Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
My wife Priya tells me quite often how happy I looked the moment we found out we were having a daughter.
We had decided that we wanted to know the gender early on. As the doctor pointed out to us how we could tell it was a girl, we just smiled and nodded, pretending like we understood but really had no idea what we were looking at. I was really so happy that day, and every day since has been an even greater joy. I love my daughter, Madina Noor, and I love Priya that much more and am so grateful to be sharing this blessing with her.
Madina is now seven and a half months old. Before she was born, what worried me the most was conversations I had with a few men I knew who already had children. When I ask them how it was being a father, surprisingly they said that it wasn't as enjoyable early on as they had thought it would be. One even told me that he didn't love his child for the first year. "The baby just sits there and you can't really do too much with it," he said. "But then when they start rolling around and laughing and talking it's more fun."
I didn't want to "not love" my baby even for a day, let alone an entire year. I tried to think about how I could build a relationship with her, even though she was in my wife's stomach and not mine.
Some things that I believe were helpful for me:
- Be present as much as possible so you don't miss out on anything. I made sure to be at every doctor's appointment, hospital appointment, or any other appointment that was taking place. I had to rearrange meetings and travel schedules, but I didn't want to miss out on anything. I was there with Priya when we heard Madina's heart beat the first time, subhanallah. I was there the first time the doctor pointed out her face (what Priya and I previously thought was Madina's face end up being her rear end.) I was there and didn't even think twice that I needed to be anywhere else because really there was nowhere else I'd want to be.
- Be present as much as possible so your child's mother isn't alone. I was also there to make sure that if there was any hard news to deal with, Priya didn't have to deal with it alone. The thought that she would have to hear anything tough and then have to go through it a second time as she told me didn't make sense. Seeing women come in and out of the doctor's office on their own was very difficult for me. Don't let an expecting mother be by herself. If the father can't be there or doesn't want to, go as a friend, a relative, but just don't let her go on her own, even if she says it's okay.
- Talk to your baby before it's born. Priya still makes fun of how often I would sit and speak to Madina before she was born. I would literally get close and talk straight into her belly button, which somehow at the time made sense to me. I also believed that she could hear my voice and every time I thought about it, it made me tremble. I had so much fun speaking to her before she was born and it made me that much more excited to think of speaking to her after she was born.
- Talk to your wife and treat her with affection, not annoyance. I don't know if I do a good job in taking care of my Priya. But when I saw her carrying our child and still smiling and taking care of me, it made me just want to be there more for her and try to make things easy for her. From watching every season of The Walking Dead to taking a babymoon to Montreal to getting her and her friends a day at a spa, being a better husband has helped me to be a better father. To be good parents necessitates our being good to each other, so if I wanted to be a good father, I had to make sure I was being a good husband.
- Find examples of people who will encourage you to do your best from the beginning and not settle for the minimum. I've always admired my older brother Umar's treatment of his daughter, my niece, Mariam. My friend Ibrahim Abdul Matin was a great example to learn from when his first son, Ismail, was being born. And in my reading of the Islamic Tradition, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was an amazing parent and grandparent. He would play games with his grandchildren Hasan and Husain, tell them he loved them, and be there for them in so many different ways. His relationship with his daughter Fatima was so beautiful. She is said to have resembled him more than anyone else and she would be with him in many different gatherings and meetings. When he was in final stages of life, he was seen whispering in her ear. At first she cried and then she laughed. When asked what is it that was said to her, she responded, "The Prophet first told me secretly that he would expire in that disease in which he died, so I wept; then he told me secretly that I would be the first of his family to follow him, so I laughed." When she is about to pass away months later, we are told that she readies herself with a bath and clean clothing, eagerly anticipating being with her father again. That's the kind of father I wanted to be. Not one who was okay "not loving" their child, but one who was there and present from day one.
A special prayer for all of those who have lost a child, are trying to have a child, or are unable to. You are in my thoughts every time I pray.