Day 15

Louisiana

08/16/2011

36 Comments

SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT INSIDE ME
by Aman Ali

My father is battling one of the strongest demons he’s ever faced in his life. He’s 66 years old and began working at the age of 9. Health reasons forced him to recently retire and ever since he’s been coping with what relevance he feels like he has in this world.

“The only thing I know is work,” he said before pausing and staring at a wall. “As long as I’m able to work, I want to work. Right now I feel like a cripple.”

New Orleans wasn’t a scheduled stop on our tour, but I wanted to surprise my parents with an unexpected visit.  My brother Salman lives here and my parents moved in from their home in Columbus, Ohio about a year ago when my dad was forced to retire. After spending over 30 years working in the baking industry, my dad had a severe heart scare last year and had to stop working.

Now, he spends his days in my brother’s apartment wrestling with a retirement he wants no part of.

“I cannot relax,” he said. “I have to do something. That’s my nature. Maybe I’m not used to it yet but I don’t want to get used to it.”

I cannot begin to tell you how hard my father worked to make a better life for my brothers and I. I’m sure your father did too. But I feel like it’s something we can never mention enough. But it’s times like this that make it so painful to watch my father go through this struggle when I feel like he doesn’t have to.

Because I live in New York City and am constantly traveling, it’s a rare gem to see my parents and any of my four brothers who are scattered across the country.  Anyone who knows my family knows our passion for verbally berating each other with jokes, one-liners and insults. So I was eager to break fast with everyone at the mosque and throw some verbal jabs at my dad when he totally snubbed me and my brothers and sat with some of his friends.

“It’s weird, dad has friends now,” my little brother Zeshawn snarked. “He’s BFFs with those guys over there and they formed their own clique. It’s like the Muslim version of Mean Girls.”

I interrupt my dad’s bromance session and convince him to sit with us and he begrudgingly agrees. I asked him what his daily routine is like in New Orleans now that he’s unofficially retired. He wakes up every day to take my mom to work. He then comes home to do a little bit of cooking, watch tv and maybe pray at the mosque before it’s time to pick my mom up from work at the end of the day.

“Sometimes I get jealous dropping her off because she gets to work and I don’t,” he says while drinking some tea. “It’s tough seeing somebody work and all I can do is be the chaueffer.”

My dad raised my four brothers and I by making huge sacrifices. He worked for a baking company and was on the road 4-5 days a week meeting with clients all around the country.  Working is the only thing he knows how to do. When I asked him what hobbies he has in order to relax, he says “I work.”

Our family heads home to my brother’s apartment to discuss some exciting new changes in Salman’s life. As you recall from the blog last year, Salman at the time was making peace with a divorce. In September, he will be getting married to a (un)lucky lady and together the two will move to Ohio. It’s one of many reasons my family should be happy right now because of all the good news in me and my brothers’ lives.

“This is the time we should be thanking Allah,” my mom pleads to my dad. “All the mistakes we made and things we didn’t do, our five boys are fixing those mistakes with their success. When I see Aman, I feel like I’m inside him and doing what he’s doing and I’m inside Zeshawn doing what he’s doing.”

“What’s Zeshawn doing?” my dad said with a wry and squeaking chuckle. “That kid is a bum.”

Zeshawn rolls his eyes and my mom consoles him with a hug.

My dad has a personality switch that goes from stoic to goofball in seconds. One minute he’s quiet and will barely even utter a peep and the next minute he’s riffing about how dorky my glasses are. I giggle incessantly everytime he opens his mouth.

I ask my dad why he can’t sit back, relax and smile at all the joy in our family right now. My mom responds instead.

“Your father worked hard all his life for the past 40 years,” she said. “He can’t stay one day at home. He feels very good when he’s working and helping people and right now he feels like he can’t.”

But there’s no reason for him to work. My brothers and I are blessed to be independent adults who don’t need him to support us. Maybe that’s what the problem is, Salman said.

“For dad’s entire life, he’s wrapped his identity around doing work,” Salman said. “He’s used to being the one that’s in control. He’s used to driving the bus and he’s having difficulty sitting in the backseat.”

My brothers and I have tried what feels like everything to comfort my dad during this difficult time. We call him every time we get a free moment and visit whenever we can. We’re all doing very well in our respective lives and why can’t that be enough?

“We don’t know what makes him happy in life, honestly,” Salman said. “It’s important that we want our father to be proud of us, but it’s his personality he’s always going to find something to be unhappy about.”

My father has a success narrative similar to many fathers out there. He grew up in India and at a young age was determined to move to the United States when he married my mom. He was extremely poor and one of his first jobs was mopping the floors at a Dunkin Donuts. From there he worked his way up the ranks and onto corporate baking companies.

“You worked so hard, so now is the time you should be praying to Allah thanking him for all that he’s given us,” my mom said.

My dad wiggles around on the coach and squeams. He stares at a wall and I can tell he’s beating himself up on the inside. My father is extremely hard on himself and always feels like nobody likes him.  Maybe it comes with the territory of being a father, a job most people often don’t give enough credit to.

“All I want is for my kids to respect me” Dad said.

My dad had a pretty traumatic upbringing in India, the details of which I barely know. But for that reason, he doesn’t often keep in touch with relatives because it reminds him of the past. But my mom asks him how can he expect us kids to respect him when he neglects people pivotal to him in his own upbringing.

“You haven’t seen your aunt in almost 15 years,” my mom said. “She practically raised you like her own son.”

“I raised you Aman like you were one of my own sons too,” my dad said with his goofy chuckle again. “Good thing I saved the receipt on you though.”

My dad mentions he’s happy to see me though because for the past few days he’s been feeling down.

“I’m feeling sick,” he said. “Something is not right inside me. I don’t know what. The last two days I didn’t do nothing but sleep. Something is not right inside me.”

I’m too scared to ask what he means by “Something is not right inside me.” But it’s been stuck in my head and I’ve been praying ever since he no longer feels like this.

I wake up the next morning and my dad asks me to come with him to a pond nearby the apartment complex. He’s carrying a loaf of bread and all of a sudden more than 25 ducks see my dad and run towards him in anticipation.

“The ducks here love me,” he said. “They wait for me every morning by my car. They don’t do this to anyone else.”

And he’s right. Bassam pulls out his camera to take pictures and the ducks begin to run away. My dad walks over to the other side of the pond and the ducks follow him. He hands me some bread slices to feed the ducks.

“I come here every day,” he said. “It feels good how much they love me. They’re like my pets.”

I asked him who loves him more, his sons or these ducks.

“Well, these ducks never talk back to me or ask me for money,” he quipped.

Thinking about my family keeps me up at night these days. I’m blessed to have so much success in my life but at home I feel like my family is broken. Its moments like this when this roadtrip means nothing to me if I can’t hold down my home. Maybe something is not right inside me too.

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  • Maryam

    That was an awesome heart-felt read. I think this will relate and touch a lot of people because in some way or the other, we all go through this with our own families. And surprisingly a lot of fathers act this way especially with their sons. But deep down inside we all know they love us deeply and are proud of us. InshaAllah your Dad becomes well  from what he is going through.

  • http://twitter.com/AhlamS Ahlam S.

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing something so personal with us. Your father reminds me of mine in many ways. There’s something about watching our fathers begin to doubt themselves, their manhood, that breaks you down inside.  Maybe its our intense love and respect for them that makes it difficult to see them as… human. May Allah strengthen our fathers during their trials and tribulations, keep their hearts soft and always surround them with loved ones who will pray for them in this life and the next. Praying for you and yours this Ramadan. 

  • Liza

    This got me tearing up. Miss my dad. :(

  • http://twitter.com/jonneke jonneke

    May god bless your dad.  And you.

  • Heela Naqshband

    Another wonderful, touching story. May God bless your family and you guys for your fantastic work.

  • Chiara Alma

    An excellent post.

    If I may be so bold, your father needs a medically approved job, one his doctor says is safe for him to do and that will give meaning and purposefulness to his life post-retirement from his main career. This could be a volunteer position, or a low stress one for pay, but something that gives him a destination and a structure to his days, and a role in society beyond fatherhood. Retirement is a difficult transition even for those who choose and prepare for it, but more so for those forced into it by health, downsizing, or mandatory retirement ages. 

    People like your dad who don’t have hobbies to turn to need a job more than others who might find satisfaction in a hobby or even in turning a hobby into a job (one of my dad’s friends started doing woodworking as a supplemental business not just a hobby). I once met a concierge at a high end condo building who told me he was recently retired from a top executive position for health reasons (vaguely described as stress) and spent a year at home, miserable, and driving his wife nuts. She told him to get a job, and being a concierge turned out to be perfect for him–low stress, good social contact, running things from his “centre” in the lobby, helping others, just enough and not too many hours.

    Some retirees with experience like your dad take jobs as self-employed consultants, thereby controlling how much work they do for whom, or mentors to business students in a local college or uni program. There are probably many things your father could do, with a little thought that makes work life and retirement less all or nothing. Some retirees enjoy being the crossing guard for the local school–morning, noon, and afternoon time slots M-F, with a sense of purpose and regular “customers”, chats with the moms, dads, and the kids, an important protective role. 

    As stressful as work can be, studies have shown that not working is more stressful, primarily because of the sense of a meaningful place in society and the social connectedness that work provide. Your dad may be naturally taciturn, but he also may be mildly depressed (which worsens medical conditions and adds new symptoms), or dysthymic. 

     I hope your dad finds something to ease his retirement, and his inner discontent (after being checked out medically).

    –an admiring reader, who is also an MD and a shrink :D

    • Chiara

      For some reason my avatar and blog link aren’t showing above, despite signing in via Google. I have done a number of posts with appropriate links on your travels last year and this at Chez Chiara http://www.chezchiara.com

  • Elyas

    Aman, this article made me pretty emotional. Walahi looking at your dad reminds me of my late father(may allah give him access to Janatul Fardos) because they resemble one another in looks although they hail from two different countries(Somalia and India).

    I think that as humans we tend to not appreciate what we have until it is no longer there, whether it is health, wealth or success. For someone who has been so used to working all his life this sudden change is shocking to the individual. Perhaps your dad is associating retirement with impending doom. He is spending too much time thinking about this retirement thing. God forbid it is driving him to depression.

    You are probably asking yourself, “what can we do to make him feel better?”. First and foremost I think you guys should send off your father and mother back to the motherland. In Western countries been a senior citizen is time period of depression and rapid descend into the graveyard. However, back in our ancestrial homelands, things are the opposite because senior citizens are very much respected and useful. They can roam around all day everyday. They can just go from one relative house to another. All these interactions are good for the sole. Humans need that a lot. We both know that here in America, from now on, your dad will rely on you guys more and more. He will be stuck in the house. The few occassions that you guys call him would be the little times he is relieved of his worries. It just doesnt have to be that way so I suggest that you guys give a thought to my theory.

    Secondly, if you desire to give dad a rude awakening for him to realize how blessed he is please tell him the less fortunate people in this world. Tell him about the Somali father who had to walk to a refugee camp for 20 days and in the process had to abandon 3 of his sons on their way to the refugee camp because those sons could no longer walk and he had to safe the living. Remind him to count his blessings. If nothing else he can just thank Allah for making his children succesful.

    • Rayan

      What do you not understand?

      This is about AMERICAN MUSLIMS! 

      America is the homeland of the people being profiled here.  There is no homeland to return to.  When an earnest immigrant comes here this becomes HOME! There are no divided loyalties between countries, there are only two loyalties, ISLAM AND the UNITED STATES.

      Seniors are far more active here than in any South Asian country and they stay actively engaged in things for a far longer period of time, only seeing the negatives in this society is a little ridiculous. 

      • Elyas

        @Rayan, you just couldnt help but attack me as if you have this burning itching desire to come after on every comment I mean. Sir, woman, whatever you are you just need to fall back and quit concentrating on me because you dont know me and I dont know you and wouldnt want to know @60b3ed3e8fd25e0115c2b89d1161cf49:disqus 

        truthfully speaking Western countries are the wost place for senior citizens. People here have individual mentality  as opposed to people of the third world countries who are more communal oriented. Here it is the norm to throw your elderly parents in old age home like a discarded piece of garbage. Personaly speaking no Somali-American dare throws his parent away like that because of the taboo that surrounds such a behavior.

        I mentioned to Aman that he should send his parents back to the motherland because it is much much better for the elderly. Over there the elderly people are treasured and very much respected. They are not dismissed as has-beens. They are listen to and appreciated. Here they are not given the light of day and are considered irrelivant and a waste of human space.

        Therefore, quit coming to me with your personal blind rage against me. Once again I remind you, that I do not know you and dont care to know your curry eating life. So eff off.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KJB6IH45HBV4PFIPHAY4GQURCQ buriedinlit

    Nice post, I’ll make dawa for your father’s recovery. 

  • Mohammed Azam Hussain

    If your father is looking for something to do but a job is too stressful, encourage him to volunteer.  His generation has a lot of talent and energy that can be put to use in bettering our communities without taxing him physically.  A lot of retirees here volunteer at the library, food pantry, etc.

  • http://www.thirtynights.blogspot.com Imaad S.

    Great post. Maybe your father is at an age where he would like to be around his sons more often?

  • Zeeshan

    This post really hit home for me. My dad just retired and while he isnt quasi-depressed like Aman’s father, he is grappling with a reality that he will probably never be gainfully employed again. My mother is obviously not happy with this situation either, ha. I wish there were support groups for these sorts of issues. Families need to deal with these changes as a whole, not just the breadwinners.
    Thanks for being so candid and open, Aman.

  • *aaa

    this was a really good one

  • Barbara

    brought me to tears

  • Anonymous

    All the best to your father and your family. May your father recover from what is ailing him. I agree with those who are suggesting that perhaps volunteering or doing light work part-time might help him feel useful once again. Thanks for sharing such a personal family story with your readers.

    • Anonymous

      Oh, BTW, I should mention that grandkids help. :)

  • Habeeba

    This post was incredible masha’Allah, very honest and such a reality for those of us who have experienced this role reversal, going from the person who was once taken care of to the one who wants to take care of those who took care of us. May Allah SWT make it easy on your family and bless and protect them insha’Allah, may your father find peace and comfort within his heart, Ameen. Many people who have had to suddenly stop working for medical reasons struggle with the ‘what now’ question. From my personal experience, I find his pseudo-jealousy of your mother working natural, my husband is struggling with the same thing, except on top of the health issues he also can not drive. For an immigrant man especially, it’s incredibly difficult for them to sit at home or in the passenger’s side for that matter, while their wives are out working. To them, we’re playing whereas we would give just about anything to get a break and have the stress taken off of our shoulders.

    May Allah SWT bless your father with a long, happy and healthy life, Ameen

  • yxs

    Very nice post…..I think most of the times when you are in the limelight people tend to forget that you are human too…..Thanks for sharing…..may Allah(SWT) make things easy for your father and family.

  • http://www.melibeeglobal.com Melibee Global

    Brings tears to my eyes.  The human condition – worrying about our family and wanting more for each other. You captured it so beautifully.  Thank for your sharing such a personal and human story.  I am sending healing thoughts to your Dad.  (And making a mental note to get you speaking engagements within an hour drive of N. Orleans!)  I know that you will look back to this post in many years and be so grateful for the time you had this year with the family and the perfect photos that Bassam took to memorialize this critical stop on your journey.  Peace and blessings to you and yours friend.

  • Rayan

    Beautiful post mashallah.  As others have commented, I think everyone can relate with how beautifully you have depicted your family life.  Not just the talent in writing but your commitment to being honest in your writing is clear.

    Thank you for sharing, I too remembered my father who passed away and toiled in Canada so that I and my siblings can enjoy the life we do today, unhindered. 

  • Ismail Warsame

    Aman, masha-Allah, please tell your father he achieved something many fathers out there failed to do so. He raised four successful adults, plus he fulfilled his duties of being a father, a husband and a contributing member of the society. He reminds me of my father as well.

  • Ismail Warsame

    Aman, masha-Allah, please tell your father he achieved something many fathers out there failed to do so. He raised four successful adults, plus he fulfilled his duties of being a father, a husband and a contributing member of the society. He reminds me of my father as well.

  • Ismail Warsame

    Aman, masha-Allah, please tell your father he achieved something many fathers out there failed to do so. He raised four successful adults, plus he fulfilled his duties of being a father, a husband and a contributing member of the society. He reminds me of my father as well.

  • Ismail Warsame

    Aman, masha-Allah, please tell your father he achieved something many fathers out there failed to do so. He raised four successful adults, plus he fulfilled his duties of being a father, a husband and a contributing member of the society. He reminds me of my father as well.

  • Anonymous

    thanks for this, dude. love it. – taqee

  • http://twitter.com/amusingmuslimah Zee

    Mashallah Aman. What a beautifully written piece. I hasten to call it blogging. I read this on the metro and nearly cried. Very moving. May Allah relieve your father of his depression and bestow his peace and mercy on your family. Ameen.

  • Uzma

    Poetic

  • birdsofafeather…

    sA reading this and the comments below so many of us are living the same lives and i must say my heart and prayers are with you all.  my dad’s heart issue has him at home too but instead of bakery – plastics; instead of 4 boys – 2 girls & a boy; instead of ducks love me – birds love me. ameen to the prayers below. I wish my dad would at least follow your dad’s footsteps to the masjid for some type of peace…ya Allah

  • A K

    Tks for sharing. Volunteering / lite consulting / inspections in halal food industry maybe a good fit. My dad did some court translations till his hearing got bad. Now he plays bridge online. May Allah ( SWT ) bless all our parents.
    P.S. Tell him not to feed the ducks too much lest they join him heart to heart.

  • Yourianni

    my dad is 71years old, retired, healthy and pretty much happy, the secret is “keep busy”; he’s gardening (its not some kind of magazine gardening, it simply planting trees, chopping trees, lifting woods, do the grass and bushes) and farming (we have chicken and ducks) also fish pond, cats and birds..

    and when the job is done, he went to the nearby mosque, mow the lawn, planting trees, fixing stuff, cleaning the toilets, and when its all done..and the day still young, he fixed stuff for the children in my neighborhood; their bikes, flipflops, shoes…and no, he never ask for money, he gave money instead (for all the tools, new appliances, paints etc)

    he’s a tough man, quite fierce and yet the children still love to ask him for rambutans, jackfruit and coconut..with grunt..still he will gave them all of those fruits..love him.

  • Ameera

    Your father sounds like my own. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. (The duck comment? Totally had that response before!) 

  • Aaisha Shaikh

    Sounds like my dad. He is going to have to retire in a few years, and I know he’s going to hate it. Even on his days off (weekends or vacation days), the man can’t sit still. Before anyone else is up, he wakes up and starts his “routine” – put on properly ironed clothes, breakfast of corn flakes and a glass of juice, make a list of errands, and then start on them. You have to hand it to them though… I wish I had discipline like that. I’ve only worked for 12 years, and I already want to retire. This man’s been working for nearly four times that long and can’t think of a world without it. I agree with Chiara Alma’s suggestion – it would be a good idea for your dad to find a volunteer position to keep him occupied.

  • seef

    Yesterday I was watching Dr.Phil talk to Eric Bana in Eric’s doc on his ’74 Ford Falcon XB GT, which had recently undergone a 3000 (not a typo) hour restoration and upgrading to a race car, and then promptly dove (also not a typo) into a tree on day 4 of a 5 day rally event, the event being the whole reason for the resto. Eric wondered if he should repair the car, which he had owned since he was 15, or just let it go. By repair, he meant do another complete 3000 hour refabrication/restoration. Dr. Phil schooled him about the importance of continuity in one’s life, how it is critical to one’s identity. Basically, fixing the car is cheap therapy. 
    By tearing oneself away from significant pieces of one’s life, one can destroy that continuity. Think of the damage that a divorce does, how it echoes for years and years. I never recovered from moving to a different town at 19 and being severed from my life in the big city, all the things that made up my life. And then getting divorced after a year and a half? Don’t get me started on that.  Now 20 years later i have a new life but i still miss my old life. How do i feel about continuity? I have loved my motorcycle since it was first built in 1987, and when I finally bought it in 1993 I filed away the 2-page ad that had been on my bedroom wall for 5 years. I still have both the bike and the ad. I think I’m gonna keep my second wife, too. The kids? Ehhhh. (JK)
    It’s not too late to restore that continuity. Progress has changed our lives so that our neighbourhoods are not the streets (screw those jerks, man!) we live on, but the people who are on our mind, phones, FB etc.We don’t walk into our village every night but to maintain the same spiritual style of life, we must make our fingers do that walking as much as possible. 
    Once again, much to my chagrin, the big Texan is right. Darn you, Dr. Phil!! (…….and thanks)

  • MissF

    Wow. Thank you so much for this article. My dad is the same way sometimes. I feel like he over-works himself and one day, when he’s forced to not work, he’ll go down the same path your father is. But mashaAllah, I respect men like your father. I feel like the new generation is much different and would enjoy sitting at home and sleeping but something about our fathers generation is so different—they just can’t seem to just relax. InshaAllah, may Allah shower your father with his mercy and may he bring happiness and joy to his life. Ameen. 


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