MY FATHER, MY HERO
My life now will forever be split into before and after that dreaded phone call with my brother where he told me that our father, all of 62 years of age, had passed away from a cardiac arrest in his sleep. He passed away peacefully and felt no pain. He was only 62, at the peak of his career and everything to look forward to, from my brothers getting married to playing with his future grand-children. And what a grand-father he would have been – out of all the things I am going to regret in the coming years it is that he will miss out on them and they him. It is hard to fathom that a man so full of life and energy is no more. He always had a heart condition and did he ever love to eat but he wasn't sick, which is why none of us saw it coming. On his last day we had just confirmed our summer plans where the family was getting together in Florida to celebrate his birthday (he was born on the 4th of July and would always joke that all of America celebrated his birthday). He had a pleasant and quiet dinner with my mom, played with the dog, watched his new favourite TV show, and went to bed. It is extraordinary how ordinary an evening it was which is why the shock was even greater for us.
Pages have been written about his career accomplishments and there are many. He finished his academic work in the US, was a diplomat in Japan, Managing Editor and later Executive Editor of The Daily Star, joined the highest levels of the Bangladesh government under the Caretaker regime, and was most recently the CEO of Maasranga Television in addition to being a member of various boards and organisations.
Over the past few days the accolades and love that have been pouring in showed me that even I was unaware of all his accomplishments and the number of people he helped. It is impossible to recount every message but a couple that really stayed with me was from the Former Chief Adviser of the caretaker government who said, "Every morning his counsel would be the first I would hear and listen to even on topics outside his purview. He served his country with honesty and distinction when he was called on to serve," and from a senior US diplomat and close friend, "Someday I will tell you about the ways in which your dad helped deepen the relationships of our two countries".
But I think the true measure of my father's character was that he treated people from every station of life equally and they love and remember him for it. At his burial, a gentleman who came to pay his respects told me that he was a waiter at a restaurant that my father frequented and he had helped him out with some financial issues. Be it during the UN General Assembly Session in New York or the streets of Venice, there wasn't a city we visited where Bangladeshis wouldn't come up and say hello and I'm pretty sure he never paid for a cab in New York City!
His world revolved around his family - my mother, the three brothers and my wife who he claimed was the daughter he had been waiting for all his life. The relationship he and my mother had seems like it could have been lifted out of a fairytale. They met as teenagers in the US, fell in love and nearly four decades later looked and acted like a love-struck couple on a date. They ate out together, travelled together and even when they were not in the same country, there would be at least three phone calls a day detailing each little thing they had done in the other's absence. And he didn't know how to say no to his sons, even when our demands were outrageous. When we were little and he was travelling abroad, we would ask him to bring us back food from KFC (not available in Bangladesh then) and he would do so every time, much to my mother's embarrassment and the probable dismay of his fellow passengers.
It is extremely difficult talking about someone who should have been around to raise his grandchildren, in the past tense. I feel that any minute he will knock on my door and ask "So what's the plan for dinner?" Every time I watch a cricket or football game, I will miss him. Every happy moment for our family going forward will always be a little bit sadder. But he had a little plaque on his desk that said "Attitude Is Everything". And he lived his life by it – I don't think I've spoken to a single person who didn't say he made them laugh. Clearly, you don't take anything with you when you pass away but if you can go with so much love, honour and blessings, then it was a life well-lived. He led a shorter life than he should have, but he left his mark behind on his country, his family, his friends and colleagues and all those who came in touch with him. The best my brothers and I can do now is to try and live up to his name and live our lives with the same grace, dignity, and humour that he did, so he would be proud of us. You have left us but we haven't left you. We love you and are so proud of you. See you on the other side, Baba.
The writer is Syed Fahim Munaim's eldest son and Senior Vice President at Goldman Sachs Group in New York.