One Year out
By Mohsin Hafeez
This Father’s Day was special; it followed a string of two days of jubiliation of my younger daughter’s graduation from the University of California at Los Angeles. To see my baby (‘once a dad’s lil’ girl, always a dad’s lil girl’ is my motto) grow up to be an intelligent, and thinking young lady is of limitless joy to me, and, in a way, bears testimony to my self-perceived best way of bringing up kids, the accompanying challenges notwithstanding.
With a busted knee that I exacerbated by continuing with the wrong kind of work out for several years, and a ton to cover for my class I teach Monday evenings as an adjunct at UC Berkeley, as I found myself sipping a light Latte with my leg comfortably positioned and elevated in a ritzy Los Angeles mall while the girls went about doing what they do well, my mind went fleeting back to how this Father’s Day was also a bit hollow: the first one since I lost my dad. The last Father’s Day message I relayed to him last year was bittersweet; while it was nice to know he was with us, it was equally burdensome to think of what was in store. And the message, as it turned out, wasn’t registered well, unlike the ones from the years before where I would get calls of profuse thanks.
With such pleasant thoughts fleeting in my mind, that, ironically, have a way of bringing the melancholy ones along with them, my face lit up all of a sudden as I saw one of the apples of my eye, my older daughter who just finished her second year at Law School, emerge from the entrance of the mall with a bag in her hand. The bag carried a Father’s Day gift for me, bought with her own money from a UC Irvine Law School law clinic summer job. It was a shaving set with a pre-shaving oil tube, shaving cream, and an after-shave balm. I guess I was born in an age where one became more accustomed to slapping a couple of dime sized contraptions made of shaving gel on to the face, giving it a bit of a rub, and then shaving it off. It’s all good but it never got to move from the positive to the ‘better’ comparative, or, to the ‘best’ superlative. The one item in the set that I was really smitten by was the shaving brush, the genuine badger! That took me back to my childhood and reconnected my thoughts to my father on this Father’s Day. Papa always used a shaving brush as he considered shaving a prized morning ritual, and couldn’t come to terms to why anyone would let his beard grow longer than a day. I still remember lazing around in my parents’ bed when I was a young boy as I saw my dad’s silhouette on the wall in the powder room, enjoying the art of lathering with the brush. And there it was: The Art of Shaving, the brand name of what my daughter got me for this Father’s Day, a set of four for one great experience every day. Funny, how things always seem to go back to the basics, the traditional, without necessarily compromising the future. And to think that the youth of today would think of the conventional is that much reassuring and lends that convention an element of validity. I, as did most elders in my family, believe that the world does belong more to the children of today than it does to us. Ergo, a little lesson learned from them goes a long way in not only keeping oneself relevant but also serves as a solid bridge across that dreaded term ‘generation gap’ and thus helps improve the relationship with one’s children and makes it that much more open.
So, it’s been a year, or it was July 14 that I lost Papa. This piece is a reflection of the past year without him, his love, warmth, and his smiling face that even came through a phone conversation, or a facial concern if he smelled it and asked repeatedly if all was well. That kind of perceptive power, or parental instinct, is what I miss as I don’t like to spell adversity out.
Without sounding morbid, Wallace Stevens, a lawyer and poet in the 1914-1955 era, in his poem, ‘Sunday morning,’ refers to death as being the mother of beauty; it is certain to come, and it is this definitiveness of this grand finale that makes the living so beautiful, the perishable so valuable, and the present existence on the planet that much more divine, all because it is transitory. Papa’s life to me, as one’s parents is to anyone, I am sure, is almost immortal, but in an ethereal sense. I feel blessed having been by both my parents’ sides at their passing, and feel almost an ironic sense of relief that such moment --- where the earth seems to move from under one’s feet as one loses one’s parent --- need not be encountered again.
A year on and I am coping. I miss him but am thankful for him for his years and for his life. While I am sometimes taken over by the void, I take comfort in seeing him in a better place; while I still wake up startled at times by the very thought of his earthly absence, I feel his aura and his spirit all around; while I feel a sense of insecurity without his shadow, I console myself that he still has my back; while I miss sharing the good about me and mine with him, I know that he knows and is happy; while I long to off load my sorrows of life, I know that he knows and is empathetic and prayerful for it; while I want to make him proud of a struggle I might have just overcome, I believe he expects no less and wishes me to be festive but then move right along; while I yearn to tell him how much he means to me and how much I miss him and love him, I see him urging me to replicate so when the time comes, my girls would reminisce about me in the same vein; and, while I find it hard to not be able to see him, ever, I take solace in finding him in my heart, always!
So, as we can tell, this is not about sadness, nor is it about joy. However, it is about an acquiescence of sorts, a resignation in recognizing and acknowledging the variegated forms of obfuscation that life exists in; it is about the triumph of positivity over any eventuality, be it as unambiguous as the end of life. And while I understand why Wallace Stevens may allude to death as being the mother of beauty, I also do believe in the perpetuality of beauty and how it may, in all its manifestations, trump death! It surely has for me as I think back over the last year, and, as incongruous as it may sound, it has also given me an inducement to move on. And, with this, I would hope the preceding words would also extend some sense of peace and equanimity to those that may be similarly doleful.
(The author of this piece is an MBA and a Certified Financial Planner™, and works for a large financial services company; he also serves on the adjunct faculty of University of California, Berkeley, and Golden Gate University, San Francisco)