I’m saying this as you lie asleep, your little paw curled under your cheek and your jet-black curls sticking wet on your forehead, damp with sweat. I’ve stolen into your room alone. I can’t just forget the stifling wave of remorse that swept over me yesterday. I guiltily came down to your room. While I recline against your bedside to watch you sleeping with all the serenity and calmness, I get visions of my being always cross with you.
I constantly monitor your life and interfere in your play and privacy. I impose on you my advice, rules, and restrictions. At times when I caught you watching TV or playing video games, even when you’d finished with your examination, I’d go berserk and shoo you away into your room to study after scolding you without rhyme and reason. I’d always treat you as an ‘apprentice person’ and keep criticising you. I’d untiringly ridicule your dreams with admonitions to ‘be realistic’, and much to your annoyance, always compare you with other children. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast and dinner, I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You spread your butter/jam too thick on your bread. While in a restaurant I always thought you shouldn’t be a child but rather ‘act grown-up’. As if like telling a dog not to be a dog, I’d sternly warn you about ‘not being a child’. I cannot forget hurling such words at you: ‘don’t put your elbow on the table; put your napkin in your lap; stop fidgeting; don’t laugh so loud; stop bothering those people; put down your knife, shift your fork to the other hand; don’t make noise while sipping tea or eating food. How many times do I have to tell you?’
And that day as you started off to play, and I made for my vehicle to my office, you turned and waved a hand and called ‘good-bye papa!’ I frowned and said in reply, ‘Keep your shoulders back!’ Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came upon the road I saw you loitering about with your friends. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your friends by marching you ahead of me to the house. The stockings were expensive. ‘If you had to buy, then you’d be careful!’ Imagine that, son, from a father.
Do you remember later in the evening, when I was busy scribbling on my desktop, how you came in my room, timidly, with a kind of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up from over my paper, impatient and annoyed at the interception, you hesitated and stood at the door. ‘What do you want?’ I snapped. You said nothing, but ran across and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me. Your small arms tightened with an affection that Almighty Allah had sent blooming in your heart, and which even neglect couldn’t wither. And then you were gone, battering up the stairs. Well, son! It was shortly afterward that a terrible sickening fear came over me. What had habit been doing to me — the habit of finding fault, criticising, and reprimanding — this was the reward to you for being a boy. It wasn’t that I didn’t love you, it was just that I expected too much from you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
There’s so much that’s good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you is as big as the dawn over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I’ve come to your bedside in the darkness, and I’ve knelt here ashamed. It’s a feeble atonement; I know you won’t understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I’ll be a real papa! I’ll play with you and suffer when you suffer and laugh when you laugh. I’ll bite my tongue when impatient and nasty words come. I’ll keep saying as if it were a ritual: ‘He’s nothing but a little boy—a little boy. I’m afraid I’ve visualised you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary on your bed, I see that you’re still a baby. I’ve asked of you too much, my son.