A Birthday Story

My father after receiving his Doctorate of Law honoris causa from his alma mater the University of Buckingham in March 2012

He was born 78 years ago and named after the man whom had helped made the marriage between my grandparents possible.

Although he was the apple of his father’s eye, he was brought up to be independent as quickly as possible – a method you and I would later understand as you continue to read this story.

At seven, his father said to him “Haniff! Tomorrow you go to the school and enrol yourself. If anyone asks, just tell them you are Omar’s son!”

Alone my father went; and because others had their parents with them, no one saw Haniff. As the school was about to be closed for the day, the teacher saw him sitting alone and asked, “Who are you and why are you here?”

“I am Omar’s son,” he replied.

“Good God!” the teacher exclaimed. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

One day, his father said, “Haniff, a week from now you will not have any backbone.” My father didn’t know what that meant.

His father worked at the district office and was the Billiards Champion. A week later he was going to defend his title.

Earlier that night, the family had dinner together. After dinner, his father walked down the stairs to his bicycle, ready to leave for the Billiards Club.

My father went after his father and wished, Good luck, Dad!”

My grandfather looked up, smiled and replied, “Thank you, son. Where I’ll go I will need all the luck.”

His father suffered a heart attack defending his title. Exactly a week after the prophetic message he told my father.

When my 13-year old father heard the news he ran barefooted to look for his father first at the hospital, then at the Billiards Club. He saw his father being laid down on the bench with onlookers encircling.

The last time he held his father’s hand when his father was alive was inside the ambulance when a hand dropped and my father lifted it back up.

My father never left the side of his father’s body inside the mortuary, and slept very little for fear that someone would take the body away while he was asleep, and for fear that he might miss the opportunity to be with his father for the last time.

As a result he became insomniac, sleeping three hours a day at most, till now. His insomnia allowed him to read and read.

From that point onwards he was the man of the house, and had to be independent.

And that led him to be who he is today.

Happy 78th birthday, Ayah. I can never top the greatest way a son could ever love his father the way you love yours but I love you with all my heart nevertheless.

Thank you for being the greatest father this son could ever have.