Asalaamu alaikum. My name is Yusuf. This post is hopefully one of many that I wish will give you an insight into me as a person, where I came from, and how I got to where I am today. Essentially, I am going to break my life into 4 stages (as explained in my previous post). I shall begin this one with the first stage, and continue the other 3 stages in further posts that will, insha’Allah, shortly follow.
I was born into a Christian family in northern England. I was raised on a council estate filled with many a rough and worn out character. My father was a pure Scotsman, that is, he was born in Scotland to Scottish parents; and my mother a pure Pole, born in Poland to Polish parents. They were both Catholics, and raised me as such; although they were very liberal in their beliefs, (my father much more so than my mother) and hardly pushed it upon me with any force. I went to a Catholic primary school; I was baptised and christened; and from time to time we would go to church.
My father was a bit of a “Jack the lad“, as we say, and he was known as a confident man who had a way with words. He was easily liked, and very capable of warming a crowd over with his great sense of humour and witty antics. Unfortunately however, as pleasant a character as he could be, he had his dark side. He found it hard to keep work, would often find himself in prison, and had a severe addiction to heroin. It is this addiction that eventually led to his death by overdose when I was 9 years old.
My mother, on the other hand, was a hard working women. While my dad was alive she often picked up his slack, and when he passed she continued to provide for me, my younger brother and my sister. She always made sure there was food on the table, and did her best to raise us well. We were fed, homed, clothed and provided for because of her unwillingness to become a ‘dole dosser’, as she called it. She refused debt, and instead saved up for everything we owned. She was (and still is) a great mother. The best one I’ve ever had in fact 😉 – and I thank Allah for putting someone who cared for me so dearly in my life.
I mention my parents only briefly for the moment. In this, part I, I will not stray beyond the death of my father, but rather will conclude with it. It is this stage of my life that I will refer to as The Illusion. I call it this because, looking back, I was blissfully ignorant of what was going on around me. I was shielded (rightfully) from many things, for example, my father told me his drugs were his “medicine”. He would ask us to save him the foil that wrapped our KitKat’s, and I have vivid memories of me and my little brother playing in the bathroom while he sat on the toilet with a lighter under the foil, making a darkish liquid bubble and smoke, chasing the fumes with a hollowed pen tube. I remember clearly that we did not see anything wrong with this at the time. I felt no anxiety, no stress, nor worry. My father was just taking his medicine; and me and my brother were joyfully playing in the sink or watching my dad do what ever it was he was doing. Another example, my mother would tell us that our father was in hospital, and when we visited him, that he wore a bib because they had been playing football before we arrived. I guess it was easier to tell this to children than the truth: your father is in prison for armed robbery boys, and he wears a bib so the guards can tell the prisoners from the visitors.
Those are just two of many examples of moments lodged in my memory where my fathers inability to shoulder responsibility led to a sort of make believe story that surrounded and shrouded all the drama. This was also the same time, being in a typical western Christian family, that we believed in Santa Clause, the easter bunny, the tooth fairy, and the monsters that hid in the dark. It was not all tragedy. I have many a fond memory. The time my mother convinced me and my brother that Santa was asleep in our spare room and told us not to go in or risk not getting any presents at Christmas (when in fact she had just hidden our presents in there and didn’t want us to see them 😉 sneaky mum). Or the time I insisted on trying to hatch the eggs the easter bunny had left in my garden only to have them go rotten and find out they were just boiled eggs my mum had dyed different colours.
Tragedy certainly occurred in my childhood, but it was hardly characterised by it. For the most part we were shielded from many of the horrors, and likely to this day remain ignorant of most of them. For the most part, my childhood was a carefree and adventurous one. With a mother who worked a lot to make sure the bills were paid and a father often in prison, we were often left in the care of my grandmother, (or Babcha – polish for grandmother – as we and every other child on the street used to call her).
Babcha was a character in her own right. She was a little old polish lady, who cut her own hair, smoked countless roll ups, spoke very little english, and suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She wasn’t a very authoritative person, and pretty much let me and my brother do what ever we wanted so long as we didn’t cause her any grief. As a result we roamed around our council estate and over the fields adjacent to it, building dens and rafts; we also explored factories after closing hours, and broke into warehouses stealing alcohol and getting drunk on abandoned plots of land (keep in mind weren’t even teenagers at this point). We were wild children, and had little authority we needed to answer to. A recipe for disaster if ever I saw one. Hindsight can be a bitter sweet realisation.
We truly lived in a fantasy land, propped up by stories the adults told us here and there, and by the limits of our own imagination (which was not very limited, being children and all). Unfortunately, all of this came crashing down all the more violently when my dad died. Truth, often portrayed as beautiful, serene and perfect by many of the dogmatic positivists, reared its ugly face. The medicine was in fact one of the worst drugs you could get a hold off, and the hospital was a prison. Not of the beloved holiday characters were real either. The adults had invested so much energy to lying to us as children, and all of it became so very clear as the result of a single event.
My fathers death is probably right up there at the top of the list of things that messed me up. I had a complicated relationship with my father. He put a lot of emphasis on us lads having to be proper Men! We had to fight if someone challenged us. We were never to run away, no matter how many people wanted to fight us; we were to single out the biggest and strongest looking one out of the lot, and run towards him full force. He made us watch horror movies like The Omen, Children of the Corn, and The Exorcist, then we’d go for walks on dark fields in the night to toughen us up. He wanted to make it clear to us that the world could be a scary place, but that we had to be strong, and we had to be brave. We had to stick up for each other no matter what, and face danger head on no matter the cost. We received midnight training sessions where we would do heavy exercise till we would profusely sweat, all the while hearing the phrase “no pain, no gain!” (keep in mind that he died when I was 9, and my brother was 8, so we were pretty young).
My dad could be an intense guy. But I could tell he loved us, and we loved him. Despite his faults, he truly cared for us. When he died I was terribly conflicted and confused. We were rushed to Glasgow to stay with family. My mum was pregnant with my sister when my dad had passed, and she was born three days later. This only made things more complicated. No one knew whether to be happy or sad. My sister was born and she was beautiful and healthy; a good enough reason to be happy for anyone! But her dad had just died, and they would not get to meet each other; a certain enough reason to be sad. A man that many people knew and loved had just died; certainly a reason to grieve. But all the drama he brought to our home ended with his passing. No more needles lying around the house, no more visits from the police, no more avoiding upstairs when he was strung out, so on and so on. Should have I felt happy about this at all? My siblings and I had lost a father, and that breaks my heart still today; over two decades later. But in hindsight our situation improved dramatically after his loss. I still don’t really know how I should balance these thoughts. Some feel true, but disrespectful to acknowledge. Others just present themselves as paradoxes. I doubt I’ll ever wrap my head around how I should or should not act towards this loss.
I have a great memory for the worst possible things. I remember my dads death clearly and vividly. I can recall how I felt; my fluxing periods of confusion, indifference, sadness, resentment, grief, shame. There was an open coffin. I stood next to his body and stared at his lifeless face, holding onto his cold hand. I remember asking him to wake up. I remember crying uncontrollably. I remember being alone with him, and pressing my ear against his chest hoping to feel him breath, or hear a heart beat. I remember listening to the bag-pipes, and watching his coffin being lowered into the ground. I remember the soil being thrown over the container that held his body, and that from that moment he was gone forever. We were never going to hear his voice again, with his thick Glaswegian accent. We would only see his face on old photos. We would only think of him in the odd moments of our life that are void of activity enough for old memories to sneak in. My dad was dead, the truth was known, and my childhood state of absolute naivety had ended.
I think its best I end this part here for the moment (I promise that all of this ties in with my eventual conversion in the end, so please be patient with me). I will continue with part II of my life, The Rebellion, soon insha’Allah. But please, in the mean time, leave a comment and tell me what you think of my story. Can you relate at all? Have you experienced loss, or trauma? How did you deal with the pain? Were you as confused as I was or was it more clear cut for you? I look forward to hearing your thoughts, so don’t be shy. Also, please subscribe in order to be updated on future posts, such as part II. Jaza’kala for your time, and asalaamu alaikum.
Regards, a fellow ponderer.