Fathers are special, particularly for their daughters. It is an endearing bond that lasts for a lifetime and one that colours the first impressions of a girl about the opposite sex. As somebody said that, in actual fact, girls seek their father’s attitudes in their husbands and are so often disappointed. I do not know about anyone else, but it certainly holds true for me. I had an exceptional father who, if he had been alive today, would have celebrated his 85th birthday tomorrow.
I was the first born among three siblings and thus almost had an elevated ‘friend’ status with him. There were no long lectures on any issue, but all the values that I imbibed were from real life lessons. He was a role model in all his relationships with a bright mind that refused to ever be bigoted or biased. I learnt that it is always better to look at the silver lining around the darkest clouds. I also learnt that age is just a number and you can continue to relish life, even when blessed with a long one.
As Abba was in the army, our childhood was spent in various Armoured Corps garrisons around the country. The Armoured Corps or the cavalry was always considered an elite corps with its men and officers possessing a certain dash or flair and their black uniforms positioning them as a breed apart. (The Blue Patrols or the formal cavalry uniform was emulated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto too in a dress code he devised when he became Prime Minister, but that’s a thought in passing.)
I got my first record player as a gift on my 12th birthday from my father. There has been no looking back since then to the joy of music! Abba was the most protective of fathers, despite being liberal in so many ways. There was no question ever of our mail being opened for example or our privacy invaded. The meticulous training from the army made him a stickler for detail and this led to my rose coloured view of the male species as being the most wonderful creation of God, meant primarily to look after the emotional and physical well being of the women in their sphere. The real world is such a shocker after a childhood like that! His friends from college and early days in the army remained close to him throughout his life, along with the new friends he continued to acquire because of his charm and genuine interest in people. He had the unique ability to transcend years and befriend people of all ages down to the friends of his grandchildren in later years!
As he rose in seniority in the army and served as the Corps Commander in Mangla in the 80’s, I saw no difference whatsoever in his attitude towards anybody and he wore his rank very lightly. His passion for his chosen career never dimmed for a second and when, halfway during his tenure as Corps Commander, General Zia asked him to take up the position of Pakistan’s Ambassador to the USA he was greatly upset. Those were the Reagan years and Pakistan was on very good terms with America. We pinned all of Abba’s uniform medals and shoulder badges on a velvet cloth and gave it to him as a farewell present. I am told that for a good many months Abba would look at that particular wall hanging every day in Washington and sigh!
His tenure in Washington lasted five years and both my parents with their ability to reach out to the Americans and Pakistanis alike were deemed extremely successful for Pakistan in that position. It was in his tenure that the first Pakistan Day Parade was held in New York on our Independence Day, which was led by the Ambassador! In all the five years, he was there I cannot count the number of friends and relatives, who visited our home and enjoyed its warm hospitality.
Retirement did not change or cloud my father’s way of life. His love of life, golf, friends and family continued as ever before. He remained an effective pillar of support for all who mattered to him. As a family, we decided to spend Eid-ul-Fitr with my sister and brother-in-law in the picturesque valley of Rawlakot, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, (as that is where my brother-in-law was then posted) in January 1998. After an extremely joyous four days on our return journey and while driving, Abba suffered a massive cardiac arrest and left us for his eternal abode on February 1, just 11 days before his 71st birthday. His namaz-e-janaza was one of the biggest ever in Islamabad for a person living a retired life. Just everybody who came to condole had their own particular story of how he had touched their lives. To date, doors continue to open for me because of whose daughter I am. Until we meet again Abba, a toast to your birthday.
Postscript: It is February and the month has become synonymous with the Faiz Mela and the beautiful spirit of the well loved poet in Lahore. It used to be also synonymous with the festival of basant, but alas that continues to be held in abeyance! If the fate of our Constitution is anything to go by, basant too will come out from the cold eventually. I love and miss this festival because it was traditional fun and classless. Everybody could afford it and enjoy it, and there were no religious connotations. If the glassy dors are a problem, then the administration must do all in its power to abolish them. Killing basant or holding it in abeyance is not the answer, surely. The city of Lahore is poorer in every sense of the word because of this ban.
The writer is a public relations and event management professional based in Islamabad.