Yesterday, the siblings and I hosted a surprise retirement party for my mom. She retired at the end of December after 27 years as a physical therapist at O’Connor Hospital in San Jose. The party was my little sister’s idea. We all thought it definitely was a huge deal and so we really wanted to do something special for my mom.
When I was little, everything my mom did was something that I assumed was normal mom-like stuff. Besides working regularly, she cooked a lot at home and we always benefited from some amazing homemade Pakistani food. Even though I don’t really consider myself too Pakistani, I definitely have a love of the food because of how good I had it growing up and eating some awesome stuff.
Now that I’m older, I think I have a much better appreciation of how amazing my mom has been as well as understanding that the life I live right now is only because of the hardships that both she and my dad went through while they were growing up and also when they were starting their lives together.
Both my mom and dad’s families were on the India side during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. My mom told me that in the village in which they were in, they got word that everyone was going to be killed. My mom was just a baby when her parents took whatever valuables they could, put a lock on the door, and left everything else behind.
My dad’s family lived on a farm on the India side and even though I think there wasn’t anything to disrupt them of their lives, my dad’s dad wanted to go to the Pakistan side.
My mom said a lot of refugees first went to Lahore and then made their way south to Karachi since a lot of them were not welcome in Lahore, even though they were all Muslim. Most family did make their way to Karachi although I do think that I have a few relatives in Lahore that I’ve never met before. Actually, I have relatives in India as well- those that didn’t leave the farm. I’ve never met them either!
Once in Karachi, my dad and his family ended up all living in a house made of aluminum. They all lived in one room and had access to a courtyard. My dad was one of eight brothers and sisters so you can imagine how it must be to live in an aluminum room with a family of 10.
My dad used to tell us how poor he and his family were. For instance, getting an egg to eat was a HUGE DEAL. And yet, all the kids got educated (his dad made sure of it), and, Alhamdulilah, they all rose out of their poverty.
My mom’s family were able to get better digs in Karachi, as they were able to get a house made on some land by selling all of the jewelry they brought with them from India. She went to a government school (which I think is the same as public) close to home and she ended up meeting her best friend there while in the 3rd grade. They are still the bestest of buddies, which to me is pretty cool.
After graduating from college, my mom did post-graduate work to become a physical therapist. She was in one job for a couple of years and then was at the newly built Abbasi Shaheed hospital, where she and a co-director started the physical therapy department.
My dad ended up going to Cal Poly here in California for his engineering degree. After he went back to Pakistan and he and my mom got married, he wanted to move back to the States since he was having job issues over there. Funny enough, they got a green card through my mom because of the lack of physical therapists in the United States. By February 1976, they were in the U.S.
The life they began here was not easy at all.
They both went to so many places to try to find jobs as they only had 30 bucks left after getting an apartment. At one point, my mom was doing CNA-type work at a nursing home while my dad was a dishwasher at a retirement home and it wasn’t until December of that year that my dad found an engineering job in San Francisco. My mom on the other hand, had to get her license although she was able to get a physical therapy position as long as she had supervision. Over the course of a few years and 3 kids, she got through all of the exams and eventually got her license. After working at one hospital, she started working at O’Connor Hospital in 1985 and had been there ever since.
My mom and dad sacrificed quite a bit for my siblings and I to have the life that we did growing up. Listening to my mom talk about how my dad went out every day looking for jobs when they got here, well, I’m in awe. I wonder what was going through my dad’s head as he made his way to several companies, trying to get work. Even though we had moments of uncertainty over the years, like at times when my dad was laid off, I doubt it was quite like that.
I wished I talked to my dad more when he was alive about his childhood and also about his different experiences in Cal Poly and then moving permanentely to California later. We did have some conversations about what it was like and talked about a few random things that happened but looking back at that now, I know there were so many other stories to tell.
That’s why I sat down with my mom to get a better understanding of where she came from and all that she had been through. I knew some things, like when they had to leave the house in India with everything in it and it never fails to be hilarious when she says she got a degree in “zoology” (that’s a thing!), but I feel like I’ll never know enough to understand her life.
Reflecting on the way my mom grew up, how she started a new life from scratch here, raised four kids while working, how she took care of my dad when he was sick and in his final months, well, a retirement party is the least we could do for her. Remember back when there was that meme on Facebook about “25 things”? One of the points I made was: “I could never be half the person my mom is but it is definitely something to strive for.” I sometimes tend to go into the hyperbole but in this case, I am not, for that is a worthy goal for me to aim towards.
May the siblings and I always appreciate our mother and may we all in general give our parents the gratitude they deserve, InshAllah.
SIDE NOTE: I really only gave a simplified story above. There’s a lot of stuff left out, like the fact that there are people that really helped out my parents. For example, my mom’s best friend and her husband, who were already in the United States when my parents wanted to come over, sponsored my parents. If they didn’t get a sponsor, then they wouldn’t have been able to get green cards.
Also, my mom almost didn’t even try to take the exams to get her license in the United States. It was only through the urging of a college friend, who happened to relocate to California from Pakistan and had gone through all the exams, that my mom went for it.