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…
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.