Happy Fathers Day
I come from a small town, a big supportive family, with a happy childhood. Interaction between those very things have shaped and formed the person I am — ambitious, confident, but most of all, happy.
My mother, the light of my life, created a warm, loving home for myself and my four elder brothers — my incredibly overprotective guardian angels. She taught me everything I know, and for everything I didn’t, there was my father, a strong, independent and incessantly hard-working man.
Coming to the UK in the late 50’s as a 17 year old immigrant, he left a whole life behind him, all he knew was survival, with his day-to-day vernacular not expanding beyond ‘yes sir, no sir’. An era of racism could have easily broken him, could have. Instead, he worked as hard as anyone else, as a tailor, a plane parts factory worker, a waiter, a bell boy, to name a few, before successfully owning a string of restaurants. The truth is, I never saw him much. No, he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike or teach me a sport or any of those things that ‘dads are supposed to do’. He taught me something greater — faith and perseverance.
Scolding my brother and I for complaining about work is a conversation I am far too familiar with, “I was younger than you when I worked for 50p for the whole week, ask me why, go on.” Hesitantly, we oblige near enough every time.
“Because I didn’t want to go back home, I didn’t want to live that life, I saw how my life could be and fought for it. I came to this country, with no education, no money, but I still I worked every single day to give you this life. Why can’t you? Don’t you want the same life for your children?” A question that only ever has one response — yes.
He continues to tell us about staying in Calcutta for a week prior to flying to the UK from Bangladesh. After landing in the UK, he wandered into London, looking for someone of ‘his kind’, ending up in Brick Lane, in a place he only remembers as Dada’s Cafe. “I ate the most delicious lamb bhuna, that’s all I remember”. The smile on his face speaks a thousand words. Two days later, he left London behind and went to Birmingham, working in a grocery shop for a few weeks, before moving on again, this time to work in Lily Cotton Mill, in Shaw. The story continues through a few years of moving around the UK for work, before his final stop in 1964 — Swansea.
“Work was scarce, and I heard people talk of work in Swansea in restaurants and catering, so I went wherever the money was”. I never did understand his decision to settle here, until now.
His life in Swansea was a successful one having owned a string of restaurants in the 80’s and 90’s. My earliest memory has always been the constant small talk with his customers he would bump into outside of work, an echoing ‘Mannan! I’ll be in on Friday for some of that curry, my man.” Followed by a handshake and a slap on the back. He seemed like he finally belonged, he wasn’t looking for ‘his kind’ anymore. I was wrong.
He never allowed me to see weakness, his or mine. I lived a pampered, joyous life, all I ever knew was happiness. I never did see him post lunchtime, not until the next morning, he was a slave to his work, but I never felt his absence, he never allowed it. He speaks now of the racism he faced, the prejudice as an immigrant Muslim in an era of racism. He speaks solemnly of parents in the streets pointing to him, referring to him as a ‘paki’ to their children, being chased by mobs, getting into fights. He never did belong, but you’d never guess. It never hindered his endeavours, his hard work and strength is second to none, values he has instilled in my siblings and I.
“You can slack, or you can work hard, it’s a choice, but where you end up, how your life pans out, that’s the consequence of your choice, so make the right one,” never failing to remind us. Growing up with a father with undeniable strength and perseverance, it’s only natural I took the same path.
But as the years pass and my father grows old, he is a mere shadow of the man he once was. The man who could not be put to sleep by one tranquilliser, but two (one knocks out a horse), has now withered into a man plagued by illness. For the past 15 years, ill-health has engulfed his strength and independence, the lack of both, he feels, has emasculated him. Despite pleads from his doctors to ‘stop acting like a 30 year old’, he challenges himself beyond what his, or any 75 year old body can handle, usually with dire results.
You’d think he would quit trying to overcome his illnesses. Not at all, his core characteristic as a man of extreme willpower and determination will never allow it, not until his body has given up. Thus his predicament right now, his body has stopped fighting. He has lost all faith in his physical body, yet he has found faith elsewhere — in God.
He never fails to fulfil his duties as a Muslim, not once missing the five prayers. But when he does, people notice. Phones will ring, the doorbell will ring, all with the same question, “Why wasn’t your dad at mosque today, is he okay?” But they know the answer to their question almost immediately, a man of faith has only one reason to miss a prayer — ill health. In only the last year he has had 5 operations, with no success, ask him if it has weakened his strength or faith? Absolutely not.
He enters every operation theatre with the same smile on his face he has when he talks about his first Lamb curry at Dada’s cafe, with pure faith that everything will be okay, a stark contrast to my blubbering mess of a mother. “Im fine, it’s going to be fine, I have God, go home, look after your mother, I’ll be here when you get back,” a sentence that varies only in wording every pre-op.
Now ask me why my faith in God won’t waver, why I choose to work hard, why I am not weak. Because I am the daughter of my father. A man who has found solace in every obstacle in life. I have found solace too, in the man I call my father.
Happy Fathers Day.