by Saad Minhas
Paun ke neechain jannat hai (there’s heaven underneath their feet). Upon hearing this as a child, I ran to my basement to see if life was sweeter there – no such luck. I’ve matured since then. Hindsight tells me I’ve been blessed all along. And it had nothing to do with finding heaven in the basement; it had everything to do with being raised by great human beings. Twenty-five years in, I have a meager 800 words to do them justice. This is my feeble attempt.
Let’s get desi-style patriarchal and start with my father. The man I once called Abu Jaani, and sometimes Big Poppa, would do anything for his family. Despite warnings of culture shock and a bad economy, he set out for Canada to create a better life for his kids. Armed with too much trust in the common good and a pocket full of dreams, he never let us feel like we didn’t have it all. Like his father before him, it didn’t stop there. Even with a new job and family to care for, my father gave his heart to building a community. Word of this vigor reached his friends and their friends back home.
Our door was open to the countless many that stayed over until they got on their feet, and as kids we never even thought it unusual. Every other day I’d come home from school to say salaam to someone new in the drawing room; an uncle had known or heard of ‘Haroon-abad’ and his infamous guidance. It was free, it was unconditional, and he gives it his all to this day. It has been only one byproduct of the unspoken mantra we were raised with – everyone is equal and you have a duty to help when you can. Abu writes better than I ever will, defines class, and embodies soft power more through his demeanor than the expanding tummy he swears he’s working on. He takes the world on with a warm, mustached smile; it’s been there through calculated risks, hospital beds, and grandkids. He is blessed and so he shares his blessings. We are blessed to have him.
“Yo Momma!” I say. “Yo baby!” she says. When I tell people my mother grew up being shy they never believe me. Always a great mother first and foremost, after coming to Canada she was that and much more. Having never driven, she walked us wherever we needed to go through my dad’s long evenings at work, and swore that after three years we’d go back to Jeddah where a simpler life had been left behind. Those three years came and went about six times over and now she owns and operates three successful Montessori daycares around the city. Throw the schools in as part of the many achievements that can be Googled, this hijabi entrepreneur and wunderkind was herself the daughter of great leaders.
She also had a husband by her side that embraced and motivated her growth. She grew from teaching a room full of kids in Saudi Arabia after a correspondence course, to commanding rooms full of people that come to hear her story. Like all of them, I’m inspired by her determination, her natural charisma, and her enduring spirit. She exemplifies ‘the balance’ I live by; her own greatest joys are to feed us, watch my sister’s kids charm us to tears, and pray for us every sunrise – that we achieve in our lives with the same resilience. Mama rules with a firm calm all day at work and laughs with a twinkle in her eye when she comes home. To know her is to love her. I have been so fortunate.
Like most kids, I loathe it when my parents gleam with pride about my sisters and me within minutes of meeting people. I get it now. Not just because I’ve begun to like hearing about myself – that too – but also because I’ve begun to understand that life is somewhat cyclical. You are raised with values and love as a child, then you go out in the world to screw it all up with mistakes and lessons, and eventually you come back full circle and take both elements to face the great undertaking of adulthood. I myself grew up loved, made stupidity an art, and now I’m (fingers crossed) coming back around to pass on love and all I’ve learnt.
I know this because I too find myself raving about those that make me happiest, the ones I adore and admire. Products of the old-school arranged marriage and fifteen years between them, I still catch hands being held in the front seat of the car and flowers being brought home, just because. I am perpetually awestruck. Perfectly imperfect, these are my parents. And I love em.
Even though our children complain about us, they are the ones who make us feel most worthwhile—sometimes it’s just hard for them to say it. Here we feature tributes from children to their parents: words of love they couldn’t say out loud.