KARACHI: Every time I have chanced across some promotional message for Father’s Day this year, like every year before, I have immediately thought of my own father. How I have not seen him in months due to the COVID-19 situation, how the only thing I got for him this year was a few boxes of mangoes which turned out to be overripe.
Right after this fleeting feeling of longing tinged with guilt, there is a stronger felt realisation which follows that I too am a father to a wonderful little girl who is now nearly 15 months old. The first few things you learn as a parent all relate to how life gets temporarily more difficult, how a full nights sleep is a distant dream and how you are now fully responsible for a very helpless little thing that needs continuous looking after. I have often joked with my wife that human beings have evolved to be very cute as infants regardless of what they end up looking like as adults, because it is this which ensures they are taken proper care of.
What you learn soon after is how life was never really complete before this. How there no longer appears to be a purpose higher than to protect and nurture this little extension of your heart who is programmed to get herself into trouble. Your dreams change, and what you used to find scary changes. Where previously the villain is after you in your nightmares, they are now after your baby. Where there was previously a dislike for being stuck in a small balcony because you felt you might fall out, there is now a terror at the back of your mind that this might happen to your child.
And then they look at you. All perspective is lost in that moment. All regard for everything else becomes secondary to the wide innocent look of expectation a child can bestow upon a parent. Immediately, you look for water because she might be thirsty, food because perhaps she is hungry. There is an instant reflex to drop everything you were doing the moment before to be close at hand so that your child may direct you to where they would like you to be. My wife and I convince each other we are not spoiling her, as she is too young to understand anything but love and care just yet. Even though every baby manual we have consulted warns that now is the time to lay down rules for her to follow; we are instead two lawyers before a judge. The fact that we change her lordship’s nappies is not lost on us, but it is of little consequence.
If you exist on the same mountain of privilege as I, where you are able to plan when to have children with your spouse without interference, to raise them without unwanted influence and to provide for their needs; every less than perfect situation your child is going to find themselves in henceforth will feel like it’s your fault.
If you have further been privileged enough to have had parents who loved and cared for you, you also learn why they did what they did, why they worked so hard and tried so hard to give you the best they could and why even when they made mistakes, it was always with your best interest at heart. Because I have not known a greater feeling, a love more powerful. I was told by a colleague a few days before my daughter was to arrive in this world that it is a feeling different to anything you have ever known, and you could move mountains with your bare hands to keep your children happy. I remember rolling my eyes when I heard this. I realised he was completely right a few days later.
My daughter manages to make the toil of a hard day’s work or the frustration and pressures of daily life vanish everyday, often with just a smile. Sometimes she follows it up by yanking off my glasses and trying to take my nose off for closer inspection. It is as if you have achieved whatever it was you had set out to accomplish. As if the reward for a life of hard work is given not in a lump afterwards, but in little scoops every time your baby gives you a hug.