as ominous as most organized religions want you to believe.

I want to live forever in my current dimension, no question. But I am also neither concerned, nor sad, about going to the other dimension(s), when that inevitability arrives. A sense of relief, and calm settles in and I float along.

The nurse asks me how I am feeling and if I am ready to put my clothes back on. Outside, in the waiting room, my guardian, Daiyaan awaits to take me home. She flew from Florida to Boston last night to accompany me back from the hospital to home. We discuss lunch, what I want to eat, and the rest of the day. For this day, our roles have reversed and she has become my parent.

On a cold, wintry day, I roll down the car window and let the happy fog of anesthesia slip out, as I take a fresh breath of air. For now, I will remain in this dimension and continue collecting memories with all these amazing, loving people around me.

Today, I like where I am.

Lived, Loved…

I am looking for a third word. That word, that descriptor, that simple verb, that will encapsulate and finalize my life when I am gone.  It’s as if, at my life celebration, there will be three words that may emblazon cocktail napkins; will be part of the vocabulary that people will use that late afternoon. I know the first two words: 

Lived, Loved, …… 



What’s the third word? Adventured… Dreamt… Climbed? 



None of these truly captures the essence of everything I believe in, or want to be remembered by. 

My goal is to not leave any debris behind, when I leave. But, if I were to have an epitaph somewhere, or a brick that had my name on it at a school park, what three words would I like to be remembered by? Drank wine (too many words)? Boated? Maybe it’s Devoured?  

At the beautiful ripe age of fifty, why am I thinking of an epitaph. It’s not that I have a death wish, or have recently diagnosed a debilitating disease.  

I am at a good place where, whether its one day or another seven seven thousand days (~20 years), I want to look back and say I did these three things well and those are the best descriptors of my short time on earth.

 
I believe that what we say, think or write down, ultimately has a higher likelihood of happening. Hence, I must choose carefully and select that third word that will determine my destiny for the rest of my days. 

I believe that words are everything. 

Words are powerful. What you say, is critical and important. 

 Words can start or break relationships or wars; words can also soothe your soul and change a persons life. I have been told that words of affirmation have helped people think of their careers; in one instance, a young project manager at a place I worked, came in and resigned because he had read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I had given to him as a holiday gift, where Coelho talks about being a Shepard or a Baker. At his exit interview, he told me he didn’t want to be the baker, or in his case, a project manager – he wanted to be the Shepard, and fly jets around the world. He went on to become a pilot.

 Hence, one of the first thing I teach my children, and at work, that we must choose our words carefully. Be selective. When it comes to verbalizing our thoughts, almost always… Less is More. 

In today’s environment, where blustering twitter feeds, insults and promulgations, some of our ephemeral leaders are bombastic and freely throwing words around, that mean nothing; they command attention for thirty seconds, and somehow take up empty space, like that extra sweater in your closet that you haven’t worn for years.

In this verbose environment, words are even more important and require even more careful introspection. Words cannot be just thrown out and expected to be forgotten. In the world of ether, whether it’s a hurtful text, or a drunken insult, it’s out there, forever.  

I would love to have the word Inspired. But that sounds self-promoting; I wouldn’t mind, Laughed. I could live (or in this case, die with that!).  Friends have suggested Cared ! I love it. 

Have you thought about your 3 words? 

I am open to suggestions.  

Magic School Bus and Convertible Dreams: May 2017

As a young boy in Joypahar, I had two very special dreams; ride a yellow bus to school, and own a “Noddy” car.

I am certain, both dreams were connected with seeking some form of independence of being my own person and being on my own.

In the early 70s Bangladesh,  yellow school bus service was not available; once, in the United States, I did ride a school bus and found it to be a jarring experience; uncomfortable seats and bullying kids were much more than any form of independence than I had bargained.

(The Classic Noddy Car: Enid Blyton Series)

The Noddy Car dream is more obvious. He was my favorite childhood character idol, who did good deeds and saved the world. Just after turning 40, I did buy a convertible, that looked very much like an adult version of the Noddy open hood car. And I loved every moment of owning and driving my Noddy Car around.

Consciously or not, we are shaped by our dreams, going new places, accomplishing things, and eventually, becoming who we are.

Dreams don’t have to be spectacular, world-changing or expensive, they just have to be dreams; something you desire, or think is worthy of pursuit.

I watch friends climb the K2 or run marathons, start businesses or bands, buy island properties, give all their best to a cause they believe in; all of this, pursuing a passion, changing the world or not.

Not all dreams are perfect, nor do they need to come true.

At a very young age, I dreamed of being like my Dad; wanted to wear a tie, and a suit to go to work – and to cocktail parties in the evenings. I did accomplish that dream – but soon thereafter, found ties and dress shirts to be “choking”, and prefer to go to work in jeans and a polo.

After traveling the world, having three “dream jobs”, living in “dream homes”,  and owning “dream cars”, I ask someone recently, if I have the right to dream more. One may wonder, whether one has used up their dream quotient. But if one doesn’t have dreams, how do we move forward, if you have nothing that you crave for or look forward to?

Since my mother’s passing last year, I feel like I have become unanchored from my by birth land. I speak the language and look like them – but I don’t relate to the aspirations of my contemporaries. Except for a handful of childhood friends, and a few close family members, I don’t have the urge to assimilate to Dhaka. When I land back in the US and the immigration official says, “Welcome home, Mr. Mahmood” – I get chills.

Stepping into my fifties, I have started dreaming of anchoring again. Earlier, I have written about Anchoring in An Uncertain Sea. This Anchoring has a different feel to it.

Interesting, that the young boy, who once craved independence in a school bus or a convertible, now seeks his own tether.

Today, I crave that opportunity to launch a kayak for lunch towards that café down river, and to live close to loved ones, who accept me as family, and are there when dark clouds of difficulty surround me.

Being part of a bigger whole, seems to make more sense now.

(My future kayak launch: photo courtesy Toby Blades)

Recently, I have also been gifted the opportunity to write, what I want my Chapter Three to be. The children are grown up, and I am still healthy, and in an emotionally open place to carve out what I want to do for the third quarter of my life.

Some say, start your own business, or do something truly philanthropic, or get into CEO coaching (because your’e so good at it!)

I know whatever I step into, the most important thing is that, I will have fun along the way.

I thrive in collaboration, versus confrontation. I am most present, when there is creativity and “puzzle-problem-solving” involved. I have twenty-five years of experience in a variety of environments that are worth sharing to do something meaningful. I know, that new opportunity/dream will emerge when the time is right.  Dreams are neither pushed, nor pulled.

I don’t want to ride a school bus, I want to get my (mental) convertible back.

In the meantime, the kayak awaits, the water beckons; let me feel the gentle breeze on my face, the sun on my back, the sound of the water slurping all around me.

This is good, for now.

Fear in a Father-Daughter Conversation: Feb 2017

daddy-daiyaan-dinner-feb-2017
We find a great place in Delray for Dinner!

 

This is not the typical dinner conversation a father has with his twenty-one year old daughter on a Saturday evening.

Usually, when together, we talk about her friends, her classes, and her work. Within a few hours, we learn about each other’s worlds, and participate in our growth as a parent and a child. As my first born, she has taught me how to be a father. I experiment with her – bounce off politics, religion and familiar topics. Sometimes we roleplay in adversity and joy.

She knows that my optimism about America, borders on grandstanding; I have always been vocal about my aspirations about this nation. She knows, if one works hard and is willing to give our best, we can achieve everything possible, in this country.  I don’t compromise on this particular strain of feelings, and it’s been a consistent thread of our dialog, for life.

On this pleasant February evening, as the sun is setting, we walk west on the pretty bridge on Atlantic Avenue in Delray, and approach downtown, in search of a nice place for dinner.

I gently ask her if she has heard about Muhammad Ali’s son being subjected to harassment at Orlando Airport security for his last name and his religion. ” No Daddy, I haven’t heard of it”, she answers.

We go on to discuss that if she is stopped by the police, or any security personnel, how should she react. With a last name like Mahmood, this is more likely to happen now, than not. Most important is not to be surprised by the event – but rather to expect it.

If you expect the worst in life, and prepare for it, there are only two possible outcomes – either you’re prepared and deal with the calamity – or you’re pleasantly surprised (that the calamity never took place)!

I want her to be prepared; I don’t want her to be sad, confused or dismayed.  We discuss that if a cop stops and asks her whether she is legally in this country, she needs to be respectful and not get mad or respond angrily that she was born in Toledo, Ohio. We acknowledge that due process and the law-of -the land will ultimately protect her, but it could be nerve-wrecking and a complete waste of time.

We talk about the two Indian immigrants who were shot and (one) killed at a bar in Olathe, KS, this past week. She is stunned to hear the news; we discuss about being more aware, and not going out when I am visiting one of my plants in Middle America during the next few years.

The word, immigrant, has become such a flash point of discussion, in the land built by, with and for immigrants.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

When Daiyaan’s grandfather came to this country, back in the late 1950s,  foreign scholars often carried a “temporary white” card, so that,  they could ride the front of the bus, or drink from a “whites only” water fountain. That was only sixty some odd years ago. Things may not be perfect today, but they are a lot better than those times.

In my thirty plus years, I have seen tremendous progress in this nation, the attitude of it’s people and habits.

I saw Barack Obama get elected twice – never thought, a minority with a strange sounding middle name, would be elected as the leader (anywhere in the world).

However, now we know, even after all that, it’s not possible to let our guards down. We need to still teach our children to be aware, that there are people here (and many other modern industrialized places) where people judge you by the color of your skin, or what you wear, or how you speak, or what your last name is.

On this beautiful evening, it’s just sad that, instead sharing our joy and colorful experiences, I am scaring her into reality.

In her twenty-one years, I have never had to inject fear in our conversation to have her submit; it feels like one of those movie characters of the sixties, who taught their children, not to look into the eyes of the policemen, and to address them as “sir”.

I find my behavior and teaching method deplorable, shameful and very “un-American.”

But as a father, my first responsibility to her, is to teach her to survive, which requires moderation and modulation.

I am not proud of myself; just being pragmatic. I thought I was too liberal, too progressive for all this.

I never thought that I would need to speak to my children about the fear of being different.

I know this will come to an end one day. It doesn’t matter if its four years, or eight years. As a parent, however, you are often driven by a singular motive – wanting to see that your children are safe, happy and taken care of.

She calms me down gently, “Daddy, I know; don’t worry, I will be fine”.

I know you will be fine, Daiyaan. But I can’t be.

I am still mad, upset and just simply pissed. I want my America back where fear is not what I teach my children, but I teach them courage – to be the grand person they deserve to be.

daddydaiyaan-lunch-feb-2017
The conversation continues the next day

We Will Carry On: April 2016

Five years ago, I came back from an overseas work trip and found empty card-board boxes in the lobby of our beautiful South Florida home; family pictures were off the wall, things were strewn all around the place, there was disarray in my carefully manicured paradise.

In the weeks following, my life changed forever. Unbeknownst to me, I became a FAMY (Father Mummy) that week.

Shania recently taught me this new term she learned on TV: FAMY (pronounced FAH-MEE).

Fifteen birthdays, five New Year Eves, one learning to read, and one high-school graduation, one learning to drive and one learning to ride a bike, one buying a first car, first loss of front teeth and one getting her first job,  and many other “firsts” later, here we are; undeterred, unapologetic and, each of us, in our new trajectory. There is no looking back; no retrieving time with a “back” button.

Five years ago, if someone had told me that Daiyaan, at almost twenty-one, is going to school in Florida, while building her career in insurance – or that Shania, at almost eleven, is growing up to be a sparkling, amazing, foodie-movie critic-worldly-loving and compassionate child, I would have been surprised; not because, I don’t want them to be this way, but more so, because I had no idea –how to be a FAMY, what it meant and what it entails.

I also had no idea that I would be in another global business leadership role, in a major publicly traded corporation, or living a new life, in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Five years ago, I blogged about Jumping into a Meandering River, because that’s how it felt.

We started swimming in a stormy dark night with no destination in mind; I could taste the saltiness of three streams of tears, while the rain beat down on us. Fear, loss, anger and pain, commingled, all tears taste the same.

At that time, a wise friend advised me, “Remember, YOU are the pole that holds up the tent, if you fall, the whole tent collapses.” I keep thinking about that phrase, and shudder.

As a FAMY, there is really no looking back, or falling sick, or for that matter, being out of commission. The tent could fall apart. It’s a lot to digest in one sitting.

Some thirty plus years ago, on a May morning, my mother also took up a similar role. In a lot of ways, I am following in her footsteps.

When my father died, there was a discrete reason for the change, it was clean-cut. Death happens and you learn to live with that. There’s defined mourning periods for death in most world religions.

In our case, the world of mental illness is undefined, taboo, and spooky as hell. You can’t really talk about it in public. There’s shame, there’s misunderstanding and guilt. Death is explainable and you know it’s inevitable; who does one blame for mental illness?

Even in movies, they photograph mental illness with a grayish hue, a cloudy or hazy lens. They usually end the movie with someone sitting on a chair and the lens moves far away. Worldly religious books don’t provide you with guidelines on how to behave when your world is struck by mental illness.

In situations of ambiguity, you create your own rules, define that path that brings the best possible outcome you can imagine.

So we started our journey, one-step-at-a-time. Didn’t pre-plan, didn’t have time to strategize a grand outcome. One school-lunch, one parent-teacher meeting, one birthday party and one doctor’s visit at a time. Just had to get it all done.

The Three of Us together Oct 2011
Three of Us Happy in October 2011

Once I was dating someone, who asked me who was “first” in my life; my answer was simple, I am not even first in my life!

Today, looking back, so many changes and heart breaks later, I look at these two beautiful gifts in my life, and feel blessed.

We didn’t choose this life, in many ways, this life chose us.

Our lives are not perfect, neither are they festered with disaster. All we know is to make the best decision we can, with the information we have, in hand.

You do your best, every day.

If life has taught us anything over the five years, there is no single path or stream of happiness. It comes in bursts, sparkles and shows up without notice.

We have to be ready to accept happiness, embrace it.

Recently, the three of us are vacationing in Amsterdam, just after Daiyaan’s close call with a terrorist attack on the Brussels airport; Shania turns around and tells me that she wishes that she could time-travel back to my childhood and be my friend. That’s when I realize the gifts of a FAMY.

Tomorrow may not be as happy as yesterday; it may be a lot better!

 

A Special Birthday Awakening: January 26 2016

Family Photo

Today is no different for the Mahmood family from the standpoint of daily activities; wake up to my morning alarm, jump into the shower, start preparation for another day of work adventure and Shania gets ready for her school: gloves, headband, cap, Kumon envelope and her backpack with her collection of button pins.

My emotions, however, are all jumbled up today; partly sad, partly confused, partly worried and tense. It’s my 49th Birthday. It should be a special day to celebrate life.

Three reasons, this is a special birthday for me:

  • Last year of my rockin’ forties started today
  • Last time I saw my #1 role model, my dad, was exactly 49; my age as of today
  • For the first time in my 49 years, the first person I met on the first day of my life, my mom, isn’t going to call me; I won’t hear that “happy birthday baba” message or song to celebrate our mutual, life-exclamation kinda event!

Text, FaceBook and Linkedin messages started pouring in, the night before, wishing me a warm and wonderful birthday.

I am grateful that hundreds of people, from five continents, thought about me on this day. Reminded by their app or not, I think it’s a nice gesture. This is the symbolic recognition, affirmation and celebration of another milestone that I woke up on the right side of grass.

I turn my phone off and start the day.

Morning meetings later, I still don’t feel celebratory. A friend invites me to lunch and we get a chance to catch up. The sun and warmth (helped by a glass of wine) brightens up the day.

In the evening, Shania and I enjoy a nice Bangladeshi dinner (from our favorite corner restaurant in Cambridge) accompanied by a nice Malbec, and some artisan crafted salted-caramel gelato (coconut based!)

As one of my routine evening events, I sit back and watch Anderson Cooper on CNN; as I am chatting with a friend, I learn of some very sad news. A friend’s daughter, in her early twenties, is in the hospital with a very difficult illness.

Electricity jars my brain; I have been so worried about myself and all the “things” that were happening or NOT happening today. I was concerned that my 49th birthday was not super celebratory!

Drowning in my self-pity, I was completely losing sight of all the things I am celebrating and mile-posting today.

First, I won grand lottery of life on this day; born to one of the most distinguished and educated couples (of their time) in Bangladesh which set in motion, for an amazing and relatively privileged life of great education, friends, travel, love and kinship that less than 1% of the world can enjoy;

Second, two amazingly loving daughters, whose world revolves around me; yes we had a tragedy in our lives five years ago – but we have all come through – healthy, happy and most importantly, together. They are my North Star and keep me focused on what’s important;

Third, a super-smart, loving sister and her family, who support me, no-questions-asked; takes care of me every day and lets me know in her gentle way that at the end of the day, we are family;

Fourth, an awesome, ‘exclamatory’ career stretching five continents, working with super-smart people, solving awesome puzzles every day, beating the competition, kicking ass, celebrating and making life-long friends along the way;

Finally, understanding and having the ability of enjoying my sources of happiness; a boat ride on water, a good glass of wine, some culinary discovery in a town square, a good cup of gelato, a delicious book, searching for lighthouses in Cape Cod, endlessly lying on a hammock (of course with a drink and a book), singing in the shower, a gentle hug from a close friend….. sipping life, one sip at a time.

Another 49 years? Why not?

What if that’s only 1 more day? It is, what it is. I have no control over that.

I am grateful.

I am grateful for the 211 Facebook messages, 43 texts and a few dozen Linkedin greetings today. Life’s not made with numbers, it’s made with moments. And I have great moments, and great memories.

I am grateful for my 49 years and can’t wait to enjoy what’s in store next.

I missed your call today, Mummy; I know wherever you are, that smile is always with me. Papa, I haven’t seen you for 30 years; but I remember the dream xylophone you brought me on my 3rd birthday, and I know you have magical presents stashed away somewhere, like you always did! At some point, somewhere, I will see you both again and celebrate the gift of my life.

In the meantime, for a few more years, I will celebrate it with Daiyaan, Shania,  Atiya and all those that have extended their hands or their love, on this beautiful earth.

Cupcake Eating Jan 2016