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

Unicorns, Stars and Stripes: Recovering From the Shock of November 9 2016

unicorn-flag

About ten days ago, on the eve of US Elections, I went to bed with severe anxiety.

I had lots going through my mind; will the economy collapse, like it did in 2002 and 2007/8 and will I have to lay people off – or conversely, get laid-off myself; will marriage equality be reversed and I won’t be able to get married next year; will my daughter’s rights to choose, in their reproductive years, be snatched away by a lopsided supreme court; will there be public humiliation of my Muslim friends or family in the hands of a McCarthy style tribunal in days to come; how will they treat me – since I carry a Muslim name – but now an atheist, cohabitating with another atheist, and raising two daughters with no religious preference.

All of these heady, very personal thoughts coagulated into bizarre, dystopian dreams and a sleepless night. I woke up with a headache the next morning. My eleven-year old daughter, who had gone to bed at 8 pm last night, woke up confused and asked me, “Daddy, is it true – Hillary lost? What happened? ”

We hugged for a few minutes. The first thing I told her, “it’s going to be ok, baby. We are going to be ok. America is a great country. I have experienced America for 31 year and I know what it’s made of” Even as my heart was heavy with uncertainty, I was doing my fatherly thing, re-assuring her that life is not about to change dramatically.

I went to work like a mechanical drone, back-to-back meetings, and flew to Los Angeles that night for work. For about 7 days, I couldn’t bring myself to watch my comfortable NBC news with Lester Holt.  I felt the mourning of liberal friends on social media – it was a similar howling I had once before, from my family, on the day of my fathers death – somewhat bizarre, yet excruciating in expression. They needed to get their feelings out in the open.

The weekend after the elections, my sister came to visit from Canada, and it was easy to forget everything by wandering around beautiful Boston; she was also shocked. We tried to keep our political discourse to a minimum, and tried to take in the sunshine and fall colors surrounding us.

All throughout the week, I kept racking my brain to think, how could I be so way off in my projections – how did I completely misunderstand the American “way of thinking.”

During the Gore vs. Bush or Kerry vs. Bush elections, there were clear signs; I was actually very doubtful that a biracial man with a Muslim name would ever be President of the United States. But this time, I felt a level of certainty, that I had never felt before.

Early in my life, I lived 15 years in the rural hinterlands of Missouri, the Industrial rustbelt of Ohio, farmlands of Wisconsin and western hills of the mining country of Pennsylvania. I distinctly remember, how I always felt like an outsider there; I could feel people stare at us, as soon as we entered a restaurant – or some folks just moved a few feet away, as you walked by, at the grocery store.

It was only after I moved to Denver, and in Florida, that I felt as if I belonged there. A short tenure in Texas reminded me of the Midwest again – but then I quickly escaped to Massachusetts – the bluest of the blue states!

And of course, there were the 8 years of Obama, the unimaginable passage of Marriage Equality, the possibility of tilting of the Supreme Court.

Altogether, time and space has played a trick on my mind!

I had started to believe in this utopian fantasy of equality and morality. I felt, as if in my lifetime, I would see the transformation of America into an imaginary land of equity and equality.

While things have dramatically improved over thirty years and America, since last week, I have come to accept that there is still ways to go. The better way to think, there will always be the opportunity to improve here.

People may say it’s economic anxiety of the working class poor that drove our election results. But it’s not JUST economics. It’s definitely not one-dimensional. There is race, there is bigotry, there is misogyny, there is homophobia. It’s all kind of mixed together. In a lot of ways, it’s Malcom Gladwells Revisionist History: we voted for a black man twice, we have done our share. It’s time to swing the pendulum back for a while.

As I speak to Shania and Daiyaan today, I remind them of a day in Missouri, thirty years ago a particular landlord told me on the phone, that they didn’t have rentals available – but asked my friend with an American name/accent to come look at an open unit on the same day. I also remind them that when their grandfather, an International scholar, had a “temporary white” card so he could sit in the front of a bus, or drink from “white only” water fountains. That was only sixty years ago.

America has made tremendous progress. But everything is still not yet equal here.

I also remind my daughters, that I have traveled six continents and there is no other place on earth, where liberty and equality is respected more. Period.

America may not be perfect – but it’s better than any other place on earth.

America will always be a work-in-progress.

Thirty years from now, we will see and experience things, that we can’t imagine today. I am more confident of America than ever before.

We may have to put up with some theatrics and melodrama for 4 to 8 years. But if the government over arches and tries to scale back social progress, I know that there will be significant pushback from those 61 million voters who didn’t vote for that level of social change.

In eight years,  Shania will be ready to cast her first vote; the latest, on that day,  there will be another opportunity to swing the pendulum back. She will have that choice. And I expect to be there, to help her make that decision.

In the meantime, we need to remain engaged. When behaviors make us cringe, we need to speak up. When our civil and human rights are questioned or threatened, we need to understand and claim them back.

America is a continuum. A beautiful continuum where we have a lot to add

Thirty Years to Lose A Homeland : September 2015

The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan
The Crooked Roadsign of Gulshan

I walk the side streets of a prestigious Dhaka neighborhood; large quixotic holes, stoundingly high speed-bumps and crooked road-signs litter most streets. Everything seems crumbling, misapplied, and fractured – as if someone just haphazardly shoved a bunch of dirty clothes in their closet.

There is garbage and the smell of feces everywhere. People navigate this squalor and walk-around to get to their destination, as if nothing bothers them; this filth and stench, is a normal part of their lives. Drop an hour of monsoon rains, and these same streets become a combined sewer cesspool.

The roads here are so congested that it takes over two hours to go eight miles during regular business hours. Dinner parties start around 10 pm just to accommodate the traffic fiasco.

This is the same city I was born in. From the look and feel of it, it’s hard to understand why and how one would deliberately choose to live in a city like this.

I meet several groups of friends and family during my short stays; everyone acknowledges the development in the country during the last 3 decades; however, I don’t hear a single one taking a “stay-cation” in Dhaka. They can’t wait to escape to Bangkok, Singapore, Colombo or some Exotic European city for “a breather”, as they put it. Hope for improving Dhaka, as a livable city, seems to have completely gone out of the window.

Paradoxically, property values have climbed so high that sometimes a small apartment here costs more than that of Chicago, or even some areas of New York City.

I realize, I am frustrated, upset and anxious.

The last 9 months, I have been traveling back and forth to Dhaka to visit my convalescing mother from a debilitating illness. From the moment, I land at the cramped and moldy 80s style airport with a really long name, I am not myself.

I try to cheer-up her caregivers, work with the team of people, who help orchestrate the necessary infrastructure to provide care and comfort to my ailing mom.

And then, I swiftly run back to my home in the United States.

Because, I just cannot breathe here.

As if, just like my ailing mom, I am slowly, but painfully losing my city of birth.

Nothing appears the same here as I knew it. My close friends have all migrated to Europe, Australia or North America. There a couple who chose to stay, express their remorse and regret staying back.They are now in a hurry to make accommodations for their children somewhere.

The house where my parents lived has been replaced by a 11 story unremarkable, concrete monolith.

I don’t recognize my home, I don’t recognize these people, nor it’s filth, squalor or just abstract randomness.

Definition of home always includes a safe place, a warm place, filled with peace and love.

I feel no peace in this city.

Once my Mom passes, the biggest portion of that love that I have felt here, will also disappear. I can feel it’s imminence creep on my back, like one of those spiders.

It has taken me thirty years to lose my homeland.

Or maybe, just maybe, my homeland has lost me.

Rainbow Days and Sparkling Green Bows

Shania’s Sparkling Green Bow

There’s a sparkling green bow hair-clip on my kitchen counter-top; silently, it reminds of the day Shania and I found it in a boutique at Coco-Walk in Miami. I remember, Shania quickly put it on her hair and did a twirl !

Every time Shania is gone for a few days, I see this green sparkly bow, or her little flowery slippers, the stuffed toys on my bed, or her plastic juice glasses, that remind me of her big, beautiful smile – and her all-encompassing hug.

Next year, my seventeen-year old, Daiyaan, is likely to head off to college. While preparing for this inevitability, I cannot imagine when Shania (7) will move away from home!

Several of my friends have recently started experiencing their children leaving homes and heading off to college. This “withdrawal”, when a child is not physically present in your home any more, is a tough physical and mental experience to deal with, wherever you may be located.

Sometimes, I wonder how my mother dealt with this emptiness, the day I left home. With extended family and friends surrounding her, I wonder, if it was any easier or more difficult to cope with.

Last weekend, I talked to my sister, whose only child left for college recently, creating an empty-nest for them. She described how, the large glasses he drank milk from, sit on the shelves unused, and how the dinner that’s saved for him, goes un-eaten and thrown away. There’s no longer a reason to rush back home in the evening – or a need to check-in and see how the day was, with a third person in the house.

First generation immigrants, sometimes, have a slightly varied perspective when a child leaves their home, to build her own life; often, they view their children as manifestation of all their hopes and as a fruit of all of their immigration “struggles.”

The complicated nature of immigration, makes it difficult to question the fairness of this burden on our children. However, I know many, in our minds, feel a special link with our children who were not born in the same land as we were. There is an expectation that, by osmosis, these children understand our struggle and often, the culture or religion we left behind.

Even if our children are completely “westernized”, they empathize with our habits of drinking milky-sugary tea in the morning; or often converse with us in their accented version of our native language. Somehow, they “get us”; they tolerate our listening to high-pitched music in the car; when we pray in one direction or another – sometimes, they take part with us, or at least don’t look at us with complete incredulity.

As if, they are our bridge to this new land, and a bridge to all our future aspirations.

When this “bridge” moves away, there maybe an emptiness in our lives that’s not easily explainable.

I know families, when their children moved away to build their lives, eventually, the parents followed them to far flung places. In some ways, their immigration continued, from little towns of Nebraska or New Mexico where they started their journey, to some new destination like New York or Nevada.

Jhumpa Lahiri captured this nuanced expectation on immigrant’s children in her masterpiece The Namesake.

On this Saturday morning, I await Shania to wake up from her sleep and snuggle with me for a few more minutes and watch cartoons together. While Daiyaan may leave next year, creating her own vacuum, for a few more years, I want to continue to build memories with my other “bridge”.  We will go to some new store, where we will buy our sparkly hair clips, enjoy a DreamWorks movie, or simply admire a beautiful rainbow together, after the rain.

Shania with her Green Sparkling Bow!

Memory of Home – Craving For A Place to Belong: From Merrimac to Marina Drive

Daiyaan sends a short text, “Daddy, I don’t want to come home because it hurts me too much, that we are selling the house.”

I take a deep breath and sit back; when I moved into this home, I imagined retiring from this place,  imagined Daiyaan’s wedding on the small patch of grass by our backyard; I had believed this as my final destination. In the next six weeks, we will be moving to a new place to live – smaller, more manageable for my new life.

I was in the pool last night– staring at the banana and coconut trees, listening to my favorite tunes – soaking in the happiness this home has given me.

A home has a lot of meaning; a lot of connections. When people move to new homes, sometimes they try to hold on, to their past, that has become the fabric of their souls. I have written in the past about Anchoring in an Uncertain Sea; as first generation immigrants, the concept of “anchoring” has a very special meaning, for many of us.

In my 45 years, this is the first home I have lived 5 years in one home; the first eighteen years of my life, with my parents in Bangladesh, we moved 6 times. In the last 18 years of family life, I have moved in-and-out of new homes, 7 times.

I bought my first home on Merrimac Road with a singular goal; to demonstrate to my family that I had finally attained “stability”:  I had a job, and I was pursuing the American dream. The small three bedroom home, without central air and only one bathroom, is where I moved into with my unstable sofa and a single mattress. The night before I signed the bank papers, my mother, coincidentally was visiting me in Toledo and complained incessantly about why I had to take on such a big “responsibility”.

Daiyaan and I at our first home on Merrimac Lane in Toledo, OH – Spring 1996

I started my career and family from Merrimac road;  I met my future wife and made her a cup of International Coffee one evening, the first time we met. I got married and brought her home here; we bought our first new car, a dark blue Toyota Corolla.  Our first child, Daiyaan came home and slept on my chest, the first night of my transition to fatherhood on a warm summer evening. There was a beautiful Dogwood tree on the front yard, which was in full bloom when Daiyaan arrived.

Daiyaan and I at our 2nd home in Perrysburg, Ohio Summer 1997

After 4 years of Merrimac Road, right around Daiyaan’s first birthday, we moved to our first custom-built home in Perrysburg, Ohio.  Since then, we have never stayed at a house very long. Fifteen years later, I arrived in South Florida; in between, we bought and sold, four other homes in far away places like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

The first time I stepped into our new home on Marina Drive, I felt at peace; I believed,  I would retire and live in this home forever. Shania learned to swim, read and carve a pumpkin, at this home.

Shania carves her first pumpkin at our home!

Daiyaan finished middle school here. We went away to Spain, Australia, Morocco and many other places from this home. But every time we went away, I  felt that I could come back to this blue-green home, where I felt safe – I felt that my soul had a place to rest. The little patch of grass in the backyard, surrounded by coconut trees is where my imaginary hammock rests.

Daiyaan, Shania and I when we first came to our “blue green house” at Marina Drive 2007

Heartbreak, success, anger, celebration, pain, glory and variety other emotions are commingled in this space which has provided with shelter and continuity during a very tranquil and subsequently, a very difficult “turning-point” in my life.

When I sit outside on the patio, listening to the sound of our inter-coastal waters, I  feel peace; I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to have this as my home for this period in my life.

With my uncertain, anxious heart, I send a text back to my daughter, “Baba,  A house is just a box – it’s where people live – the people are more important than the box”.  

I know by consoling her, I am consoling myself as I start the search for the next stage of my life.

Our backyard in Lighthouse Point Summer 2011