That’s what my dad asked me in his hospital bed and I’ve still been thinking about my answer. He admitted that his only thoughts were about me, worrying about my future, and that I have no family. What makes you happy? Rather deep I retorted!, but my dad was quick to add that he’s dying and doesn’t expect to be around for much longer. I somehow have this defence mechanism that glosses over subjects that I find uncomfortable. I tried to explain that times have changed, that women are no-longer restricted to being wives and child-bearers, that I’m sorry to disappoint him but I have no interest in having my own family. My dad said that I was lying, because he sees the way I look, cuddle and kiss my nephew. You love him, he asked? Yes, without question, he’s the best present I could ever have wished for, but he’s not mine, I just get the best bits of spoiling him without the responsibility.
He tried a different approach. He went on to explain that when he was at university, there was this blonde English girl who had a crush on him. You won’t believe it but I was rather handsome when I was young and a really good dancer – really, my geeky dad? Yes, I did spend a lot of time in the pub and also got involved in protests, I wasn’t always serious, he said. He married this English woman, and admitted that he was terrified of telling his parents as they had plans that once he graduated he’d have an arranged marriage with this Pakistani girl who was from a wealthy family. Your grandparents were livid, but as their only son, they had to forgive me and after we married, we went back to Pakistan and she was a head-teacher at a private school. She adapted quite well to the change in culture, and I had to travel to UAE at that time as I was working on a project. I was sensible with my earnings and invested in some shops and a house for starting a family. Everything seemed perfect in my world, but then it all fell apart, I discovered that my then wife was having an affair with the solicitor that I appointed to take care of my business interests. She cried a lot and begged for forgiveness, but there’s one thing in life that’s very important and that’s loyalty. I filed for divorce, and she got very bitter, wanted to take me for everything that I had worked hard for, and the solicitor took control of my shops and lived in my house. The stress caused a recurrence of the tuberculosis that I first contracted as a young child, and I spent a few months in hospital. Your grandmother came everyday and helped get me back on my feet. After that, I threw myself into work, and I never wanted to get involved with anyone again. As the years went by, I realised that I was missing something, that work wasn’t enough, and I decided that I wanted a family, to build a future again. Despite being a few years from turning forty, I was still a catch in my hometown, a well-educated man, good career, your grandparents were sure I’d want someone similar, but I came across your mum a few times and I quietly observed her, I instantly fell in love, she wasn’t educated or from a rich family but very kind, she was always looking after her younger siblings as the eldest. At first, I was worried about the 17 year age-gap, but she was very mature for a 20 year-old. On meeting your mum, I felt, very slowly, the pieces of my heart beginning to mend. Second time lucky, I found a wonderful wife and mother to our children. I think that people often have high-expectations, they must have someone similarly educated, but the fundamentals of a long-term relationship are values and outlook. I realised that Asian women were loyal and faithful, it’s engrained in their culture. Why do you see Caucasian men marrying Thai women, exactly the same reason, they make great life-partners. The same can’t be said of men, agreed, that’s why I worry about you, and also would be disappointed if you brought back an English guy, I just don’t want you to suffer the way I did… In any case, I think you’re very similar to me, and a bad experience can put you off trying, but it’s totally worth risking failure and disappointment for a lifetime of happiness isn’t it, Abida?
My dad and I never talked about relationships before, I think it was awkward for the both of us, but I could understand the point he was trying to make. He was intimating that I had a bad experience and that was holding me back. I fell for someone in 2007, and I made the mistake of letting him go, since then I’ve dated sporadically, but not felt the same connection. I think you just know when you meet the right person, and I agree with my dad, it’s not necessarily aesthetics, wealth or intelligence but character that’s most attractive. Until someone blows me away, I’m quite content as I am, if that means no family then so be it.
I may not have a clue where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in 30 years, but on a serious note it has encouraged me into looking at pensions. An elderly client that I’ve known for years and who’s always been sharp and organised, came in last week to see me and tell me that her husband has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, she’s in her eighties and relied on him to do everything as she has only partial sight. Her son who lives in Spain only came to see them for two days, and she struggles to go out and do things. I felt really sorry for her, as she has no other family, so I gave her my number, and she called me on a Sunday, which I don’t mind, I offered to come to her and help get her shopping. Old age comes to all of us eventually, so planning for the future is important.
It’s funny, the first person to ever figure me out and understand why I act the way I do, was another client that I’ve not known long. He told my boss that I was far too good and should move and try something different, but he knew that I was far too devoted to him, and before he left he whispered in my ear that I shouldn’t let fear of failure hold me back. He was absolutely right. I’m forever making excuses for not wanting to move or date, my boss was encouraging me to date someone, and I told him I can’t because he’s too successful which for me means hard-work to please. That’s ridiculous, he retorted, I know, but that’s me! Plans for the future? – It’s a work in progress…