Recently, one of my kids was reciting numbers in Bengali to my parents, over Skype.
Naturally my parents were delighted, and my dad said, “I learned to count in Bengali in my small village in Bangladesh, and that was the beginning of the education that allowed me to escape abject poverty and crippling hunger. And here I am today, listening to my grandchild recite those same numbers all the way from America.”
It never needs to be Father’s Day for me to celebrate the courage and inspiration I feel to be the daughter of my father.
His priority had been to raise his daughter to live on her own terms, to not measure her worth against the opinion of others, and to earn an education so she would not have to rely on a spouse for survival. I don’t fully know the scope or spectrum of adversity my father has faced, but I had seen him overcome enough to have written in my Ph.D. thesis notebook, “I am my father’s daughter. I am not afraid of anything.”
Of course this same father had also “instructed” me to not even think about marriage until I had completed my Ph.D. It was hard for my father to accept that the independence he had instilled in me would also include independence from his edicts. It was hard for me to understand how I could honor my father’s expectations while also honoring my own sense of self.
So we came to an impossible impasse, regrettably for several years. It took empty days, many tears — and an exchange of words we both hope that the other forgot — before my father and I understood that we each needed to walk our own paths.
It was during the period of deadlock with my father that one day, a fellow faculty member and botanist at Millersville University knocked on my door, introduced himself, and asked me out for lunch.
Having been born in Bangladesh, having grown up in Zimbabwe and having done my postgraduate work in New York City, I had been planning to leave this small town of Millersville, Pennsylvania, to pursue a jet-setting career in a city elsewhere in the world. But over the course of that summer, I realized my heart found a home with my favorite botanist.
Over the past decade, I have questioned everything — my perspective, my biases, my insecurities, my friendships, my loyalties, my silence, my voice, my prickliness, my faith, my career. But I have never questioned building a home with the man who delivers dad jokes with the same alacrity as he does a lecture on photosynthesis.
Unlike me, my husband does not spend time questioning the deeper meaning of life. Instead, he spends time building tree forts with our kids, coaching their teams, catching crayfish with them, making pizza or tacos with them, hiking with them, building fires with them, helping them with homework, doing demonstrations for their classes, regaling them with stories of his travels — and taking them to urgent care when it’s been necessary a few times.
My husband does question one thing. After the kids are in bed, he occasionally asks me, “Am I doing enough with the kids? Will they remember me as a good dad? Do you think they will call me up and want to do things with me when they grow up?”
My answer — “of course, my darling” — will pale in comparison to some of the things our 11-year-old and 9-year-old have written to him for this Father’s Day: “You give me the courage to try new things,” “I love your dedication to our family,” “I love that you taught me to appreciate life,” “I will never doubt how much you love me,” “I love how you never get tired of spending time with me,” “I love the pleasure you take in being my dad.”
A few years ago, after my father and I had found ourselves back on solid ground, he said to me, “If I had searched the whole world for a person good enough to marry my daughter, I would not have found one better than the one you chose for yourself. You made the right decision, and you made it on your own terms.”
It was yet another gift from a father who has given me so much.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there. Your love, your time, your positive influence, will light the paths that your children choose for themselves.
Nazli W. Hardy, MBA, Ph.D., is an associate professor of computer science and chair of the Women in Mathematics, Science, & Technology Conference at Millersville University. Twitter: @Nazlinspired.