It’s been a running joke in my extended family that you can’t leave me alone in a bookstore, a library, or even near someone’s bookshelf. Chances are, I’ll probably tune you out and make a beeline towards wherever there are books on display. It’s a habit my mom hated (how antisocial of me) and one that my dad loved, and cultivated in both of his children. It’s one of the many habits of his that I’m proud to have picked up. 

When I was growing up, my dad always worked long hours. He’s a doctor who runs his own clinic, which means he either works in four-hour shifts and comes home late at night, or he works a straight shift and I see him in the evening. His one day off is Friday (in Dubai, the weekends are Friday and Saturday, because Friday is the day Muslims go to the mosque). 

So, Friday was the day for errands, chores, meeting family, and catching up on things that needed to be done during the week. His long hours meant I didn’t see him as much as I’d like to, but it also meant the time I did get to spend with him was special. On his days off, he would show me his favorite books and movies, and he would happily encourage my vigorous reading habits. 

I specifically remember my dad giving me the Harry Potter books to read when I was younger. Afterward I then excitedly waited for the new books to subsequently release every year along with him. I also remember him introducing me to his favorite authors—Jeffrey Archer and Arthur Hailey, to name a few— and me following Archer’s newest series with interest because it made me feel closer to my dad. 

I remember feeling sad when my mom eventually threw out my massive Kinder Surprise collection (remember those?). My dad would bring home a set of 3 chocolate eggs every week for me, and I spent hours playing with those little figures and collecting the plastic cups they came in. Over time, I had amassed over 150 toys; however, my mom ended up either giving them away or throwing them in the trash.

To be fair, they took up every inch of my desk, but it was worth it because they were beloved gifts from my father. 

I remember going on trips with my family, and my dad was an incredible swimmer. So it was always fun diving into the sea with him. Swimming with my dad was great, he could do all kinds of water tricks, like handstands and somersaults, and lie flat on the ground of the pool (I unfortunately never got the handle of sinking into the water as he did).

Notably, though, my dad was authoritative; especially when he broke up fights between my brother and me, or when we got into arguments about who I could meet or what I could wear. My dad and I had our ups and downs, but with time, the downs never stuck with me. I later realized he was so strict about my curfew because he was only concerned for me. If I was ever late coming home, he wouldn’t even say anything, but he’d always stay awake to make sure I came home safe. 

My dad was indulgent, too; one way he shows his love is with gifts, which meant I always got the book, or toy, or food, or clothes, that I asked for. It meant that my dad spent long hours at work to provide for us, which he provided us plenty. What he missed out on in time, he made up for in memories and affection.

My dad also supported my career choices, my university choices, and everything in between. He made sure I was free to do what I wanted—and in a Desi society wherein your options regarding a career path are often to become a doctor or a lawyer— it was good to know he had my back. 

When I was worried about what I wanted to do with my career, he looked at me and said, “I’ll support you for as long as it takes, you don’t need to worry about that.” And my dad has kept promise on his word, as he’s paid for our schools, our colleges, our master’s universities, and paid for my brother’s first apartment while letting me stay at home after I graduated (and during the pandemic).

I know he’ll never accept money from either of us because he firmly believes that what he makes is for us. He’s supported my decisions and has made it unequivocally clear— he will always look out for me. What’s even better is I just like spending time with him, whether we’re watching a movie, playing cards, or just spending time at home because he’s a great companion to have in my corner. 

I’ve always had a difficult time voicing my feelings as we’re not an “I love you” family. But we do show our love in a thousand different, smaller ways instead. 

With my family, our love language is through gifts and gestures. It’s through the chocolates my dad bought for me every week; the trips and restaurants he would take us to thanks to pharmaceutical reps; the insane hours he works to provide for all of us, and the efforts he took in teaching me… well, everything. 

So, this one’s for you, Uppa. Even though I don’t verbally articulate my “I love you’s,” just know— I wouldn’t be where or who I am today if it weren’t for you. Thank you for all of your sacrifices, and for putting up with the pains I’ve caused over the years. Ultimately, just thank you for being there for me and our family, no matter what.

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  • Natalia Nazeem Ahmed is a budding writer and editor with a BA from Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India, with a major in English Literature and a double minor in Philosophy and Film Studies. An avid reader, her goal is to build a career out of her fiction and non-fiction writing. In her spare time, she loves to knit for her loved ones.