In honour of Father’s Day, I wanted to dedicate my newsletter to my father, Ziauddin. He has taught me so much and helped me become the woman and activist I am today. But I am not his only child (and I certainly know that my brothers are much more difficult to raise than me 😉). We asked my father a few questions so he could share his thoughts and wisdom with Podium readers – I hope you enjoy his responses.
To all the fathers and father figures, I wish you a wonderful Father’s Day and hope you get to spend quality time with your families.
Until next week,
You often say that you are one of few fathers who is known by his daughter and even wrote a book about raising Malala called, “Let Her Fly.” But I was hoping to hear about your experience raising two sons as well.
Fathers in patriarchal societies, fathers who are more liberal and believe in educating their daughters, say it is very difficult to raise a girl because you have to always protect her from harm. But Malala was always independent, it was very easy to raise her.
It was more challenging to raise two boys, partly because of what was happening in our lives at the time. I was very busy, involved in a lot of campaigning for education and social activism. When my sons felt Malala was getting more attention than them, I would say, “Your time will come.”
I tried to find different ways to connect with them. Each child is different and you learn every day how to be a better parent to them. When we first moved to the U.K., I was having difficulty with Khushal. He was close to becoming a teenager and I felt like he was pulling away from me. I consulted the doctor who had helped with Malala’s medical treatment when she arrived in Birmingham and she gave me good advice. She said, “Be patient. This is his age. He will come back.”
Sometimes it’s our impulse when our children aren’t coming to us the way they did when they were younger, to come to them. But it can be smothering and push them further away. I gave him space and didn’t pressure him. And now we are best friends. If he has a problem, I am the first person he comes to. He did very well in his GCSE exams and now he is at a very good school, King’s College. I’m so proud of him.
How did you and your wife, Toor Pekai, share feminist values with your sons?
When we lived in Swat Valley, we were not rich. We were lower-middle class. Still Toor Pekai and I try to set a good example for our children, to raise an egalitarian family where everyone is treated equally.
I believe the family institution is the most powerful tool for change. The most important thing you can do as a father is to impart good values on your children. If you want your children to have a bright future and be good citizens, the best thing you can do is teach them how to respect members of your family.
Our family may not have had a lot of money, but we were rich in values. We believed in equality and justice and we believed in empathy for the have-nots, who were marginalised. Because my sons learned to be respectful to their sister and to their mother, they became feminist sons.
Respect is so important. I remember how I was taking Toor Pekai to the airport a few months ago. She was going to visit family in Pakistan by herself, which can be a bit challenging for members of our family. We were saying goodbye to each other before she went through security. We sat on a bench and she held my hand. With tears in her eyes she told me, “you have given me great respect.” She didn’t say, “You love me.” The word she used was respect. It’s a very important distinction.