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.

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A Father’s Day Tribute to “History Teacher” Dads

Zain and Daiyaan Daytime Red RocksShania and Dad for 1st Dance

Our Sundays are usually bright and sparkly; on a typical, school-year Sunday morning, I embark on making breakfast for my two princesses. Nutella covered Paratha and freshly sliced bananas; we discuss the upcoming week, homework, projects, field-trips and many other things about school and how we may navigate through the next week.

Later, we decide to jump into the pool and splash around together, or maybe take a walk down to the beach to play in the Atlantic! In the evening, we fire up the grill for some hamburgers and hot-dogs and enjoy it with a spectacular sunset on the balcony.This is our typical Sunday; some food, some play, some homework and a lot of relaxation – rejuvenation for another week of work/school/routine. I want to keep my eight-year old energized while enjoying our time together.

This Sunday, when a friend comes to visit, Shania seems overjoyed, almost ecstatic. I ask her why she is so happy to see my friend; her answer is quite blunt, “Dad, you’re like a history teacher, your friend is more fun to play with!”

When did I become the history teacher? I thought I was the fun Dad!
I take my daughters to their first rock concerts, I swim with Dolphins with them, we discover exotic lands, and build castles out of cardboard boxes.
Learning and maneuvering through the different challenges of parenthood, I realize, at some point, routine and familiarity does cramp one’s “style” and the day-to-day monotony sets in.

I remember my father, as a quiet, serious man; I can count, with my fingers, how many times my Dad spent time with me for the eighteen years that we lived together. I don’t remember him ever laughing out loud with us. I remember him playing cards with me, or Monopoly, or reading books. I remember playing tennis with him once. But that’s the extent of our interactions.

I don’t remember him swimming or biking with us – or taking us to the ice-cream store for spontaneous mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream. It makes me wonder whether I have become the “history teacher” because, I just don’t have a great example of a “Fun-Dad” to emulate.

Striking that delicate balance of craving to be a fun Dad (or parent), while setting boundaries or maintaining routine sanity, is one of those most difficult, yet nuanced decisions in our lives . In fact, similar to a photograph, it’s not a particular decision or snapshot – it’s a series of decisions – more like continuously playing video. Every day you adjust, focus and continue to move forward.

I have found that while most children enjoy the “fun-Dad” specter once-in-a-while; they continue to like and respect boundaries, they like some structure, as long as it’s not burdensome, illogical, irrational or suppressive. With the relentless encouragement to do their best, children seem to thrive, push our boundaries and make us better Dads (parents).

This morning, my eight-year-old Shania tells me that she doesn’t want me to prepare her morning cup of hot-chocolate anymore; she adds, “I like your hot-chocolate, but I like the way I make my own”.

It’s awesome, when children grow up and take over their own responsibilities, and from far away, we can sit back and watch them grow up – and silently reminisce (almost crave) for that last Sunday morning, when the pool water was warm – and I was the History Teacher, soaking in every drop of my summer. I know these days of being a History Teacher are limited and not going to last forever.

Suddenly, being a History Teacher, for a few more days, doesn’t seem like too bad a role!

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!