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.
I was published for the first time a couple of months after my father’s death. It was just a short story in one of the university magazines, but it made me a published writer and my dad—literally the number one fan and supporter of my writing—never got to see it. Nor, obviously, did he get to see the dozens of other times I got published, or got jobs writing or editing, or the (half-hearted) way I began establishing myself as a writer and the eager way I began establishing myself as an editor—literally following in his professional footsteps. And while I sometimes stop everything and mourn the fact that I never will get to share all that with him or hear him loudly and unashamedly brag about me to his friends, I’m mostly glad that I did this all without him.
My dad was a character and a loveable one at that. Whether intentionally or not, he always ended up commanding the room with his jokes (which weren’t traditional “dad jokes” at all, but actually pretty clever, intellectual ones … usually) or stories from his impressive a career as a journalist during which he had met, interviewed and/or befriended some of the greatest South Asian minds. People were drawn to my dad in a way people are not drawn to me.
I’m an introvert who has accepted that I am an introvert. I’m not necessarily happy with it, but then I’m seldom ever happy with myself. My dad also briefly battled depression (I say briefly because I never got to ask the full story and my mother keeps changing her retelling. It’s as if she’s embarrassed by the fact that he may have had a mental illness.), and logic tells me that he likely wasn’t happy with himself either. Although, I had never known my father to be anything but pleased with himself (except when he got laid off a few years before his death).
Basically, you couldn’t compete with my dad when it came to words. He would enrapt any audience he had—verbally or in print. He was well-read and updated on current events and had a dry cynicism that pointed out the problems with the world while still cleverly poking fun at them. When we had dinner parties—and we used to, a lot, especially when we lived in Dubai and my parents had a fairly close-knit group of ex-pat intellectuals that gathered around and discussed the downfalls of their homelands as well as their country of residence—my dad is always the one I remember talking and laughing and stealing the show. My mother, an incredibly intelligent woman in her own regard, seldom ever spoke up, yet laughed and enjoyed the evenings as much as any one else.
Since my dad passed away, my mum has has very few dinner parties and I once asked her how come we done host much anymore. Her reason was that she was never good at hosting. That she could plan and carry out a party just fine, but it had been Daddy who had entertained everyone. In the last few years, my mother has started hosting more and more—her own group of friends with whom she is close and always has something to talk about. When I still lived with her and would attend these parties, I always noticed how my mum tended to stick to the role she had at parties when my dad was still alive: that of the invisible body who was always puttering around preparing food, freshening up drinks, getting the table set. Having aways loathed domestic work, I took this as an opportunity to occupy myself by entertaining the guests. My mother wouldn’t interrupt me in the middle of a conversation to set the table, so it became my way to avoid the work I so hate and that which my culture deems is my responsibility solely because of what’s between my legs.
Without my dad there to hog the conversation and my mother keeping herself purposely too busy to sit and talk to her guests for more than a few minutes, I took my dad’s spot as the sass mouth of the family. I’ve always been a sass mouth—my mother will happily support this fact—but it’s only after Daddy died that I became a public sass. I engaged in conversations about whatever sparked my interests; I became less concerned with cussing and breaching on sensitive topics and began talking candidly and confidently. I became an adult—something I had never really been sure I would become when my father was around. In fact, I highly doubt I would have gathered the courage to become someone that people asked my mum to bring along to parties if my dad had been around. When they request I attend with my mum, I no longer feel like they’re doing it out of courtesy but because—like with my dad before me—they genuinely want me there.
Similarly, I’m not sure how open I would have been in my writing—both personal and professional. I write a lot and very explicitly about sex in my fiction. I’m a little too outspoken and furious when it comes to writing about feminism, especially as it relates to women’s issues. I’m bold and unashamed when I write about my mental health. And though I stopped wanting to be a career writing when I was about 14, the fact that I still do it and that people actually read what I write is a feat for me (one that I downplay the significance of).
My dad would be proud beyond belief of my resume; he would have been so happy to know that I take no bullshit and that call out bullshit when it happens. Except, I don’t know this at all—I only assume he would. I don’t actually know how my dad would react to my lifestyle because my mother—who seems always to be competing with me when it comes to who knew Daddy better—often, in a fit of rage, tells me that Daddy would be disappointed in the lifestyle I lead. I highly suspect that it’s my mother herself who is disappointed with the lifestyle I lead and very unceremoniously attempts to guilt me into living the way she wants me to live by using my dad as a threat.
For some reason, I let her make me care what a dead guy whose been buried a decade and who lived a similar lifestyle before he settled down would think of my life. So what if he’s my dad? He’s dead! I don’t even care what my living, breathing mother thinks of my life, so why the hell should I care about some hypothetical reality in which my dad is alive and well and has unsolicited opinions about my goddamn life?
Truth be told and all things considered, I’m glad he passed away. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is that I really believe he’s glad to not live in this shitty world anymore. The more valid reasons are the positive ways his death affected me (and my brother and mother as well, though they may not admit it). And not just in superficial ways like the fact that his death cancelled a lot of our debts and the money from his life insurance helped my mum buy a house—something my parents had been aching but unable to do since we moved to Canada. It’s the smaller things, the ways we three changed for the better after his death and the way we showed our traditional relatives back home that the death of the family patriarch does not mean the end of the family.
When my dad passed, my mum—who has only ever been with my father, for whom she backed out of an arranged marriage, a decision she has never regretted—was constantly presented with suitors. Her friends would casually mention a friend they knew who was also widowed or divorced and was looking to take on a wife. This used to annoy the hell out of me especially since these offers started coming less than a year after Daddy’s passing. My grandmother—who, bless her heart, was widowed with three toddlers and a baby before she even hit the age of 25 and raised these four children to become four of the people I look up to the most in my life—shamelessly suggested my mother remarry for no specific reason except that my mother was now a woman with no husband and two kids. To this day, my mother has no interest in remarrying, even though my brother and I both eventually gave her our blessing to do so should she ever choose to. But she adamantly refuses, saying that she will never find a man who gave her as much freedom and treated her as much as an equal as my dad did.
Instead, she continued to be the sole breadwinner of the Khan household—something she unfortunately had to become when my dad was unceremoniously laid off from his job and ended his life working for minimum wage at The Bay—and helped put two kids through university and continues to put my brother through his BA when he abruptly dropped out of his BA in Toronto to move to North Carolina. The only thing that has changed about my mum is that she is a little more relaxed now. Where once she was extremely high-strung and a near-terror to be around especially when she was stressed, after Daddy’s unexpected and untimely death, she has learned to just go with the flow a little and often takes a very lax view of life.
I don’t know if it was my mum or my brother who first started it, but suddenly we were signing off all phone calls with “Love you” and “Love you too”—something the Khans had never said out loud to each other. It’s now the norm and I’ve never had a conversation with my mother or brother that didn’t end with the reminder that we love each other. I’ve never been one for open affection—similar to my father—while my brother and mother have always been unafraid to express affection, so saying “Love you” felt bizarre for me at first and I didn’t like it. But hearing it over and over again is lovely and even though it’s a given that my mother loves me, it’s still great to hear it confirmed by her. The slow acceptance of affection from my own family has extended into a show of affection to other people in my life.
The men in my life will tell you how averse to physical affection I am, but those of them with whom I share a mutual attraction—emotional or platonic alike—will admit that I’m a fan of physical affection with those who make my cheer up my soul. My platonic friends—male and female alike—will tell you that I never fail to tell them I love them or express to them everything I think is great about them. If my dad were still around and my mother hadn’t begun making “Love you” and frequent affection the norm in our lives, my friends and lovers would likely never know how much I enjoy their company, love them or just am glad they’re around because I’d still be wearing the stoic mask of indifference.
A friend recently told me that the common saying is that you’ve move on from the death of a loved one when the anniversary of their death passes and you don’t notice. I’m glad my father passed away because it allowed me to grow in a way I probably wouldn’t have been able to grow if he were still alive, but I hope I never move on from his death because it’d be a shame to forget the day he changed my life in so many ways—many of them for the better.