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To the Father who tried

He came here full of hope.

It was 1981 and he was a twenty four year old graduate student sent from his home country of Sudan. He was told to make his country proud so he packed his belongings along with his dreams for a better life.

The ultimate dream of any person living in a poor country. He was starting a new life in America.

A land of endless opportunity and a place where anyone could make it.

My mom said women were always taken aback because he was exceptionally handsome. His nubian almond shaped eyes, strong jawline, and chocolate skin made women, from all ethnicities, gravitate towards him. His solid frame had him shy of 6’5. I always thanked Allah that I inherited his eyes and not his height.

He didn’t know it though. He didn’t realize how good looking he truly was because back in Africa he resembled any other tall and lanky East African guy walking around Khartoum.
________

It was mid July and I was sitting in a motel in southern Los Angeles.

My window was open and I could hear the wind rustling through the palm trees. As strays of California sunlight crept through the blinds I could see the dust matter floating in all directions.

I reached into my oversized purse and pulled out a manila envelope. I looked at his photos and cried. The photos were faded and looked like they had been sitting in someones basement for the last twenty years. Actually the motel room looked like it belonged in one of these portraits. The sunlight bounced off the photo so I shifted it in my hands trying to look past the water marks. His eyes were bright and familiar. They were mine. For a moment I was looking at myself.

I needed this.

I needed to grieve properly.

I needed to mourn him and what could have been.

It’s always interesting to me how memory and the mind works. You always want to force yourself to remember the best moments. It’s a sense of nostalgia and usually not based on actual reality of the situation. Sometimes we mourn what we wanted our lives to be like rather than what they actually were. It’s a coping mechanism we all use at one point and I was certainly using it then. It was a mix of emotions. I was mad as hell, horribly guilt ridden but most of all I was hurting.

I knew very well what life would have been like with a schizophrenic father.

There was no point in romanticizing anymore.

________

“That’s the place.” She said. Her index finger was pointed in the direction of a supermarket and her eyes were dazed. I looked at it and thought about the importance of places and how relative they usually are. It just looked like a shabby spot to me but it held some sort of importance to my mother.

This was where she had met my father many, many years ago. She was twenty-three and a new convert to Islam. “He spotted me in the fruit section,” she said laughing. He was pretending to grocery shop. He waited until my mother was in the check out line and strategically got behind her and started conversation. It ended with him getting her number and a marriage six months later.

________

He asked me if I wanted to see the body.

He was a middle-aged man of Arab descent wearing a button up creme colored shirt tucked into his dress pants. He had thick rimmed circular glasses on that made his eyes look three times bigger than they actually were. He was hurriedly walking to his office and shuffling papers at the same time. Being the funeral director at the local mosque I could tell he was trying to offer sympathy, but being in a business of this nature for long periods of time can make one cold. It’s routine. Unchanging. Constant. Just like the postman delivering letters to people every single day, people will always need their mail and people will always be dying.

I thought about it for a moment.

Being an emergency room nurse I see dead bodies quite often. Women, men, the old and the young. Growing up I always saw images of my father. He looked firm and resilient. I had built up this imaginary man in my head of what I expected him to be like. Having never seen him in the flesh I didn’t want my first and last encounter to be with him laying in a casket.

“No.” I said quietly and looking down at the floor.
________

We’re not sure exactly want happened. One day he just started acting different.

My mom said he started becoming very paranoid and anxious. He always thought people were after him and wanting to harm his family. Now as an adult, I realize what an awful fear that must have been. Though not based on present reality its the reality of the individual and to him it was real as day.

It became too much and he began becoming aggressive. My mom feared for herself but she mainly feared for her four-month old daughter.

So she left.
________

Over the years my father would try to contact me. His schizophrenia and constant paranoia meant that he never stayed in one place for too long.

Letters were always sent back and numbers were always disconnected.

He died full of sadness and guilt. A man who tried but couldn’t deliver.

Several years ago I was able locate an uncle of mine who was living in California. He was there taking care of my father who was currently institutionalized. I was put back in contact with my grandmother and a slew of uncles, aunts and cousins, second cousins, third cousins (its Africa, you know how it goes.)

They welcomed me back with African styled love…

Just like I was returning back home from a long journey…

My grandmother hugged me and this time she was the one who cried.

Her tears flowed for a son who tried his best and a child who had made her way back home.

________

On Fathers Day we recognize the men who have consistently been around. Our role models. Our support. Our heroes.

Today I recognize the many men who fell victim to the difficulties in life. The men who have weeping hearts from never witnessing their child’s first step or the first day of school. The men who sincerely tried and prayed that they would never repeat the actions of their own fathers but somehow identically mimicked the loins that bore them.

The men who are painfully reminded about the type of men they had the potential to become.

The type of fathers they wanted to be.

Today I recognize you.

Mahmoud Tahir Haj Adam circa 1973

Mahmoud Tahir Haj Adam circa 1973

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Ice Cube & Jummah

Recently I was having one of those days.

You know the ones when you’re really feelin’ yourself.

Outfit was on point, weather was nice and I had a fly cheetah print hijab on. Not only that but it was Friday so I was in a really good mood.

There was nothing more I could ask for. My red car glistened in the sun as I drove down Stony Island Avenue. In my Ice Cube voice “It was a good day.”

I was thankful and blessed.

You couldn’t tell a sista nothin’…

I was on the south side of Chicago and I decided to go to jummah nearby. I rolled into a mosque I was somewhat familiar with and soaked in the sermon. After jummah, I gave the greeting to the familiar faces I saw put my shoes on and made my way out.

I was walking back to my car. I crossed the street and headed towards the open parking lot. First thing I noticed was that my car was blocked in by two vehicles. It looked like it would be a game of Tetris trying to get out of that lot. I thanked Allah under my breath for having a small car. I was strategically parked at the end all the way in the corner.

I pulled my keys out of my purse as the gravel crunched under my shoes. As I opened my door I heard someone say “Asaalamu alaikum sister.”

I looked over and realized there was a brother sitting in the car next to where I was parked. Like myself he was patiently waiting in the post-jummah traffic jam. He poked his head out of the window and smiled.

I returned the greeting and kindly smiled back before closing my door.

It was mad hot outside. I got in my car, started the engine and rolled down the windows.

“I like your car.” He said. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at my car or at me because of his huge sunglasses. One thing though, I could tell he was slightly nervous by the almost unnoticeable quiver in his voice.

“Thanks, its a good car. Very reliable” I said shyly.

I could hear the reggae playing in his car. He turned the music down.

“I’ve never seen you here before. So you come to this mosque often?” He asked.

I knew where this was going but I thought let me not shut the brotha down right away. He had the guts to initiate conversation and he did so after jummah for that matter! Plus, it would be kinda awkward ignoring him as I was stuck in the lot. A sista couldn’t run even if she wanted to.

Plus you already know the deal…

Muslim men say Muslim women (specifically hijabis) are hard to talk to. Muslim women say Muslim men never attempt to initiate conversation.

“Naw, not really. I was just in the area and decided to stop by. The khutbahs (sermon) always seems to be relevant here.” I said.

I looked in my rear view mirror to see if there was any progress. The cars were still empty. I guess folks were trying to get their Friday blessings in and putting extra sunnah prayers in.

I could see him in my peripheral. His body language indicated he wanted to say more. During the eleven minute hiatus he told me about his family and profession.

As folks headed back to their cars and the sound of engines echoed in the parking lot he said this, “Sister, I’m really just looking for a wife. I know its forward of me but I have to start somewhere. No better place to meet a sister than at the masjid after jummah, right?” This came out of his mouth with such sincerity.

The brother had a point.

After much thought I realized I wasn’t mad at him. He was simply doing what he needed to do in order to find a partner. He made his intentions perfectly clear.

No disrespect involved.

I know y’all ain’t gonna admit it but we’ve all scoped the scene out after jummah, Eid prayer and at lectures.

Stop frontin’…

You see, the way some men approach women makes us feel violated at times. Most women have felt like that at some point or another.

I didn’t feel violated or grossed out after our conversation ended. My dignity and self-respect was still intact.

Then I thought about how a couple of years ago I would have totally written this brotha off. I probably would have flipped my cheetah hijab, said “astagfirullah” under my breath, given him an eye roll (maybe with a neck roll for added emphasis) and zoomed off in my mini red car. Getting older, wiser (hopefully!), and experienced has honestly allowed me to see the “human” in people.

Many Muslims like to view themselves as the ideal Muslim (at least in public) but no one realizes that this is something we all aspire to become. We all want to reach a level of religious perfection and utter obedience.

But what does being a “good” Muslim really mean? Why do we deny ourselves the right to emotionally express our human needs and then equate that with religiosity?

It just doesn’t make sense to me. Acknowledge your basic needs as the human that Allah created you to be.

It’s not a weakness and at that moment I realized that,

I could not fault him.

I could not ridicule him.

I could only empathize with him.

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