November 24, 2018
You’re not even born yet. We are expecting to welcome you to this world next month. Your mother, little sister, and I have been preparing for your arrival since we heard your heartbeat through the fetal Doppler at the doctor’s office. Your sister, who’s turning 3 next week often points out at your mother’s belly and says in her innocent 3 year-old broken language thatAtif is wa,wa which means Atif is nice/cute. We can’t wait to have you as part of our small family soon.
I wanted to write you this open letter so that one day when you’re old enough to read, you can, perhaps, go through this and understand the historical context of the timing you were born, the situation of our family at this point in time and your role in the family and this very contentious world.
We are living in a very cruel, and painstakingly conflict-ridden world today. Your mother, sister, and I recently returned back from Afghanistan where I worked for about three years. In the last three years, a lot happened: I got married to your mother, and your sister was born in Kabul. While I enjoyed every bit of my work helping Afghans, it was no longer safe for us to live there. I didn’t want any of us to fall victim to a suicide attack, and we didn’t want to lose you prematurely due to lack of medical services as we did our second child which devastated both your mother and me.
I always remind our family that we are the lucky ones who have the option to leave a terrible situation like the one in Afghanistan and come to the United States, a place I have called home since I first came to this country almost 12 years ago, if you can believe it, as a high school student. It is unfortunate for those who are still living in fear of war, bomb attacks, lack of social services, and hunger. My generation of Afghans were born in war, and have lived through it since. Some have lost their loved ones to suicide attacks, others have suffered a painful death due to the lack of medical services. Your grandfather, my father died at age 55 due to medical malpractice in Kabul. Recently, one of my students at a private university – a young guy who had just got married and had a one-year old daughter was killed by a suicide attack.
I’m telling you all this to highlight the fact that as a second generation American, you have a lot to be thankful for. While you’ll be born in a very peaceful environment with all the medical care available, know that there are people in other parts of the world who fear losing their newborn baby due to malnourishment, or a bomb attack on their way home from the hospital. First, you have to be grateful to this nation, the United States for providing us the chance to build a better life here. As a first generation immigrant, this country has offered me the chance to go to college, and build my professional career for a path to a better life.
Second, it is vital for you to have empathy for others. We have a saying in Persian that “as long as you are standing, give a hand to the fallen.” You need to get out of your comfort zone, and try to help those in need, anywhere in the world - your neighbor, friend, local community, or someone far away in a different country. We have named you Atif for a reason, which is an Arabic word for “the kind one”. We want you to be the kind one.
Finally, you have to learn, learn, and learn…. Never, stop learning. Be curious. Don’t take anything for granted. Question everything. Question what you see with your naked eyes. Question even me. If you find me at odds with your belief or judgement, never forget to trust your instincts and your intellect, investigate and find the answer. I am also capable of the irrational. Prove me wrong. Do not obey anyone because of their status or authority, but respect them for their intellect and humanity.
I am a flawed individual who wishes he could live up to even half of the advice listed above.
I am a father as well who loves you dearly.