Father’s Day letter to my daughter: Ek, do… you’re a teen!

Congratulations, you are now officially a teenager! I guess that explains your obsession with boy bands and ripped young movie stars.

I willed the months leading up to your 13th birthday to pass in slow motion. I wanted to hang on to every moment as you left childhood behind. Stirred into my pride in watching you blossom into a vibrant young woman with a mind of her own was a tinge of sweet regret. I always felt you grew up too fast. I guess all parents are torn between wanting to slow time and wishing the years go by faster.

I wonder if you feel a similar pull, wanting one day to be a child with a simple life and the next day a mature, young adult demanding to be counted.

You’ll have your own experiences as a parent, and you too will ask the questions I asked myself as you entered every new life stage. Have I taught her everything she needs to know? Have I done enough to make her happy? Does she feel she can tell me anything? Have I reacted right every time she’s told me something uncomfortable and is she confident I’ll do so every time?

I’m grappling with another thing: how long will I remain the only man in your life? I’m used to being the one you lean on, the one you turn to for help or when you need a ear. How long before a crush turns into a romance? Will you still confide in me the way you always have?

As you can see, I’m struggling a little.

But I’m also reminded of how you came into my life, a force of nature that transformed everything around me. I realised even then how strong a daughter can be. (It was evident from how you fought your way through a difficult birth. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t again.)

I see that strength and maturity in the decisions you make and the concern you show for the world. It’s strength of character that makes you go out of your way to help those less privileged than you; I’ll never forget how you saved money all through last year and then gave it to an orphanage. It was maturity that made you switch to a bucket for bathing months before anyone else in the family did because you feel strongly about conserving water.

I could cite such instances all day.

As you stride decisively towards adulthood, here’s what I want for you: you go after what you want, not what others want from you. I want you to live the potential of this strength and goodness that seems to radiate out of every pore. I want this desire to make every cell of yours tingle.

You’re a carrier of dreams – but only yours. Not mine, not the family’s, not anyone else’s. I want you to go on a journey of discovery, one that excites and agonises you in equal parts, one that ultimately leads you to the greatest discovery you can ever make – yourself.

As you go on that journey, I promise you a few things.

  • For too long I have doled out freedom in manageable – for me, not you – doses. This must change. You need space to grow, make mistakes and learn, and I promise to get out of the way as much as possible. More importantly, I will never dismiss what you think or want to do. I will assume you’ve thought things through, and will keep an open mind when it comes to your decisions.
  • I will respect your choices and deal with my fears (with a little help from you, I hope). I will respect your opinions even when I disagree with them.
  • Love. Undying. It will remain with you, not necessarily visible but always felt.

Last year, I wrote: “You’ll never regret investing large amounts of it in a person you truly care for.” You’ve been my greatest investment; I don’t regret a moment of these past 13 years.

I have never said this before, but I experienced a revelation atop a mountain in Kabul in 2011. As the furious wind and the winter temperature of -150 C numbed my face, I looked across the expanse of crooked, craggy hills, pink sand, buildings perforated by bullets and rocket shells, and homes made of mud and straw. Kabul was in tatters. Yet, it was only down, not out. People still lived, fell in love, built lives together, had children and found happiness – even in war.

It struck me that everything fades away. Except the spirit.

May yours be as indomitable.

PS: I love you.

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