By Fatima Khayam
June 18, 2017
My parents were faced with a rather arduous challenge when they had children; raising a stubborn young girl amongst three mischievous sons. Naturally, the girl would grow to measure her actions against her brothers’ and compare her privileges with theirs, the only siblings she had, whether her parents liked it or not.
Now you can imagine how frustrated an average Pakistani father would be by a daughter that wants to make her own rules and who has a self-worth equivalent to an average Pakistani boy’s ego. However, my father is not the average Pakistani father. He grew up like I did, the middle child amongst three sisters, soaking in their influence. This is how he grew up to be a sensitive diplomat, familiar with raging hormones and an advocate of feminism. We turned out to complement each other perfectly.
When I was a toddler, I had an extraordinary obsession with my father. We were attached to the hip to the extent that I would plop my chubby little body on the floor outside his bathroom door when he was inside, anxiously waiting for him to return. My father reciprocated this by saying I “had a special place in (his) heart” when asked who his favourite child was.
As I grew older, I realised that my gender stood in the way of regular things in a way that I did not fully understand. One day we were going to Boat Basin in Karachi to run errands and my brothers ran into the car wearing the shorts and t-shirts they were already wearing. I was instructed to run upstairs and change, and to not forget my Dupatta. While I always saw myself as the same as my brothers, my body began to bring small inconveniences that irritated me repeatedly. While my brothers could roam in whatever attire they desired around the house, the presence of our male staff meant that I could not. It irritated me again. I felt as though my father was not treating me equally, and it hurt.
While in some areas he did not have much control over his decisions, he compensated for it by giving me equal opportunities wherever he could. My father himself had learnt to drive in seventh grade, and so when my older brother was learning how to drive, I insisted that he teach me too. My argument was that even though I was young, I was not as young as he had been, and I was responsible enough. Not long after that we were spending Sunday mornings cruising down Bilawal Chorangi listening to my favourite music and picking up fruit for Sunday lunch on the way home.
When I was 10-years-old, my father taught me about the art of negotiation. This once funny word went on to become our greatest tool for decision making, replacing arguing altogether. We used it a lot when I was in high school and wanted to be with my friends all day and night, every day. We learned to respectfully shoot our requests to each other back and forth until we reached a settlement both of us could agree with. It was stressful at times, but the system worked for us.
As I began to ask questions about Islam that may have horrified some parents, my father was there to encourage me to explore and to guide me on how to be a good person regardless of his beliefs or mine. He is a very rational person, and questions are always welcome in our household.
When the time for me to choose a university finally came, it was a difficult decision for everyone involved. My older brother had gone to school in Canada, and because we are citizens, this meant his education was significantly subsidised. I was considering a couple of places in Canada as well, but my heart was at New York University where I had gotten into my dream program. However, I viewed my education as an investment my father was making, and so I understood that a similar education for a very different price was not a practical investment. My father took the plunge. And in that moment, I felt as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders, but in the best way possible.
This was proof of the transparency and innocence that my father views me with. He invested 15 times more in his only daughter’s future career than he did in his eldest son’s. He worked effortlessly to make sure that I did not feel like my femininity was a weakness, and that my hard work would pay off.
A couple of days ago, I caught him talking to my brother about me. He said,
“She is going to make a great breakthrough in her lifetime.”
That is how much faith he has in women. That is how much faith he has in me.
Happy Father’s Day, Abba!