Getting to Know the Ones You’ve Lost

When I planned my trip to Pakistan, I fully expected to have deep conversations with a lot of my relatives. And I did. I enjoyed talking to my elders and my cousins, hearing stories, and all that good stuff. However, I didn’t expect to get to know my dad better than I ever knew him, almost a decade after he passed away.

One morning, I was sitting around and talking with my cousin Sayem and his wife Mahrukh when Sayem told me a story about my dad that I hadn’t ever heard before. My dad was over visiting them on one of his solo trips to Pakistan and when he was sitting with everyone, a feeling took hold and he said that an Urdu poem he liked came to mind. He recited the poem from memory and then at the insistence of everyone, kept on reciting Urdu poetry for a long time, only taking breaks to sip his chai.

I don’t even know what kind of expression I had on my face as my cousin was telling me this story. I mean, my dad did that? He not only sat around and recited poetry but he held a captive audience while doing so? I of course knew of his love for Urdu poetry but don’t even ask me for the name of his favorite poems or poets. That’s not anything he ever shared.

I ended up hearing more stories about my dad as the days in Pakistan went on:

-During an extensive conversation with my eldest aunt, she told me how my dad would send money every month for her to use for people and projects that she saw needed funds. I knew my dad did that but my aunt put stories to it. She told me that once, the money was used to fund a well for the school where she was a principal and that to this day, it benefits many people.

-When my mom and I met up with one of my dad’s oldest friends, I asked him about how he and my dad became friends. I heard about how he met my dad back in 1963 at his relative’s place and that the two of them got along really well right from the start, their love of similar music and books starting a friendship that lasted decades. My dad’s friend spoke of my dad with such warmth that I missed my dad so much with just his words. I can’t tell you all how grateful I am that the bond between our families still exist even though my dad is no longer around.

– One of my other cousins told me that once when she was young and being teased by our cousins (why are you all so terrible… ;), my dad told her not to worry about what the other kids said and gave her 10 rupees to help her feel better.

– Sayem Bhai also told me about a time when my dad bonded with him and his siblings over music, giving them Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson albums (obviously that was a long time ago!).

Hearing all those stories… well, I couldn’t help but think that he shared a side of his personality with others in a manner that he didn’t with me.

There was one time my dad and I had to drive to Bakersfield to see one of his friends. It’s a three hour drive from Fremont to Bakersfield so I had about six hours in the car with my dad round trip. We talked about… nothing. I’m not kidding. It’s like neither of us could think of a topic that the other would’ve wanted to talk about so we didn’t say much of anything. Looking back at that time now, I can’t believe I didn’t use that drive as an opportunity to talk to my dad. I can’t tell you how much I regret that silence.

I know it goes both ways. My dad could have been the one to start, to be the one to engage with me. But, I feel as if I should take the responsibility here. I should’ve been the one to take an interest. I never thought about the fact that there would be one day when my dad would no longer be around and that I would do anything to have a conversation with him on any topic.

In the end, there is no point hanging on to regret as I can’t undo the past. However, as it’s been been nice learning all this interesting stuff about my dad, I want to continue the journey of getting to know him better. I figure the best way to do that is to talk to more of his old friends. There are two uncles* in particular who I think can help fill the blanks – one is local and one is in England. Now excuse me as I book a ticket…

Dad Graduating
Dad Graduating

Random Side Note:
I have to admit, during the course of writing this post, I did realize that some of my interests can be traced back to my dad. My love of older films starring people like Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant come from my dad sharing movies like Roman Holiday and Charade with my siblings and me. I grew up on Bond films** and Bruce Lee movies because of my dad. As a kid, I loved Roald Dahl’s children’s books but didn’t even know about the author’s short stories until my dad told me about them and had me read them. I can’t say that I knew nothing about my dad. I just wish that I knew more because I understand now that there was so much more to him than I ever knew. Seriously, I would’ve given anything to be one of the people sitting around while my dad was reciting poetry.

*In case you aren’t part of the desi culture, “Uncle” just refers to any older dude your parents’ age, not someone you are necessarily related to :)

**Which is probably never a reason to get into a conversation about the latest Bond movies with me. I have too many opinions.

10 thoughts

  1. Salaams Bushra – I can’t remember if I knew this about you before, having lost your dad – forgive me if you had told us that, my brain is going to waste these days haha.

    This was super touching (and I got teary as I read it) – I could be biased though – I lost my dad at age 19 (he was a week short of 54), so at times, I feel similarly – the time was too short, should have talked more etc etc. I hope you aren’t too hard on yourself. Silence isn’t always bad, though I understand your feelings – so many kids don’t spend time with their parents at all before it’s too late, and I’m sure him just being with you was a comfort to him. Though it’s still bumpy between me and my mom at times, I think we can only try to soak up the time with our mom’s (or remaining parent in the other case) the rest of the way, as those of us who have lost one parent won’t take them for granted, if we did before (may Allah forgive us for that if so)

    I too was amazed to hear stories of my father after he passed – from my Amma of course, his patients’ in the immediate aftermath of his passing and of course, over time, from his silbings and my family over in Bangalore.

    Thanks so much for sharing something so close to your heart. I’m sure you’ll grow even closer to your father with these stories in the coming years. Du’as for you sis.

    I pray that Allah’s peace, forgiveness and blessings are upon his soul, his grave is spacious, full of Noor and that he is granted a high place in Jannat-ul Firdaus, where you, aunty and his loved ones will be reunited with him insha’Allah. Ameen.

    -Anees

    1. Salaam Anees, no worries about no knowing or forgetting if you knew! All good bro. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts about your dad and for the dua :)

  2. This is so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. I reconnected with my Baba 6 years ago, and there’s so much I don’t know about him, so thank you for the reminder to ask as much as possible! And the important reminder that there are some people who have the real good stories Dads don’t always share :) I hope you keep finding beautiful stories about him!

    1. Many thanks for reading Lindsay and that’s awesome that you reconnected with your father! I totally know what you’re saying, that some may not want to share – just have to convince them otherwise ;)

  3. Hello Bushra,
    Nice to read ‘Safar Nama’ of your last journey to Karachi.
    In fact, despite being far away and much younger than him, he in USA and me in Pakistan, yet I used to think him close by, always. We used to exchange letters as there was no internet/e-mail then, which I still have kept in safe custody. Sorry, I forgot to show you on your visit. He used to call me, if I delayed in writing him back.
    We had lot many things in-common, and it started off with Shafiq ur Rehman and others alike, and then the music, films and etc. I used to trust him so much that I used to share my secrets as well, I had so confidence in him and he always kept my confidence, intact, that is what friendship is.
    I remember him whenever I read or listen something that I know he would like, and that is quite frequent, and we shall still be fast friends up there, together, inshaAllah.
    And last but not the least, I will also give credit to your Mom, for taking care of him, his friends, and his likes and dislikes, very well, all his life, exactly as the Eastern wives do, please pay my best regards, to her.
    I am in Rosehill, Australia, with Saud, these days and will be back to Karachi in February, next, inshaAllah.
    Sajid Uncle

    1. Sajid Uncle! Hanging out with you and Yasmin Auntie was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Thank you so much for your stories and for being there for us! I’ll definitely pass on your regards to my mom. I hope you all are well in Australia, InshAllah :)

  4. Salaam!

    I just came across your blog and I fell in love with this post. Such a beautiful story of how you connected with your father after he passed. It makes me think of all of the stories my dad tells me now about his days in Pakistan when he was younger. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful post! I look forward to following your blog :)

    Fariha | Blog

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