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.