Last Birthday With Abu - IMRAN™
As a kid I left home in Punjab, Pakistan, to live with my grandmother in Karachi, for a better education. My mother and siblings would visit during the holidays. Dad would sometimes come with them. His work with the irrigation department meant many holiday periods coincided with floods in areas he was responsible for irrigation and safety of rivers, canals, dams, etc. But it also became a family ritual that he would surprise us by taking a flight and coming to see us in Karachi.
Keeping the tradition alive later in Lahore, I would sometimes do the same. But it became even more exciting to be able to surprise my family by showing up in Lahore unannounced while giving the impression I was in New York unable to visit.
Based on Columbia Business School schedules and later pace of life in NY, my attempt was always to go to Pakistan for my birthday, May 23, even though it is brutally hot in summer.
I tried to twice annually. Over time, as my Surprise visits became more predictable, I mixed it up by going for my parents’ birthdays, December 25 & August 22.
After Mom's unexpected death too young on 2/2/1992 I started going on that day too. Since flights from New York to Lahore were on certain days a week, my family expected me to 'surprise' them on those days. I would counter that by traveling from other cities, like Washington, DC, to take a longer flight from there on different day. (Remind me another day to tell you the most surreal travel story of my life that happened in one such trip).
In 2008 I was working in Miami, unaware that a very tough time was coming up. One of my loves T and I worked at an organization in Miami, where management was trying to do something definitely unethical and self-serving use of state funds meant for children on welfare. I was working as a CIO but on a consultant, not full time employee, basis. I was asked to come on full time. Certain that if I did that and did what I was being asked to sign off on, one day I would be left holding the bag for their shenanigans. So, we parted ways in April 2008.
Abu had been paralyzed by a stroke in 2002 but was otherwise in good health and spirits. I had seen him a few months prior, in a typical short surprise trip. This time I decided to spend more time with him, and managed to surprise them all with my arrival in May.
It was typical hot weather. Because of incompetence and corruption of EVERY ruler in Pakistan, from Sharif to Bhutto to treasonous Army generals, power failures are a daily routine, sometimes for 12-18 hours in some areas!
Even inside the house, it gets hot quickly. You can see the sweat on my face as I had someone take a candid photo with Dad as he was reading a medicine's packaging.
I am so glad I spent two months with him then. I came back to NY in July but then went back to surprise him on his birthday in August. I stayed another two months, not too worried about going back to work in NY, as I had plenty of money saved up and stocks. Little did I know that within months it would all be gone.
Every time I used to bid adieu to my father I always soaked it all in; time and feelings, sights and sounds, love and lifelong bond. One never knows when it is the last time you meet a loved one.
I came back to New York around October. I was going to do a third surprise trip within one year after a long time, for my late Mom's birth date, but Christmas rush meant there were no seats.
As God would will it, Abu passed away unexpectedly, not from the stroke but from the effects of aspirating some food accidentally. Within weeks of that all I had built up over 20 years living and working in America was lost in the economic meltdown of 2009, starting one of the most difficult times of my life, from which in some ways I am still recovering.
But, there is not one thing I would change about the four months of 2008 that I was able to spend with Abu.
Happy Father's Day, Abu, every day, in heaven,
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