Father / Son Relationship Status: Complicated
I guess I should start from the early memories. My parents separated when I was 4 years old; a time I somehow vividly remember. I remember being a “daddy’s boy” from young; he was someone I was proud of, happy to be around and always seeking attention from. Going through that transition was very difficult for me. Unfortunately, it was one of those cases where the father leaves and doesn’t come to see the children regularly, etc. As you can imagine, that had a huge impact on me even at that age. I actually remember the very day he left. He usually left the house around 5/6am every morning to go to work; I used to wake up with him and fasten his tie around his neck and give him a hug before he left the house. I did the same that day but it was different because he had 2 suitcases with him this time and told me he’s going to see Dadu (grandmother) in Pakistan and will be back soon. I remember during sports day at primary school that I was the only person in my class whose dad wasn’t around to participate in the dad’s race. Similarly, I remember all my friends’ fathers heckling the referee during school football matches; it was at times like these that I really felt the emptiness of having my own father around. I’d like to say at this point, this isn’t a sob story or a plea for sympathy; this is just the reality of how things have manifested over the years every time Father's Day comes around and I know there are many who can relate who won’t talk about it.
Through my younger years and most of my teenage life I held a lot of resentment towards my father for his absence and lack of support. I saw my single-mother working day and night to make ends meet whereas most of my friends mums seemed to have it easier; picking up my friends from school, taking them to after-school activities or meeting with other mums for socials. I felt it wasn’t fair that my mum had to work whilst other mums got to relax. May Allah forgive my mother for her shortcomings, increase her in reward in this life & in the next, and elevate her status into Jannah - Aameen. That said, we weren’t deprived; Alhamdulillah we had food in our bellies, clothes on our back and a roof over our heads. Alhamdulillah always.
I struggled towards Year 4/5 of primary school as even at that age, I had just had enough of not having a father around. I began to question my mother why my father never came to see us; did he not like us? Was there no love? Why? Looking back now, it’s sad to realise that 8/9 year old me had those toxic questions constantly in my head - really unhealthy. I cried to my mother whilst she was ironing one weekday evening telling her I miss my father. She broke down too and apologised to me; tried to explain to me she wish she could make him come see me but she can’t. It was at that point that I began to realise that our parents are human too; they are not superheroes - even they don’t posses the power to make someone see their child even if it is their father.
My mother took me to see my grandfather; ‘Abuji’. Abuji was head of the family, very ‘oldskool’, but the most reliable and selfless person I have ever met in my life. He sat me down in a room, alone, and explained why my dad was not being a father. He explained the concepts of arranged marriage, cultural barriers and divorce to a 9 year old me - I was brought up to speed on the real world very quickly. I left leaving that room content not only because I finally had answers, but because Abuji said to me, “What do you need someone else for? I will do everything for you and with you. I’ll be your father. Why do you think you call me Abuji and not Nana-Abu?”
The absence of a father has a big impact on a child’s understanding and practice of the Deen. I went to Qur’an class every Saturday for a few months when my dad was around; where me and my brother used to either sneak off to the park or be threatened with a stick/sworn at by the elderly Pakistani Uncle Waheed if we made a mistake when reciting. That came to an end and so did my ‘Islamic education’ once my father left. Up the age of 14 I never knew anything about Deen; the basics, the practices or even how to pray. All I knew was we didn’t drink alcohol or eat pork and that my grandmother went to Saudi Arabia for a religious visit. Alhamdulillah that changed when I became friends with people who were able to relate to my background, my life and were also Muslim. I learnt from them, ate with them and even prayed with them every Friday lunchtime in an empty classroom for Jummah. I actually went onto being Head of the iSoc! May Allah bless and reward those brothers abundantly - Aameen.
As an adult, I’ve been able to see the fathers who regularly bring their children to the mosque and why they do it. I’ve been able to see close friends around me have their own children and teach them about our beautiful Deen. It’s only within the last few years have I fully realised the important relationship between fatherhood and a child’s knowledge and practice of his/her religion. A father is responsible for his child’s spiritual guidance in Islam; he is the one who should be directing him in the right path, teaching him about the Deen, answering the questions the child answers and showing them how to have good akhlaaq. In Islam, the importance of fatherhood is unquestionable. Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was not only the best of mankind, but he was also a father. If the best person in the history of humanity was a father, we, as men, should really be able to understand how to be a father and what is expected of us in fatherhood. Children are an Ammanah bestowed to us by Allah and it is our duty as parents to ensure we fulfil raising them into the best of the generation.
Abdullah ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects. A man is the guardian of his family and he is responsible for them. A woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and his children and she is responsible for them. The servant of a man is a guardian of the property of his master and he is responsible for it. No doubt, every one of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.”
Source: Sahih Bukhari 6719, Sahih Muslim 1829
I’d even go as far as saying, as men, our very first understanding of masculinity comes directly from the relationship we have with our fathers or those around us we see as father-like figures/role-models. If we see our fathers not talking about their feelings or expressing their emotions, this will more than likely be copied by his son. A young boy growing up never seeing a grown man cry, or more specifically his own father cry, breeds the culture that if you do cry, it makes you less of a man. These are the responsibilities a father has to his son; to enable them to manage, express and normalise their feelings/emotions.
I had the blessing of spending most of my after-school time, weekends and school holidays with my grandparents; most of that time being with my grandfather. I sat in the back of the car most of the times whilst we travelled all across London checking in on properties, checking in on his businesses, going to get plumbing parts, visiting the accountant, etc. Throughout that time, I picked up and learnt so much from him that small lessons like ‘always helping someone if you are in the position to help’ is part of my own fabric now. Whilst my own father wasn’t present in my life, I was able to have an exceptional and irreplaceable father figure instead; Abuji. We need to recognise that celebrating fatherhood isn’t limited to a father and his child, but to all those grandfathers, uncles, friends, cousins and teachers who have all played a pivotal role in raising those same children.
As an adult, I’ve been able to have conversations around fatherhood and sonship with some of my close friends; some are fathers and some aren’t. Through maturity, I feel my outlook towards my own father has definitely changed. Ultimately, we are humans and we make mistakes; it’s common to do so. I looked back at my life and tried to put myself in my father’s shoes as a 20-something year old Pakistani man coming to the UK, joining a new family and trying to transition into an entire new country and way of life. Now whilst I may not agree with many of his decisions, I can now somewhat understand how some of those decisions were made as I look through the lens as an adult and not a 9-year old emotionally scarred son.
I’ve been able to make peace with my past but more importantly my experiences have taught me what I don’t want to be like as a father. He may have been a bad role-model, but a role-model nonetheless. Had he not made those mistakes, I may be subject to them in the future. May Allah make it easy for us all, keep us far from abandoning our children and enable us to be true fathers to them - Aameen.
I’d like to close this piece off with probably the most bitter sweet moment life has offered to me so far. Abuji passed away in 2018 - please keep him in your duaa’s. I had the blessing of washing his body and being the one who stepped down in the grave to lower his body to finally be at rest. Alhamdulillah - Allah gave me that blessing. You may recall earlier on I spoke on the importance of fatherhood and a son’s relationship with his Deen. I never prayed with my father, or Abuji for that matter. My father was present at Abuji’s janazah and that moment was the first time I prayed with and next to my father. A truly bitter-sweet moment.
This one is for all the men out there helping raise the next generation to be true pioneering, leading, emotionally intelligent, pious and well-mannered men. May Allah reward you all, bless your families and enable us to be the best of our generation - Aameen.