“So”, I said to my father. “When I was in school, I’d hear of other students’ fathers passing away, and it would scare the daylights out of me. I’d pray to God: ‘We have a deal, God, that my parents are NEVER passing away.’”
“Well, your deal is going pretty strong so far”, retorted Booji.
That was 2 years ago.
This is now.
He passed away last year.
As I scrolled through the list of contacts on his phone to inform of his funeral, I came across names of some people I didn’t like. “Ammi, these people weren’t too nice to Booji. I don’t want to call them. “No”, said my mother, “You will call everyone. He never held a grudge, and neither will you.” So, I did. And they came. And this is what some of them had to say: “We used to get together and sometimes complain about so-and-so person, or just un-grump our daily lives to each other; but your father, he never had anything negative to say about anyone.”
Don’t hold a grudge – you can’t take it to your grave. I have deleted the list of people I had said I would never speak to again in life. Such a list exists no more. I feel I have let a huge chip off my shoulder.
When Booji was in the hospital, and we knew he might not make it, a friend asked what was going on in my mind. What went on was me realising I must let him go when it’s time. Telling myself to keep him as comfortable as possible, maintain his dignity because anything else will hurt him, cherish the wonderful moments I had with him and thank God for them. I wavered between tears one moment and quiet fortitude the next. I was often reminded of those who have handled the loss of their fathers with grace, dignity and love, and I hoped I would do the same. I knew that I must stay strong for all my loved ones because it would be their loss too, and I have to be there for them.
Fathers teach you a whole lot over the course of their lives. When Booji passed away, I found out how much he would teach me in his death.
Two days before he passed away, I said to him, “Booji, we might have to take you home tomorrow, but you will have to stay in this bed. There’ll be people to help you, but you can’t get up and move around like you used to. Will that be ok with you?”
“That’s ok,” he replied. “If I survive this, I just want to go play Bridge. My Bridge partners miss me.”
He always had something to look forward to. And if he didn’t, he’d make it up! Life is not always at its best behaviour, it’s harsh sometimes, and you can’t always ‘fix’ it. Instead, you can go for a walk, talk to a friend, watch a movie, read a book, or just play Bridge. While we worried about his medicines in the hospital, he was too busy worrying about the cricket score. “Can someone please get me a radio in this ICU? I need to know the score! The WIFI doesn’t work well here!” I promise he actually said that. And we told him that we beat India, and it felt good! A harmless lie never hurt anyone.
In my deepest, darkest moments at the hospital as I held his hand in mine, and I knew we will lose him soon that I realized – I am here alone, and I’m holding it together. I can walk out of here, and face the world, and talk about him. I can remember him with fondness and I CAN say goodbye. I have never felt so strong in my life. Throughout my life, I struggled with the idea of my father passing away one day. Yet, when the day came, I was able to gradually release my grip, because I had already been through the hardest part – I had faced the prospect of losing him. In his death, he taught me that I’ll be just fine. Not the same, but I will be fine.
I learned to be thankful for the time we had together. There were many times in our lives as a family that Booji could have left us. He survived 2 heart attacks, both at different stages of our growing up years. He had multiple bypass surgeries. And he lived into his 70s. Our lives would have been very different had he left us earlier. Instead of asking God “Why?”, thank him for “Not Earlier!” Booji travelled the world with us, and showed us the world. We could have had less, far less. Our memories are like a treasure box. I now scroll through all our pictures with fondness and love, and through the tears, I smile, glad to have them.
His passing made me ask why I am counting the years at an age of 40-plus! We discovered a Justin Bieber ringtone on his phone, and it made me hope my children find hidden, unexpected gems in my phone too! He loved music and listened to anything and everything that took his fancy. Age was just a number to him. He had taught himself how to play the mouth-organ. He downloaded the Magic Piano app on his iPhone and played along. When YouTube shut down in Karachi, he moved to Vimeo and, yes, he could shoot a cracking film with that phone camera, posting it to our family WhatsApp chat group in minutes! Justin Bieber is not just for teenage girls. I might just find something to hum in the latest melody or tune. Life is too short to worry about age-appropriate dressing and behaviour.
Booji had no role model – his father passed away when he was 10. Having no role model actually meant he could break the mould. And so, he did. As a father, and later a grandfather, he narrowed all generation gaps, and kept us all close. When all else failed, his sense of humour always won the day. He treated my mother with the utmost love and respect and his children with the utmost affection. And although he himself had no father figure to look up to, that never stopped him from becoming the best example of humanity. If you have lost your father, or your children have lost theirs, take this lesson I learnt from Booji: Good people are everywhere – a teacher, a friend, a relative. You, or your children, will find them.
Booji was never big on Fathers’ Day, but over the years, we gradually began to wish him, more for ourselves than for his sake, I believe – to celebrate him, and our lives with him. I am probably writing this article more for myself, than for him, because he taught me to celebrate all that is good and wonderful in this world.
And so, I celebrate him today, and our lives with him. And to all those who have lost the special men in your lives, I have this to say to you on Fathers’ Day:
Yes, you will miss him. A walk, a cup of coffee, a place, a song, a picture will remind you how special this bond is. A father is a friend for life. For a daughter, he is the man you can always count on, who’ll never let you down, who will always try to fix things for you, who will always be at your side. You search for him in the places you’ve been, the memories you’ve shared, the songs you sang. The one place you don’t search for him is inside yourself. It is only in his death that I realised how much of him is in me. And if I ever miss him too much, I just have to look inwards. I find him in my humour, my love for travel, music, romance, cricket … and of course, that cup of chai! I have yet to master the game of Bridge, but I’m on it!