The best way out is always through.
A boy always grows up believing that his father is nothing short of Superman. That’s how I always saw my dad. That’s how I still see him. As I’ve grown older, though, the reasons why he remains my hero have changed. As a kid, I associated heroism with a bulletproof quality. A hero has supreme confidence and is impervious to any and all harm. He is courageous, unfaltering, and has no weaknesses. My father was a real hulk of a man in his day. His commanding voice only further emphasized the daring bravado of his speech. He was an intimidating figure and I remember how his presence seemed to demand respect. He was a sturdy, muscular man with great hair and a wealth of talents. His hands were as adept at fixing just about anything as they were at expertly playing the tabla. My father was a man’s man.
As I reached adolescence, I began to see that my father wasn’t as bulletproof as I had envisioned as a child. He wasn’t the fabled perfect character I had associated him with. I think everyone goes through that sort of experience with their parents. We all come to a shocking realization that our parents are human too – with all their flaws and insecurities. Both my parents made their own fair share of mistakes and regrets. However, it never diminished them in my eyes. To the contrary, it made me appreciate them even more.
One of the earliest and most powerful memories I have of seeing my father in a different light was when my grandmother left our home. My paternal grandmother, Daadi Amma, had lived with us for my entire life. My father is the youngest of eight children and Daadi Amma spent most of the final years of her life with our family in order to pass on as much as she could to her youngest child. As a result, I grew up very attached to her. I still think about her all the time. I miss her infectious smile and laughter. I miss the way she smelled. I miss holding her hands. I miss the love and compassion she had for me. She was the only one who made God and religion easy and beautiful to me as a child. I remember sitting in my room memorizing verses from the Qur’an just so I could recite them back to her in order to earn her praise. I’ve never experienced a love more pure. When I was 11, Daadi Amma left our home to live in Mississauga with my eldest uncle. I didn’t know at the time, but she had grown very weak and was visibly nearing the end of her life. Our home was a difficult place and she spent much of her time home alone. It was better for her to go live with my uncle, where she could better receive the attention and amenities she needed until she passed. I remember the day she left.
She waved as she sat in my cousin’s van taking her away. We all stood outside on my front lawn, seeing her off. At some point, my father wandered off into the backyard. After the car left, I walked over to look for him. I saw him leaning desperately against the grand oak tree in our backyard, sobbing uncontrollably. They were tears that I had never seen my father shed. They were the kind of tears that spread like a contagion to anyone with an iota of empathy. I had always known him to be a steely, self-reliant man but in that instance, I realized he was much more than a naïve trope. He was a thinking, feeling human being. He experienced joy, sorrow, anger, fear, frustration, and love. My father, even with all his strength and swagger, was still a devoted son, father, husband, friend, and brother. He could weep and he would be no less of a man for it.
I don’t want to exclude my mother from this either, though. It’s taken a longer time for me to recognize and appreciate the heroism of my mother. Today, she stands as the single greatest example of strength and resilience in my life. If I have even a morsel of the courage and resolve that my mother has, I’m undoubtedly blessed. It’s so easy to take for granted the sacrifices our mothers make. They do so much and ask for so little in return that in our selfish delusions, we risk reducing them to background noise instead of recognizing their righteous place as the pivotal melodies of our lives. I remember the day that God sent me my wake-up call.
I dropped my mother off at the hospital that day so she could go in for some follow up tests. My mother has always been the rambunctious type, but there was a stillness in her voice and eyes that I had never seen before. As emotional of a woman as my mother is, it was unsettling to see what I saw in her that day: paralyzing fear. My mother deals with an incredible amount of anxiety, but the worry in her heart that day was enough to put the fear of God in me. Her doctor had inkling suspicions of cancer, but it was all very preliminary. It was still enough to throw my mother into a disquietude that ensnared my entire family in a cavern of distress. When I drove home that day, I couldn’t stop crying. The fountain of tears made it impossible to see the road. It was as if I had been caught in a vicious rainstorm. I had to pull over to the side of the road and calm down before I could safely finish the drive. For all the battles my mother had faced and emerged from, this was the most frightening. I still think about the terror in her eyes that day. As resilient and enduring as my mother is, that stillness of spirit was something I had never imagined. She stood face-to-face with the deepest of fears. And she persevered.
The humanity of my parents has set the standard for what strength and resolve mean to me. That they can endure so much and remain hopeful is proof of their heroism. As I look back at my childhood notions of heroism, I can understand how the idea of invincibility gave me comfort. However, as I continue to bear failure, heartbreak, fear, and disappointment in adulthood – resilient humanity becomes a more consoling idea. A hero is a provider of hope, integrity, and will. They are an example of a strength that goes beyond impenetrability. They bear great pains and emotional tests and continue to emerge in hopes of a brighter tomorrow. They remind us that we all are stronger than we know. It’s heartening to know that I needn’t drown in all of these tears I shed tonight.