A Father’s Presence: Approval and Affirmations; Fathers Day June 2014

I keep searching for a particular black-and-white photograph of me and my Dad. The photo was taken on my fifth or sixth birthday, at Joypahar; Dad wearing a suit and me a corduroy jacket with large golden buttons! Dad was holding my waist while sitting on an ottoman, and smiling – I was sad (because I had lost some game!).

Every time I go to Dhaka, I look for this particular picture in all our old albums.

1967 - Atiya and Zain with Dad
1967 – Atiya and Zain with Dad

After years of soul-searching, I have recognized an innate need that I have had, for almost thirty years, of seeking my father’s approval in almost all major decisions of my life.

College, Degree, First Job, Marriage, Buying a House, Raising Children, Divorce…. There hasn’t been a major decision, where I haven’t thought about how he would react to this or that.

The last decision he directly influenced, was in 1985, over a milky cup of tea, when he asked me to consider a different college major: Industrial Engineering over Economics (my favorite school topic in those days); and the decision was made.

Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic - 1985
Last Formal Mahmood Family Pic – 1985

I have noticed this same tendency, in many of my friends and family, where our father’s shadow hang over us. For son’s and daughter alike, it’s this need to seek approval of major decisions. The more silent the Dad is, I think, the need for their approval becomes stronger.

I have a friend who often tells me about his absent father – almost in antipathy towards him; but as I notice his actions, it becomes clear that his own relationships are reflections of his relationship with his dad.

Often times, without our own choosing or knowledge, we become one of our parents.

I am finally learning to acknowledge, after thirty years of his passage, however much I try, he is not there to give me that approval directly. That doesn’t mean he disapproves – he is just not capable of delivering it personally.

As a father of two daughters, I notice a similarly interesting pattern developing in my life; my nineteen-year-old texts me throughout the day and bounces ideas off me. At first I felt an urge to give my opinion on what she asks; I have learned that often she asks me test the boundaries – or to just let me know what she is thinking; she doesn’t really want me to solve her problem for her.

It’s natural to seek affirmations on the steps we take, and decisions we make. I wonder why that affirmation cannot come from within us or from the supporting environment around us.

Today, I wake up thinking about my Dad; last I saw him, he was about my (current) age; I can see his acknowledging, smiling face. I am learning that, in my heart, he is still there – as he probably will be, for the rest of my life. I can stop looking for that black-and-white picture from Joypahar.

As a father myself, I am learning that this sense of approval (or disapproval) comes with a heavy responsibility – to make sure that we nudge them, without guiding them – we help them without making them dependant on us – we love them without suffocating their own love.

Zain Shania and Daiyaan Jun 2014

On this Father’s Day, as I may take my boat out for a few more hours, with my two princesses together, when Daiyaan asks me about a Tattoo she would like to get, or Shania keeps holding on to my t-shirt when we go fast on the boat – my role is to be there – the best gift I can give them – is to be there – when they need me – without judgement, or confirmation.

A Father’s presence is his best gift.

Instruction Manuals for Children : February 7, 2013

I wonder, like new gadgets, why there aren’t instruction manuals for parents to figure out the whims and vagaries of their new-born or growing children. Originating from the same genetic pool, how two children can be so different from each other, and have completely unique personalities!

One of them may sit next to you and finish her homework five days ahead of schedule – and the other one, not want to even start her science project until the night before it is due. One maybe fascinated by pets – another, allergic to everything; one can’t wait to get on my boat and sail away for days – while the other one holds on to my t-shirt – the entire journey!

Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!
Daiyaan and Shania 5 years ago!

When my first born came to this world, I had no way to prepare myself. There were lots of What to Expect in Baby’s First Year type of books but very little practical advice about your baby’s temperament or why she wouldn’t sleep the first night she arrived home!

I had no clue how to put this baby to sleep; after a few hours of trying to sing, generating hair-dryer or vacuum cleaner sounds (these are days before the noisemaker app on your IPod) and trying multiple motions, failing to soothe the baby, finally I placed her ear on my chest and allowed her to connect with my heart beat and warmth; she was out like a light bulb! I lay there, in that same position, for hours, afraid that any movement on my part would wake my baby up.

I remember my mother always bemoaning to her friends, “Baccha Manush Kora Khub Kothin” (It’s so very tough to raise kids); I wonder why my mom would say that it’s tough to raise children during her times. In our luxurious childhood at Joypahar, we had a nanny and also had a seven other help in the house; I don’t remember my parents ever needing to coordinate a babysitter; uncles and aunts visited us frequently and we had a wonderful support system protecting us. In those pre micro-chip days, we were not exposed to the demands of video-games, Twitter, Instragram or FaceBook. I don’t remember my Dad ever have to wonder if the length of his teen-agers’s skirt is appropriate for a birthday party!

Being blessed with two beautiful daughters, I sometimes wonder, what life would be like with more children. I watch parents, and their delight, when their older children return home for the holidays. They make their children’s favorite dishes and look forward to doing those common things that they may have done together, like a round of golf – or going to the spa – or baking together, or in the case of my mother, playing Scrabble or just arguing over political views!

If I regret about my personal circumstances, it’s that we didn’t have another child, in-between my two princesses. While I am grateful for what has been gifted, It would have been fabulous to have another daughter (or son for that matter) !

It has been a pleasure watching my children grow-up and take on their own personalities. Recently, Shania, my seven-year old rolled off my grocery-list from memory!  I don’t need to write anything down any more.  When she goes for a school –entrance interview, I watch her eyes sparkling with inquisitive possibilities.

In my recent role as a single-dad, my beliefs have been re-affirmed that, children are the most important and enjoyable occurance in life – for the period that they live with us. I have learned more acutely how important is stability, re-assurance and a safe place for them, to come back to.

Shania is just as happy with a project she can complete with me – versus a super-expensive gift! Daiyaan, my seventeen-year old, just wants to share her daily experiences – without my judgment or commentary! She watches my eyebrow curve up and smiles and gets the message that that part of the information may just be just TMI (too much information)!

When I go out for the evening, I love it when my daughters approve my attire or tell me to change my shirt! I love the simple rituals we have developed; as I cook dinner, and the children are completing their homework – or when we quickly step out to the balcony to observe a spectacular sunset and wish the day goodbye.

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At night, when we read stories in bed, or say a quick prayer before closing our eyes, all of it becomes real;

It is the true joy in the discovery, of what we love about our unique and amazing children – without the instruction manuals!

Thank you God, for not sending instruction manuals with the children!

A “Bucket List” Concert at Red Rocks With One of My Favorite People in the World!

Going to a concert at Red Rocks is awesome; going to a Jason Mraz concert at Red Rocks is super – awesome! Going to a Jason Mraz Concert at Red Rocks with your seventeen year-old, who introduced you to Mraz’s music, is one of those super –awesome, bucket list moments!

It is a mild Monday evening, when Daiyaan and I walk towards the amazing Red Rocks Amphitheater.  This is our fourth concert together; but the first one away from home.

Daiyaan and Zain @ Red Rocks!

Six weeks ago, when Daiyaan told me Jason Mraz was playing at Red Rocks, I wanted to experience this amazing venue and event with her. Three years ago, my then fourteen-year old and I started sharing each other’s music as a way of connecting. One of the first songs I was introduced to was Lucky ; that Spring, I wrote my first blog 15 minutes of Freedom mentioning how I decided to buy my first convertible driving in the open, with Lucky was playing on the radio.

When I hear Jason sing Lucky at the concert, I have tears in my eyes – thinking about all that has happened in my life over these four years.  As if, through music, Daiyaan and I have traveled in some parallel universe that is somehow protected from everything else that happened in our real world.

The air gets chilly as the sun sets and the surrounding red rocks glow in the dark; a half-moon appears far away. We put our jackets on. Talking to your “almost-adult” child about the conspicuous smell of pot in the air, is always intriguing.  There is a certain air of festivity around us. The attractive blonde next to me offers me her drink!

Red Rocks: waiting for the concert to begin!

Christina Perri opens the evening with her amazing voice; when she sings, Jar of Hearts, I am overwhelmed;  the lyrics resonate with the circumstances of a particularly difficult time.  She also sings A Thousand Years and one of my favorites Arms;  It is the perfect beginning to a beautiful evening.

When Mraz walks in, to perform his hip-pop-nuevo jazzy-folksy songs, all  9000+ people stand up and enjoy the bright music and dance along. With every song, I feel, there is a story, a connection to some part of my life. There are more than 25 songs and each one gets better, acoustically, and through vibrant melody.

When I hear  the lyrics of “93 Million Miles”, it reminds me of my journey away from home:

“Oh my beautiful mother
She told me, son, in life you’re gonna go far
If you do it right, you’ll love where you are
Just know, wherever you go
You can always come home”

I dance when Mraz sings Bob Marley’s, “Don’t Worry, About a Thing “. He tells us to look at the person we came to the concert and tell them that “You are Loved” – sharing that moment with Daiyaan is priceless. When Daiyaan leans and puts her head on my shoulder, I know the joys of fatherhood.

At this moment – with rocks from maybe a million year ago surrounding me – I  think, what an amazing stage God built, for music lovers. I feel fortunate, to be here, to enjoy this, with one my favorite people in the world!

This morning, walking through the Denver Airport, Daiyaan reminisces about yesterday and thanks me for bringing her to this experience. Normally, she is happy to return home after a vacation. Today, she wishes that we had one more day in Denver. She also adds that after watching Jason Mraz live, no other music sounds real!

I know we will be back in Red Rocks. Maybe it’s not a bucket list thing; maybe it’s just a new family ritual; where we travel across the country to be where God intended music to be – and someone as beautiful and talented as Jason Mraz or Christina Perri sets the stage on fire.

Mraz finishes the concert with his amazing I Won’t Give Up; on this great night, in this great location, listening to this great song, I can only think of Daiyaan and Shania.

When I look into your eyes
It’s like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There’s so much they hold
And just like them old stars
I see that you’ve come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

Being a Dad is Tough: Reflections on Father’s Day: June 2012

This morning, my seventeen-year old informs me what she would like to do, or not do, on this Sunday, Father’s Day!

I turn around and tell her my plans for Father’s Day; I tell her that she is most welcome to join me – but it’s not mandatory. Needless to say, her plans and my plans don’t match.

There are times, when as a parent, you have to let your child know that you are willing to accept certain behaviors and not others; even if one loves a child, we cannot simply roll over when he/she wants or doesn’t want to do something. During teen-age years, as your child gets ready to step into adulthood – their responses and reactions can be specially erratic and irritating.

Being a Dad is tough.

You know you love your children more than anything in the world; you know you want them to know you love them and always want to be there for them. Through your actions, you demonstrate that you care for them and are willing to compromise with your own needs to provide them with what you believe is good for them.

Still, once in a while, you get hurt by their actions.

Since I lost my Dad at an early age, I didn’t get a chance to really ask him how difficult it was for him to accept that I didn’t get “Star” (Distinguished) marks in my Secondary School Exam  – and barely scraped by in my High School Certificate exam. I don’t remember him getting mad at me.

One evening, upon some silly disagreement over the singular music cassette player in our home, I remember, rushing out of the house and not coming back all night – but that’s the last discord with him that I remember.

My Father was not a huggy-kissy Dad; the first time he watched me debate in a national tournament, I remember he came and shook my hand and told me he thought I did the best, even though I didn’t even get an honorable mention.

Even today, after twenty-seven years, every time I think of him, my heart is soothed by his gentle, caring smile. When I close my eyes, I can see my Dad smile.

In my imagination, he tells me that he loves his grand-daughters and he doesn’t really care what I think! I continue to argue with him, that Papa, you don’t understand, I don’t want you to spoil them!

I can just see him doting on these beautiful princesses – and completely disregarding my concerns.

However frustrating that figment of imagination is – I would give up all my worldly possessions – to experience that particular moment in real life!  My Father’s Day would be so much more complete, if he was here, watching me struggling with my fatherhood angst.

Just as I get ready to go to bed tonight, I get a text from Daiyaan: “Dad, I am sorry I was being rude and selfish earlier; I will do whatever you do, or want to do, on Father’s Day. I just want to spend the day with you”. As I read the text over and over, a tear swells up in my eye and a smile covers my heart.

Daiyaan and Dad at Holiday Party Dec 2011

I close my eyes and visualize my Dad again. As if, I can see him laughing this time, telling me, “See, you have nothing to worry about!”

Thanks, Pops, for being with me. I want you here, on all my Father’s Days.

Shania and Dad June 2012

A Father’s Moment: A Daughter’s Letter on Father’s Day: June 2011

Father's Day with my three beautiful daughters!

It’s already been an amazing day. I woke up to hugs and kisses; a great brunch with amazing Eggs Benedict and my favorite roast beef, followed by a boat ride, swimming in the pool and now dinner at a famous burger joint! All with my most favorite people in the world. What an experience!

The best gift is the personal letter that my sixteen-year old gave me this morning:

Dear Daddy,

This past year has been incredibly tough, but we are getting through it all. I always knew I was Daddy’s “little girl”, but in the recent events, we have gotten much closer.

I can honestly say that if I did not have a Dad as caring and loving as you are, one that understands and only wants the best for me, I don’t know if I would have been able to get through the past 9 months.

Our retail therapy shopping is the best; our father/daughter movie/dinner dates are always fun. I love spending time with you and most of all, that we get along. Most fathers and daughters would never be able to even understand how close we are; they could never imagine having our kind of a relationship. I can’t name one friend who puts their best friend on the speaker in front of their Dad while they are fighting!

I love that you are so easy to talk to and you always understand where I am coming from. I love you Daddy, your are MY BEST FRIEND.

Happy Father’s Day

Daiyaan”

I used to always believe that Father’s/Mother’s Day are Hallmark created events that are designed for increased merchandising. I know in my heart, that partially that’s true. Every day is Mother’s or Father’s day in my universe. However, on this Sunday afternoon, I look outside at the Paradise we live in, and count the blessings in our lives.

I still cherish the gift of these beautiful children, in my life. Thank you God, for giving me the privilege to be a father and enjoying this amazing day!

Happiness in All Forms: Sweet Sixteen Years: May 19 2011

My Princess and I

When I think about the first day I met you, I still get goose bumps.

It was a bright Friday morning; I was fatigued from being up for more than twenty-four hours – in ardent anticipation of this arrival. There had been all sorts of stories told, questions unanswered – and sanity questioned: too early, too late; too young, too old; everyone had an opinion that you had chosen to make an arrival!

May 19 arrived and Dr. Gibbs told us that it was time.

Almost in a hurried silence, you arrived – and filled up the world with your music. The first time I heard your voice, I had tears in my eyes. When the doctor gave you to me first, I was shivering. How does one hold a minute old baby!

There were scurried nurses – running this test and the other. They wanted blood. To me, they were like Dracula sipping out little drops of red from my baby. I watched you throw your tiny arms up in protest on the weighing scale and just felt like touching those little fingers.

They didn’t let us take you home that first night – and we were worried. But over time, they bundled you up and I put you in a car seat in my little Corolla to bring you home to Merrimac Lane. We had assembled a white crib for you, and a play pen, a musical bouncy chair, lots of toys and an abundance of love strewn around in all the right places.

The first night you were home, you didn’t want to go to sleep. I remember holding you closely on my chest and letting you listen to my heart beat, as I lay down on the bed.  When you grew silent and fell asleep – I wanted to hear you breathe. That moment, I knew what it meant, to “jump through fire” for someone you love. I lay awake, for a long time, without moving – just so that I could hear you sleep.

Daiyaan's First Day at Home

You don’t know this – but even today, some nights, I walk into your room, just to hear the sound of your deep breath as you sleep. It gives me a great comfort that you are safe, and resting, that I cannot describe in words.

Sixteen years have gone by.  

I realize that I have not been there, every day or night of your life. I know that I didn’t know how to wrap a diaper when you were born. I didn’t know how to give a baby a bath – or how to make you stop crying when you wanted to see something/someone. All I have known is whatever hurt you, if I hold you close to my chest, you may stop crying and fall asleep.

I remember your Kindergarten graduation ceremony when you said that you wanted to bring all those people that don’t have homes – to our home. I watched you sing and dance on the stage – on several occasions. I loved your musical renditions in Bangla or English.

When we first traveled to Canada, or Bangladesh, or other exotic parts of the world, you have always been shy and conservative – but never reluctant. You’re not a connoisseur of great new foods or fruits. But in some ways it’s easier to settle on a Mickey D’s hamburger in Prague than it is to understand their cold mushroom soup.

Music has been our common bond. I have learned to love new music with you: Wiz Khalifa, Rihanna, Beyonce, Plain White Ts or Pink. I like hearing about your friends or their idiosyncrasies. In some ways, I realize that you give me a small window to your world through these conversations or music. Thank you for the latest song you posted on my wall: “Count On Me” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeIJ26h_Eug.) You know you can always count on me!

When I travel to another part of the world, whenever I see a blue dress, shirt or pair of earrings – I think about you and how much you love the color blue. I can see you swimming with the dolphins in Cancun in that azure of the Mexican Riviera.

When we are out together on the boat, I see you in a different world, when the deep blue of the ocean touches us both. Your serene eyes give me a glimpse of a world that I may never fully understand.

You have grown into a beautiful young woman. Almond eyes, coffee complexion, sharp features. Some say that you look like a model. I refuse to hear that. To me, you’re that little girl that runs to me, as I enter our home from the garage on Rustic Redwood Way. You have always filled my world with joy that I never knew existed.

Thank you for a being a great daughter for sixteen years! And I look forward to (at least) the next ninety-six years, of this unadulterated happiness!