My father holds dear the five pillars of Islam.
When a religious man once asked him why his wife and daughter did not wear the head covering known as the hijab, he answered, “That is their decision and nothing to do with you. If you read and try to understand the Quran, you would know that. Look away if you have a problem. Peace be upon you.”
During my years in college, some extended family members would ask my father when he would marry me off. He would generally dismiss these questions with disdain, but when he did respond his answer was, “It is for my daughter to decide whom she deems worthy of marrying. But only after she earns a Ph.D.”
My father’s words of support before my exams were, “I’ll be happy if you just try your best. And I know your best is an A.”
Each day of vacation, he would direct me to solve 20 math problems from two grade levels ahead. He reasoned that proficiency in mathematical logic would ensure logical reasoning in every subject.
Every Sunday, the family would spend hours over brunch discussing topics of the day. Often, my father would ask me and my brother to debate opposing political views; midway through, we had to switch sides and argue from the opposite viewpoint.
At times I considered these to be hardships, burdens that I had to endure as my father’s daughter.
In high school, I wondered how I could survive solving yet another mathematical proof in physics. “Why can’t I just memorize the equations like everybody else? Why do I have to learn the proof?” I would ask, in exasperation. “Because that is how you train your brain to be logical,” he would reply. “And because you are my child.”
His penchant for words and the use of language was so strong that he would read over my writing assignments and ask me to redo them until he felt they were rich enough in substance and description.
So I was quite pleased when I left for college to study engineering on my own terms, on another continent. Until I encountered a difficult concept in physics. Neither the professor nor the teaching assistant had the time to explain the logic behind the concept. But my father did. I faxed him the problem, and he faxed me back the proof and its derivatives.
My father, Humayun Kabir, was born in the village of Jessore, in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He was one of 10 children living under one roof; there was no electricity or running water. My father studied and taught himself proofs and the English language by lantern light.
He won scholarships that took him to the big city to study chemical engineering. He used part of his stipend to help educate his younger siblings. He married my mother at the age of 24. They had me when he was 25.
After I was born, some people expressed sympathy, telling him, “Maybe next time you will have a son.” My young father responded, “I prayed to God for a child, and God blessed me with a child. I am so grateful."
Soon after, he set off abroad to look for a job that would enable him to provide for his wife (who was studying to be a medical doctor), child, aging parents and siblings. He went to Germany with $20 and no understanding of German.
It stuns me to think of the courage and self-confidence that must have taken. He learned German and sent home much of what he earned. A year later he headed to Iran, where he secured a job as an engineer.
He was about to send for my mother and me when the Iranian Revolution took place. That was not the life he wanted for his family. Having heard of a newly independent country in southern Africa, he headed there to seek his fortune. It was still known as Rhodesia when my mother and I joined him there in 1980; it later became Zimbabwe.
My father was the first Bangladeshi to set foot in Rhodesia. Within a decade, he and my mother had set up a rose farm that exported the flowers to Holland. They worked tirelessly for their hard-earned and well-deserved success.
But he always made time for his children. Not a day passed that we did not hear, “I love you” and “Have you done you done your math problems for the day?”
My father would often say that, for all his material success, he could only be happy if he could educate his daughter to be self-sufficient and to live on her own terms. If he could, my father would have transferred to me every ounce of his own self-assurance and courage, so dedicated was he to seeing me able to take on the world.
We spent hours talking. He was especially vigilant against misogyny. He liked to say, “You are your father’s daughter. Do not be afraid of anything. Whenever you feel alone, you remember that your family stands with you.”
My father had a clear vision for a good life: Decide on what you want, work very hard for it, be self-assured and bold, follow your conscience, have unwavering faith in God, be logical, speak when words are more powerful than silence, avoid complicated people, and do not be intimidated by anyone or derailed by anything.
In truth, while I have always loved and admired my father, I have not always agreed with him. It must have been difficult for my father to release me into a tough world. He had to come to terms with the fact that he did in fact raise a self-sufficient, independent daughter who made her own decisions.
I talk almost every day with my extraordinary father. Whenever I have any doubts, I simply remember that I am the child of the man who had the courage and the self-confidence to journey to other continents in search of a better life for his family.
I hope to instill my father’s courage and self-confidence in my children. And for the record, I did marry the man I chose — and only after I earned my Ph.D.
I am able to live a life on my own terms in a free country because I am my father’s daughter.
Nazli Hardy, MBA, Ph.D., is an associate professor of computer science at Millersville University, and a Millersville resident. Twitter: @Nazlinspired.