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.