Since middle school, I’ve constantly been asked a question. A question that I thought was harmless if not some teasing fun. A question that has real implications unlike the question of whether I shower with my hijab on (I don’t! Why would this make sense?), if I have an arranged marriage (No. Also, don’t ever ask that again.), and if a boy sees my hair if I’ll be forced to marry him (…No. No. No.). Rather a question that I never truly thought about ‘til I was asked it again recently.
“What would your dad do if you (insert action)?”
A. He would disown you.
B. He would hurt you.
C. He would lock you up.
D. Would ship you to India.
E. None of the above.
People love talking about my dad. And not about his occupation, his life story, his favorite foods, what sports team he roots for (he always switches so he ends up supporting the winner) or his experience as a brown Muslim man. Rather people love talking about what my dad would do to me if I were to disappoint him.
First, there is an assumption that my dad is overly controlling and angry.
Usually the question “What would your dad do?” is followed by either “if you took off your hijab,” “if a boy saw your hair” or “if you went out to a party.” First, there is an assumption that I do not have autonomy over my body, second, that my father forced me to wear hijab, and third, that any of these actions would justify an angry response from him.
Also, to answer the multiple-choice question above, the answer is E.
It took me years to realize how ridiculous these questions were. When you ask me that question, you are being racist. No argument. You are reiterating centuries of Orientalist ideals when you assume that as a brown woman I have no autonomy of my body and that my own father oppresses me. Let me assure you that I wear my scarf for no man, and that it is a decision I made on my own and for myself. And despite what your question implies, the relationship between my father and I is one of love and respect.
When you see my Dad you see a tall, overbearing brown man. You see my oppressor. You see a man who apparently only knows harshness and violence. You see images of terrorists, of barbaric men, of violence, the same images that are shared in the media, reflected on my father’s face. I feel sorry for you, because you aren’t able to truly see him.
When I see my Dad the first thing I look for are his crow’s feet, which appear just before his smile does. I see his hands, which held four daughters as he broke borders and oceans to be able to provide. I see a man who learned to verbalize his love, not for his own sake, but for mine, so that I should never doubt it. I see the person who taught me love in actions and sacrifice.
To my father:
I’m sorry you live in a world where brown men are seen as heartless. I’m sure if everyone met you, you would be able to unravel the stitches of time that so strongly hold onto the ideals of what brown masculinity look like. I’m sorry that you traveled so long to be in a country that is not deserving of your patriotism or love. I’m sorry that you traveled for your children, only for them to unlearn your mother tongue.
Thank you for showing me what dedication, commitment and love look like. Thank you for loving me at my worst self and for pushing me to be my best. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for taking care of me when I forget to take care of myself. Thank you for reminding me the importance of patience. Thank you for being a source of strength.