When I was just a few days old, you carried me in your arms on a long flight back home. You kept your arms extended, so I could sleep in peace while you watched me and others watched you. To this day, I sleep peacefully like a baby.
When I was four, my little sister was born. What sad news, people said. They wished it had been a boy. You celebrated with joy instead and sent sweets to all your neighbors. It was one of the best days of your life.
In a place where people don’t care much for daughters, you raised us three girls like we were your boys. Sometimes, I felt bad for Imran. Others cared so much more for their boys. In our house, there was never a difference.
You raised us as one family teaching us to be we. Sometimes, I would come crying to you and say that Hina took my toy. You would gently reply and say, there is no my in this family. What is yours is hers and it’s all ours.
You also taught me discipline and taught me to be humble. Some nights, you would just eat an onion with bread and be content with your meal. I thought that was gross and didn’t even like vegetables. But if I didn’t finish my food, it was right there the next day. I hated it so much but now I understand.
I was growing up so fast and wanted to do things my way. I would wear jeans and skirts and people would wonder why you gave me so much freedom. You didn’t care much about these things and let people say what they would. It mattered only that I studied and did good in school.
You sent me off to boarding school at the young age of 13. For a girl in Pakistan, it’s not common to leave the nest like this. I would visit you at home and in the hot summer evenings, we would dream of possibilities. You would talk about America and how one day we will go. And I saw a man with a dream for his family and better days to come.
One day I remember well is when dada jee passed away. I was only 7 or 8 and knew that it was a sad day. You had been a good son taking care of him all those years. Everyone was crying and you, not a tear. You stood calm and collected and fed us at night. I could not understand. Why doesn’t my father cry?
Many years later, I saw you cry for the first time. It was Hina’s wedding. You hugged her as she was leaving and tears filled your eyes. That’s how much you love us, I finally realized.
Back to the teenage years, we went to eat out one night. All the workers looked my age except they were boys. I asked you if one day I could work too. You said yes my dear but only after we move. At age 16, we had finally moved.
You got us all together and said a few words. I can’t do it all and support us how I did. In this country, we have to support each other. And now that we are here, I want you to adapt. Every culture has good and bad and it’s up to you to pick the good. But do in Rome as Romans do.
Saying this is easy but practicing it is hard. You meant and lived every word you said and gave us the freedom to figure it out.
At 18, I had just graduated high school and heard back from three schools. All of them rejected me. I was such a good student, how could that be! That night, I cried in your lap for what felt like hours. You held me and said God has something better in mind for me. Three days later, I heard from Berkeley.
At 21, I remember well when Hina decided to get married. Like a good Pakistani girl, she came to you for permission. You did what you always do and told her the pros and cons. But she had to make her own decision and know that you would support her, no matter what.
It took me so many years to realize how special the way you raised us. Today at 30, I want to tell you what a great man you are.
I love you, dad.