Today is my dad’s 57th birthday. This morning, we talked for over an hour about food, Chinese New Year festivities, housing prices, politics in Bangladesh, and how my great grandfather smoked a lot of hookah. But there was one story in particular that made me smile wider than the rest.
My dad recently visited Bangladesh in December, a time of great political unrest and uncertainly. Even though it was ill-advised, he traveled to the remote village where my grandmother and her family lived. As a surprise gift for me, my dad decided to draw his family tree. Helping him with his daunting task (just to put things into scale, my grandmother alone had 13 children), was my dad’s older cousin and their family. As they began constructing the tree from memory, my dad noticed something odd.
"What happened to the girls? I remember having a lot more girl cousins, and nieces, why aren’t you naming them?" He asked.
His cousin scoffed, "Why would we put the women on here? They just get married off. They don’t belong in the family."
Then my father, who was born in one of the most patriarchal cultures and religions I have seen, responded, "If my daughter heard you say that, she would never step foot in your house!"
Now, my dad is no Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. But in this moment, he might as well have been to me. He was standing up to one of his older family members, in their house, using my beliefs and actions as an example for right and wrong. This was unheard of in our culture.
"I have only one daughter. Does my family legacy stop with me? Of course not! Tell me the names of all the women in our family now!" he demanded. His cousin who was befuddled by this unorthodox request, reluctantly obliged.
After my dad finished telling me this story, we talked more about feminism. From matriarchal tribes in Assam, to a recent documentary he had seen on girl child slavery in India. I happily spewed any knowledge I had on the matter, since I knew for sure now that he listened and valued what I had to say.
There are many things that make me proud to be my father’s daughter. I think I’ve written about him more than anyone else on this blog, and it’s because I find his life journeys and wisdom so fascinating. So on that note, happy birthday to my feminist father - I promise to make you parathas and curry when I visit home this summer. You deserve it.