Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Thousand Fathers But My Own

Who is a father, exactly? What little parts put together make one whole? Muscle, bone, tissue; is it a body? A thing of genetics? Or is it of heart? Love? Responsibility?

And among this, who is my father?

As I've grown older and gradually left the young child behind, this issue of father has become less and less important. I don't think about it, I don't ache for it, and I don't search as I did when I was young and vulnerable.

And so the other day when I was filing with a coworker, and in the give and take of our personal discussion, I let drop that my father was a drug addict, it almost seemed to me like I was discovering this fact anew.

As if I had long ago catagorized, compartamentalized, and filed it away like library reference books. It was me, but it no longer had any effect over me and it startled me as it hung in the air between us.

Oh yea, thats right. My father is a drug addict.

My coworker seemed as startled as I was, though with more reason as it truly had been hitherto unknown to her.

"You dont seem like someone who would have dealt with something like that," she observed, "I would never have known that about you."

Maybe I come across too urbane for something so bourgeois?

"Yea," I replied, "I guess its not something I think much about anymore."

Whether my father continues to be a drug addict, a highly-functional one if he is still using, or if he has somehow cleaned himself up I can never really know. I don't think a child should be privy to that sort of knowledge or insight into the fallibility of their parents. I made a choice a few years ago to no longer put myself in that situation.

But there were years and years before that where I was the one who dealt with his short-comings directly.

He left my mother and I when I was nine. He had been using hard drugs for a year or two prior to this but as a young child I never knew. Even having been brought to drug houses with him meant nothing to a sheltered girl from a small city, I had no idea what the grown-ups were doing locked away in that room filled with odd smoke. What made an impression on my young memory was the toddler left to run around in what had to have been a diaper one day or two old.

At nine I didn't know what drugs were, or what they did to you, all I knew is that one day my daddy never came home. And I was left with a void I had no choice to to search for alternatives to fill:

My thousand fathers.

My first substitute was a kind man from Colombia who went to the same church as my mother, a born again Christian after the divorce, and I. He showed me kindness like I imagined a father would, hugs when I needed them but really nothing more. I was eleven and I wasn't sure what exactly I was supposed to be looking for, prior to this my father had been supplied without effort on my part.

I soon moved on to another virtuous man who belonged to the church and later became our landlord. He treated me like a daughter without me having to work for it and I became good friends with his own biological daughter attempting crudely to fashion a family from what little I had to work with.

Eventually when I was fourteen we moved away, returning to Minnesota and to our family. Returning me to a wounded father I had briefly gotten to know during my summers spent back home. A father who fought deep depression and often locked himself in his room, emerging at two or three in the afternoon without thought to whether I had been able to feed myself or do something productive with my day.

One Easter Sunday when I had been sent back to Minnesota for the holiday he roused himself enough at 11am to give me some money and send me walking a mile to the store to buy food since there was none in the apartment. I think I was twelve, maybe thirteen at the most.

Returning to Minnesota brought me back to my biological father but left me devoid of what father really meant. In the most crucial years of my life I turned to my writing and my studies in an attempt to find meaning. Both of us wounded, my father and I sought to paste together a relationship from the fragments we had left.

There were many happy, golden moments where we were content in the present. Afternoons of speeding with the windows down and him teaching me how to drive his beat-up stick-shift pickup in the Walmart parking lot while at the same time clutching a Mountain Dew bottle between my thighs as all good drivers can.

But there were as many days when I would be waiting until midnight for him to come pick me up for our weekend only to finally admit that he wasn't coming, that he was somewhere in his drugs again, and that in two or three days he would call from some payphone penniless and hopeless for someone to come pick him up. It would be two days after that that he would get over his shame enough to call me to apologize. And it would always be the same promise to never do it again.

Eventually it happened so much that I no longer believed him, a final breach of trust that would eventually emerge many years later in other relationships.

And eventually it got to a point where I was the only one left in the family who was trying. At fifteen I became adept at calling rehab clinics to get him checked in even though most times he refused. And each time the receptionist would be provoked enough to ask, "Just how old are you exactly?"

"Fifteen," I would reply sheepishly as if it were my own faults that put me there.

I was older than I should have been.

While continuing the feeble attempts at making some semblence of family out of the ruins of our relationship I still sought that support of a father figure from other men around me. I had a father I was supporting but I needed a father who supported me.

When I was nineteen I was brought to a Mexican-Catholic Church and introduced to my Godparents. I was accepted and embraced without a single word and called la hija adoptiva (adopted daughter.) I found a father and a family unit to cling to with all the ferocity of a shipwrecked sailor miles from shore. I took the relationships, the ethnicity, the culture, and the identity from my first real example of a stable household and made them my own.

Those years with them will always be some of my most precious but some three years later I would again be introduced to an even stronger father figure who would have as much of an affect on me as my Padrino (Godfather) but in a completely different manner and at the exact moment when my relationship with my biological father became the weakest.

I was introduced to my walee (Islamic guardian) when I was 21 and from the instant I met him and his family I felt a peace that I had never once encountered among the other fathers I clung to. I felt a sense of unconditional love and acceptance, a guidance, a teaching presence, and the foundation of support I had been searching for those twelve years gone.

A month after I met them my biological father disappeared and was gone for a year.

The juxtaposition of losing my father and finding Islam played out strongly in my identity of who I was and who I wanted to be. I spent hours driving around the roughest neighborhoods in Minneapolis hoping to find him alive, terrified that at any moment, during the coldest part of the winter, I would hear on the news of some John Doe found dumped in the river or frozen to death on the street. And by the time that he returned, again penniless and hopeless at a payphone for my grandmother to go pick him up, I had said goodbye to him in a multitude of ways in my mind.

When I got the call from my grandmother's house and heard his voice I broke down in tears and dropped everything to drive out to see him, I was twenty-two years old.

I hugged him and I kissed him and I cried to know that he was alive but I had come to a decision during the year that his choices in life would no longer have anything to do with me and my life. I had said goodbye to him in that time he was gone, in the second abandonment he had put me through, and that goodbye was more powerful than anything else. I had decided it was enough.

I told him that if he ever left again that I would not search for him or attempt to contact him in any way. If he continued to make these type of choices he would lose whatever connection we had left.

Maybe I scared him straight, who knows, but since then he has not committed the same error. What he does in his alone time no longer concerns me, and maybe its that break that means I don't have any idea when he disappears or reappears because he is no longer letting me down. And he is no longer letting me down because I refuse to allow him to let me down.

He is my father and he always will be, but I no longer pay for his sins. We still have wonderful afternoons and meet for lunch or dinner, but our relationship is not the typical one of a father and a daughter. And when I look for paternal support I find it on the shoulders of the thousand fathers I found without him.

I find it in the home of my walee.

So what makes a father? Is it a blood bond that never breaks? Or is it the support and love that one may give to another freely and without the ancestral ties?

Is fatherhood genetic or emotional?

My idea of fatherhood comes not only from my biological father but from the father-relationships I sought comfort in while growing up.

I found a home in my thousand fathers.





**This post relates directly to the idea of fatherhood, but I would not be who I am today without my mother. She is an amazing woman who sought to provide me with house, home, mother, and father all at the same time. I found a father in my mother as well.

32 comments:

L_Oman said...

Wow - what an emotional post! You are so blessed to have a thousand fathers. I was relieved at the end to see you were 'reunited' with your biological father. Insha'allaah you will always be in contact with him.

Molly said...

Thanks LO! We are reunited but nothing is the same as it was before he disappeared. But he is my father, and he always will be and I'll always love him as I know he will always love me.

Mr.MM said...

We here say the father is not the man who fathered but he's the man who raise, so for sure fatherhood comes not only from my biological father,fatherhood is responsibility,duties and support.
Plus Allah will ask every dad about his role for being a father so its obligation as a father.
So baby i wish i can be your everything husband,best friend,kid and your dad also and i promise you i will do all my best to be one of this thousand and i wish i can be the last one of them so my chest and my shoulders is ready for the most pretty head in the world.

sarah said...

Molly,
Assalamo Aalaikum. I am new to your blog but have checked in a couple of times recently. I am also a British muslim so it's nice to meet other muslims out there with a similar cultural background.

Masha'Allah i thought your writing style is very appealing. It draws the reader in and keeps their attention. Especially your most recent post.

I hope your writing goes from strength to strength and you do well in your anthology entries, Insha'Allah.

I often think of writing a converts' perspective biog style novel - something other than the portrait of an oppressed woman being beaten at home!

Wasalam

Umm Safeer

umarah said...

What a powerful and emotional post.The society where i come from doesnt have too many examples of drug addicts(thank God)but i can imagine the pain and misery experienced by the loved ones of a addict.And i must say you are lucky that you found people who supported you and made you a better person.
I hope your father will find peace soon.

UmmLayla said...

masha'allah mr. mm, very sweet:)

Molly, thanks for sharing such an emotional post. I think it just goes to show that Allah(swt) guides who He will, subhan'allah. It always amazes me the people that find their own path in spite of things... Masha'Allah.

Molly said...

Sarah- Wa alaykum Assalaam. Thank you for coming, I am completely with you on writing about convert struggles. I'd love to make an anthology about converts kind of like the relationship anthology.

Maybe we should hook up with Baraka and the other editors of the relationship anthology. And the blog/diary style I think would be nice.

InshaAllah. Please feel free to give me constructive advice, I'm always open to know what people think of my writing. I'm thankful for your compliments.

Thank you again.

Molly said...

Umarah- inshAllah he will. I don't know that he's found peace so much as he's found peace with his mortality. When he went down to Arizona for my college graduation he told my mom that he didn't think he was going to live for much longer. Allahu Alim.

I'm glad that you've never had any personal experience with addict loved ones, inshAllah you never will.

Molly said...

Ummlayla- I think thats kind of what made me post it. Its so much not a part of my life anymore that I almost forgot about it. After I talked about it with my coworker it made me sit down and think about the ways in which I have dealt with it and put it away. I'd love to hear from other people who have dealt with a similar thing and see how they dealt with it. These type of relationships fasctinate me: hence my degree in interpersonal communication.

luckyfatima said...

salaamz molly, it sucks that sometimes our loved ones dissappoint us. been there, too. brave of you to share, I hope it was cathartic.

peace
fatima

Mona said...

Molly, MashaAllah what a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing that.

sarah said...

Molly,
Salams. I would love to talk about the subject more if u r willing. There is another anthology (UK based) which is accepting entries for dawa style letters - including from converts called Open letters open hearts - I think. It closes on 28/02 so u still have time to enter. I think they r called AlNajma Press.

I live in Saudi Arabia at the moment and so I see an awful lot of biographies and novels about Muslim women but i have yet to find one that I feel depicts a strong, confident woman of faith. Either they r beaten or they are fanatics or they reject islamic ideals like Hijab.

Good to get in contact with you.

Molly said...

LF- It was a good catharsis, I wrote it more in hope that it would reach out to others who have been through similar experiences. Kind of like you, I am assuming. Maybe some good will come out of it.

Mona- thanks dearest!


Sarah- I want to get a hold of you, how can I do that??

Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Sis:

Una cosa personal para ti: Ay, que cosa! Mi papa y mi mama eran adictos. Ambos! Que vida para los ninos. Dios te bendiga y tambien tu familia.

My dear sister, indeed an emotional and honest post and I can personally relate. As a writer, I have written numerous articles about my father. What courage it takes for you to write this post and to share it with us. I am proud of you!

May Allah (swt) heal your father and bring him to Islam/Ameen.

You never know sis, your dawah can do it!

It is a difficult balance to maintain the ties of kinship, while maintaining our sanity and dignity at the same time.

PS - watch with your wali ... his only role is to help you to get married! It's not the same as a mahram who may be both father AND wali.

Molly said...

Safiyyah- ambos adictos? ay nina preciosa, me imagino q horrible fue. Por seguro puedes comprender todas las emociones q se juntan en este blogpost.

And about the wali, true dat, you're right, but fatherhood comes in many forms. The support, love, family, open house, correction, and guidance that he offers me is what I wanted in a father. I have a father who can hug and kiss me, I needed one I could get advice from and feel secure in his house. The whole family, his wife and children, accept me as part of them. And thats part of fatherhood I think.

But my walee doesn't hug and kiss me or clean my bloody knees. I dont need that anymore.

As for sanity and dignity with my family, lol. You haven't met my family, sanity and dignity are long gone with them. lol.

Ok, not really. But sometimes sanity.

But thats all families I think.

sarah said...

molly,

AA. You can email me through gmail at my blogger id ummsafeer
sarah

Amina said...

salams sister
very interesting post. I know what you might have gone through. I was also raised with out father and what I remember from time he spent with me is far from pinky memories of young princess- dady's daughter.It's wonderful that you succeed and got in touch with urs, I don't I don't think I will ever be with mine.

Molly said...

Amina- Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to know that you won't. The thing thats so particular to parents is that they are the people we EXPECT to always be there and to always be strong. And they are the people who have the ability to disappoint us so thoroughly when they're not. And I think they're the ones who always leave the most lasting scars.

InshAllah yours heal :)

Janene said...

Wow, that was an amazing biography. You are very fortunate/blessed/smart enough to not have been taken advantage of by some of the males out there -- you seem to have come across many decent, caring men.

Not a Hijabi said...

Re: Sarah's comment about the lack of muslim bloggers who are strong confident women of faith -- usually, as she describes the majority of bloggers as those who are being being beaten, are fanatics, or "reject Islamic ideals like Hijab".

This is her personal opinion, and certainly she is entitled to it, but I believe she is quite prejudiced.

I know many strong, confident women muslim women who do not wear the headscarf -- which presumably Sarah would assert to be a key characterisitic of proper hijab. My friend, a doctor, who has taught arabic classes at the local masjid (located in a big city in Canada), who follows the five pillars steadfastly, who is one of the most extraordinary muslim woman I have ever met, does not wear hijab.

Currently, at my nearby masjid, my son attends arabic classes, and many of his teachers who teach classes there only wear hijab at the masjid and not outside of it.

Personally, I was on a ladies committee funded by our local masjid that helps needy families, maintain connections with reverts, social and religious services (counselling, family events, halaqas). A significant percentage (about 30 percent) of woman on this committee do not consistently wear hijab. Yet they are completely committed to Islam and making dawa and supporting muslim sisters. I would never presume, FOR ONE MOMENT, that these sisters were less devout or less committed to Allah.

sarah said...

Salam,
I do not wish to hijac this comments page but will just point out that i was refering to fictional characters - not real people. I do not seek to judge people - i'm just pointing out a gap in the market at my bookstore!

Molly said...

Not a hijabi- Nowhere in Sarah's comment did she say anything about the presumed piety of the women writing the books who don't wear hijab. What she did say was "rejecting Islamic ideals like hijab" but she also must be prejudiced against those who take strict hijab because she called them fanatics.

One must set aside the chips on their shoulders. As a woman who does not wear hijab (according to your name) you took offense to a section of what she said and took it out of context.

I back her in that hijab IS an Islamic ideal and it IS mandated by God. Whether or not your piety should be judged by whether or not you wear it was not the topic of her comment. And in fact I know that I, and no one else, has the right to judge anyone. Only God can.

If you would like debate hijab as an islamic ideal I welcome you to hijack this comment strip as much as you would like.

However if you want to say that we are judging people by stating that its an islamic ideal, I'm afraid I'd prefer you leave your baggage at the door.

Thanks.

Molly said...

Gah, part of that came out wrong, I meant to say that I do not, and no one else either, have the right to judge you or anyone else. Only God can judge.

Molly said...

Janene- your comment got a bit lost. Thank you very much for your kind words, and you're right. I was very, very blessed by the men I found as surrogate fathers. I think a part of that is because I always sought, or I guess always found by the will of God, men who were very religion-oriented. I found them in the Community Church my mom dragged me to, later the Catholic Church I chose to attend, and then finally my walee who helped me find Islam.

I feel very much that God has structured my life in a very distinct way. And alhumdulillah I am a better person for it.

Thank you for coming and commenting. :)

Not a hijabi, who interestingly enough, is strong AND confident said...

Molly, I really respect your opinion. I am not set out to personally attack anyone -- I am only commenting on some statements regarding woman who wear or do not wear hijab and woman who are strong, confident muslims.

Nowhere did I remark -- nor imply -- in my comments that muslims who by virtue of understanding that hijab is an Islamic ideal are therefore judgemental of others who do not.

Words are very powerful. When a sister discusses literary characters -- fictional or real life -- and uses words like `rejecting Islamic ideals like hijab` to describe someone, I tend to examine word, for word, what the sister is saying.

Her use of the word `rejecting` is very intriguing. When Sarah inserts that word `rejecting`for those who choose not to wear hijab, she is implying that the non-hijabi is repudiating, refusing, and denying her Islamic obligation.

I can understand the desire for someone to want to read more about woman who wear hijab who are also strong and confident. But during this endevour, please do not dismiss the non-hijabis with the fanatics and spousal abuse victims -- in only makes you seem...umm...judgemental.

I have many friends and aquaintances who believe that hijab IS an Islamic ideal and it IS mandated by God. I am already well-aware of the arguments of head-covering. And I agree, we cannot pick and choose which ideals in order to accommodate an easier lifestyle or to suit my personal opinion. I do not wear a head-scarf because I understand it to NOT be religiously mandated.
And yes, ultimately Allah will be the judge of my piety.

Molly said...

Wow, please please please comment on my other post exactly why you believe it to not be mandated. I am absolutely fascinated and want to know your opinion.

And I agree that semantics are powerful (I graduated with a degree in Communication) so I see your point on the rejecting.

I guess one could argue that the others she was referring to actually do strongly reject the hijab.

But you are right in that referring to non-hijabis as being the other end from strong women of faith could come off judgemental. I will say that I know Sarah did not mean to come off that way at all, she said so in an email to me.

The caveat of your arguement is that hijab is not mandated, which brings me back around to: please please let me know how you came to that opinion on my other post.

I really respect your opinion as well.

Molly said...

gah! If only I could type in a straight line!

I meant to say that the AUTHORS she was referring to... not others.

Work has me fried.

Not a hijabi said...

I'm shying away with why I conclude (rightly or wrongly) about why I believe wearing a headscarf is not a religious requirement. I strongly believe we will have an endless debate -- you are strong in your conviction that it is so-mandated and I am similarily convinced that it is not. I am sure whatever points I bring up will naturally be disputed and countered. I have heard and read much of the commentary out there regarding hijab; what the shaykhs have asserted; and what is instructed in my halaqas. Nonetheless, jazakallah khairan for the invitation.

Molly said...

you know thats kind of a cop out right?

I didn't say "Please post your reason so I can prove you wrong."

I said "Please post your reason so I can understand."

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikom,
Thank you for sharing this with us. I can see my own family in this post, except, unlike you, I found "substitute father" figures who were *NOT* healthy examples... What a difference that can make. How vulnerable we are when we are young and lacking the love and direction of a parent (or two). Insha'Allah, I hope your father has the strength and courage to finally overcome his addiction, one day.

With my respect...

Molly said...

Anon- Thank you. It really can make a difference, I had plenty of bad examples in my life- most of my father's drug-addicted family for starters- but my mother was a strong woman who kept me from going down those lanes. I think I would truly have been lost if I hadn't had her. Alhumdulillah. I hope that things in your life are better now. :) The children really are the most vulnerable.

Madeline said...

Molly,

I'm so happy you found my post and sent me over to your own. What a journey, huh? Dysfunctional Dads can be heartbreaking in 1000 ways. I can relate to your finding surrogate dads to fill the gap. I can also relate to your need to distance yourself from and care for your dad alone. So confusing. No matter how much we grow up, there's that confused child that lives within us, and she shapes everything we do, everyone we love, and everything we write. I look forward to reading more. It's an honor to be blogrolled on your site. :) --madeline