11 Memories of My Late Father

The death certificate says my dad’s date of death is February 4 because the paramedics declared him deceased after midnight, but when my brother found him unresponsive and hollered for my mum and me to come, it was still February 3. Since we know now that he was gone when my brother found him, the Khans observe February 3 as the day the Khan Family patriarch passed away.

That means that today is the 11th anniversary of his passing, and though my dad’s death anniversary is a neutral day for me now, I do have a lot of feelings floating around that need to be let out constructively. But, I want it to be clear that today is more of a neutral day, and I mostly just wanted to share with you all that I had a dad and he died when I was 19 and I miss him.

So, here are 11 of my favourite memories of my father:


·         When we lived in Karachi, we eventually lived in the same building as my maternal grandmother (who still lives in that same apartment, actually), and there was a little playground with a swing set and slide downstairs that my dad would take me to play on. Except eventually I wouldn’t so much play on the playground as walk around collecting pebbles and stones I thought were special and handing them to my dad to hold for me while I looked for more. My dad would patiently follow me around and carry my rocks in his pockets and when I was finished and we were ready to go home, he would empty out the rocks because I had long forgotten about them by then.

·         My kid brother is three years younger than I am and when my mum was in hospital after giving birth to him, I stayed with my grandmother while my dad was visiting with her. When he was home, I would sleep in my parents’ bed with him and one time my dad heard a little “Thump!” in the middle of the night that woke him. He looked around and found I was missing and upon a little more investigation found that I had fallen off the bed and promptly fallen asleep on the floor. Instead of putting me back in bed (to my mother’s chagrin when she later heard about it), he just let me sleep on the floor since I seemed so comfortable anyway.

·         Every night when my dad came home from work, he would bring me and my brother a little treat. Usually it was a candy bar, but sometimes it was a toy. More often than not it was a Kinder Surprise egg (two in one!) and those were our favourite. To this day, I look at Kinder eggs and think fondly of my dad.

·         In university, I submitted a couple of stories to a new literary magazine that had been started and they both got accepted but in order to fairly represent everyone, only one of the stories (which were submitted anonymously to avoid bias) was picked to actually be published. My dad was overjoyed and loved both the stories—both were flash fiction; one was about a serene fantasy from which the narrator wakes, and the other was about a lost love that my melodramatic 17-year-old self wrote about a crush. Much to my embarrassment, Daddy went around praising the stories, gushing about them to my mum and brother and insisting they read them too. He was fully more excited about my being published than I was and it was embarrassing, but in retrospect, I miss it.

·         My dad loved books and loved collecting them, and he had collected a bunchthat he bought from used bookstores in Karachi, Perugia, London, and other cities he’d visited. He had a bunch of dictionaries as well, of course, and one such was a German and English dictionary that was palm-sized. I was enamoured with that book solely because it was so small and I thought it was adorable. For his birthday, I would wrap that little dictionary up and gift it to him; he would unwrap it, feign surprise, and settle it back onto his bookshelf. He did this patiently for years as I regifted the same little book to him because I liked how small it was (and that it was small enough for me to wrap nicely).

·         After we went to bed, my dad would often stay up watching TV. He’d watch TV shows (Law and Order was a favourite of his, in case you ever doubted that I was my father’s daughter) and even movies that happened to be on, regardless of whether he’d seen them before. One night, I woke up to go to the bathroom and heard him laughing while watching something, so I went to investigate. The Party was on TV and he was watching it and laughing. It was the scene when Peter Sellers is feeding the parrot, and his stereotypically cliché accent saying “Hullo birdie” and “Birdie num-num” had me in stitches. Usually Daddy would tell me to go back to bed, but this time he let me watch, and from then on “Birdie num-num” became a silly inside joke for us. We would say it to each other the exaggerated accent and then laugh. To this day, every time I watch The Party, I think of my dad fondly.

·         Both my parents have been voracious readers all their lives. My dad and I have similar taste in books, so every time I discovered a new author, I wasn’t surprised to find a number of their books on Daddy’s shelf. That was until I was in university and discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I read Breakfast of Champions and loved the hell out of it and was more than surprised when I learned that Daddy had someone gone half a century without reading Vonnegut. So, I insisted he read Breakfast of Champions, which he did and ended up loving as well. He then wanted to read more Vonnegut and we embarked on a quest to discover him together. For my dad’s last birthday, I gifted him a copy of Jailbird. He didn’t get a chance to read it, but I’m always so glad I introduced him to Vonnegut and that he enjoyed it. It was the first time I felt anything near equal to him when it came to knowledge of literature.

·         Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved putting on mehndi. I love the smell of it the most—of pure, mehndi that’s void of chemicals and additives. The smell is pungent and I always thought it was beautiful, but my dad hated it. Every Eid, my mum would apply mehndi for me and apply it for herself as well. After my dad passed away, she stopped wearing it and one time when she was applying it for me I asked her why. “Your dad used to hate the smell of mehndi and I only used to wear it to bug him,” was her response.

·         My dad never wanted to raise a family in Pakistan, so he was eager to move away. Like most South Asian expats, we went to Dubai first. My dad went ahead and my mum, brother and I followed later. Daddy met us at the airport and had a toy for me and my brother each. Mine was a pink stuffed rabbit, who eventually was lazily named Mr. Rabbit, and 26 years later, he still sits on my bed and lies by my side when I sleep. He is one of my most loved possessions mostly just because it’s been one of the few constants in my life. I would take Mr. Rabbit along on all sleepovers well into university, and one time I forgot it at my friend Mo’s house in Hamilton when I went to visit her. I didn’t notice that I had forgotten him until that night when I went to bed and realised he was missing. I began bawling. My dad was the only other person awake at that time and was alarmed that I was so distraught especially over a stupid toy. He calmed me and promised me he would drive back to Hamilton with me to get him back, and with that thought calming me a little, I fell asleep. Luckily, we didn’t have to drive all the way back to Hamilton since Mo’s dad was driving to Etobicoke, so we met him there to get Mr. Rabbit back. Daddy still took the time out of his life to drive me nearly an hour away just to pick up a cheap toy he had bought for me at the airport when I was 4, and that remains likely my most favourite memory of my dad.

·         My middle name is Alma, which I’ve learned to love since I discovered it means “soul” in Spanish. However, my name was supposed to be Sarah Ilma. “Ilma” is an Arabic name that means “knowledge.” When I was born, and Daddy was filling out the paperwork for me, he misspelled my name, writing “Sarah Alma Khan” instead of “Sarah Ilma Khan.” And so, that is how I came to have the middle name I have, which I luckily love anyway.

·         The password to his email was my birthday.

How Are You All So Strong & Why Am I So Weak? (rough)

How do you folks do it? How do you continue to see and read about the awfulness in the world and instead of getting terrified into paralysis use that fear/anger/frustration/indignation to go out and shout and scream and resist and demand change?

Ever since Trump was elected, I’ve been perpetually terrified, even though I live in one of Canada’s most culturally diverse and multicultural cities. Most of the racism I’ve faced in my life been from online trolls, but still, the confirmation of Trump as president-elect scared me (among many other IBPOC folk in Canada). But as time goes on and I wait to ride the wave of this fear so that I can go out and actually be useful as an individual with the rights I do have, things keep getting worse and worse and worse. All my friends are revolting and I’m so proud to be considered a social justice warrior amongst them, but I feel like a failure. I feel like a coward because my fear about the state of the world had paralysed me and I feel like a prisoner of my own emotions.

Last night’s breaking news re the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City feels like the final straw. I read about it after my weekly Sunday night self-care routine and just reading that news erased the two hours I had invested in calming my fears and guiding myself to think with logic rather than fear. I’m not a practising Muslim, but I have a very Muslim name (and I fucking love my name and I fucking love Islam), and the parallels to the rise of the Nazis makes it feel like I’m living in a waking nightmare. And I’m scared shitless.

I love those memes that go around pointing out people who always say “If I were around in Nazi Germany, I would…” followed by a line reminding people that we are in the 21st century version of that, so the time for talk and “what if” is over and the time for action is here. I used to believe (or at least convince myself) that I would be one of those brave souls who would risk arrest and violence for the sake of what’s right. I believed that I would be on the right side of history, and though I am on it in principle, I did not consider that I would be one of those hapless beings with good intentions who is just unable to actually fight off her terror and be an active member of a movement.

I sit at home in a cloud of anxiety and depression stemmed (for the rare time) from outside myself. I did not prepare for this. My therapists and my medications did not tell me how to emotionally deal with demons that weren’t in my head but were running countries and killing innocents and were repeating one of the most terrifying periods of western history. I was not taught how to overcome this crippling fear that has be trapped at home behind my keyboard, obsessively refreshing news pages to see what new horror this new world will bring about and getting more and more afraid and thus more unable to act.

Who taught you brave souls how to be brave? How did you tell your fear to shut up; how did you convince your emotions that your conscience and morality are more important than your fears—how did you do this especially when you know that, logically, that is the case, but still can’t convince yourself because of your overwhelming emotions (namely, you very legitimate fear)? Help me be better because I hate myself right now for being such a fucking useless coward. 

A Note on My Facts and Fictions

One thing that always annoys the hell out of me is when people equate my fictional short stories to my lived experiences or emotions. The things I write in my fiction, even when inspired by or closely resembling real life, are not real life; they are fiction. This is a concept that seems to be incredibly difficult for many people to grasp, especially when they see a familiar aspect in one of my stories.

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I Think I’m Glad that Daddy’s Dead

Today marks a full decade since my father died. I was 19 and had had a premonition of disaster the entire day, which I naively attributed to something that now seems so mundane and unimportant. My kid brother—who was 16 at the time—found my dad, and he was the one who called 911 and performed CPR while my mother and I stood stunned. My mother insisted on an Islamic funeral, even though my father was a lapsed Muslim, and for up to three days after, our apartment was filled with neighbours, friends and family—some of whom we hadn’t seen or talked to in years, but who had heard through the grapevine of my father’s passing and dropped everything to lend their support. I didn’t cry at all.

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Trapped (very rough)

It’s four o’clock in the morning and it is the fourth time you've woken from this fitful sleep. This isn’t out of the ordinary for you, in fact, you can’t remember the last time you slept through the night, if ever. It’s ironic that sleep is your saviour -- your escape -- and yet it is just another thing you cannot have. You roll over and feel a painful spasm course through your neck. Perfect, a pulled muscle is just what you need. Gingerly you raise your head and lock eyes with one of your two kittens who are devoted to you and never leave your side. He purrs and mews softly and you blow him a kiss before turning over and grabbing your eReader off the floor. If you can’t sleep, you might as well read.

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Apathy (rough)

There are three parts to my depression: the sadness, the not sadness and the apathy. While the first two have varying levels, the apathy comes in a lump without warning and stays indefinitely. Unlike sadness which — from the moment I feel the heaviness of its burden on me until the last second when I feel it lift — is loud and never fails to make itself known, apathy is mute. Never has it announced its presence or its departure and it isn’t until days afters its arrival that I realize that I am being held hostage by this stealthy captor.

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A Brief Reflection on My Emotions

How can you stop yourself from feeling too deeply? I’ve wondered and tried and found that it’s impossible for me. Even when I decide not to feel anything at all, it only numbs the emotions and stores them up deep within, weighing me down and making me foggy and unintelligible to myself. It’s not possible to just stop feeling and, more importantly, it shouldn’t be allowed

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A Summary Of The Rut (rough)

You won’t get into what triggered your depression because that is all moot. Rarely does it matter how a person became depressed because there is a smorgasbord of reasons, events and other miscellanea that result in this unhappy state, and the more important and crucial thing is sorting out how one is going to cope with it for however long it is to be a companion in their life.

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From His Only Daughter

           In thinking about my dad these past few years I came to the unhappy and disappointing conclusion that I didn’t know him at all. We visited London once when I was about eight and he excitedly showed us his old haunts and babbled on with stories about his time there. I was bored and didn’t listen to a thing he said because I took for granted the fact that he’d be around to re-tell those stories if ever I was interested.

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Harpo Trades in His Horn for a Pen

Turns out Harpo Marx isn’t a mute after all. Harpo Speaks! is the aptly yet obviously titled autobiography of Harpo Marx in which he (with help from Rowland Barber) regales us with his amusing history. I was worried about Harpo breaking his vow of public silence because how could he possibly compete with outspoken, well read and wildly witty Groucho? My concern was in vain because Harpo isn’t out to compete at all.

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