A young man once came to me with a complaint.
He spoke to me about how he wanted to transfer from his neighbourhood high school to another one far away from his home. When I asked him why, he told me that the teachers and administrators at his old school treated him differently on account of his father, and he was unable to develop his own identity. He wanted to get out of his father’s shadow and go to a school where no one knew who he was, so he could be himself.
He was tired of all his successes being attributed to his father’s undue influence. He was tired of his failures bringing him comments like: “A blazing fire gives birth only to ashes!” It was a no-win situation either way. He said: “The people around me expect me to carry my father’s mantle, so to speak, which is way too cumbersome for me to bear.”
He said: “I am my own person. I have my own heart, my own mind, and my own body. I want to have my own experiences and learn who I really was through trial and error. I want to shout at the people around me: ‘Take me out of my father’s shadow!’
“I feel I’m at my best when I’m able to act unselfconsciously, without worrying about other people watching and judging my every move. When I make a mistake, I want to be blamed only for the mistake I made, without having my relationship with my father thrown in my face every time. When I achieve something, I want the credit that is due to me, without having people saying that it was my father’s influence that got me where I am.
“It is not that I’m not proud of my father, or that I’m unhappy with the way I’ve been raised. Not at all. However, I’m eighteen years old, and I’m still unprepared to stand on my own two feet.
“A person who speaks to me in a cautious way might think he’s the only one who does so. For my part, I have been spoken to in a similar manner by my uncle, my teacher, my cousin, my friend’s father, and the police officer who stopped me for a traffic violation. It is as if I have no right to be spoken to like a real person who has his own ID, his own relationship with Allah and his own personality, distinct from his parents.
“When I played a prank or did something wrong, this was my own doing. I want others to realise that and not always measure me against my father. Now, you are a learned man and you have read a lot about child development. You know how teenagers think and feel. Have you read anywhere that depriving a teenager of his own identity and putting his father’s identity in his place is bad for his development?”
“Do you want to make me feel like everything I do is a double burden? I have to be responsible for my own conduct as well as for the reputation of my father which you constantly remind me is always at stake.
“It might be alright for you to say that to me once, but not all the time. It might be alright if you were the only person saying that to me. But everybody doing it is too much.
“Do you believe that someone who knows us saw me at a wedding and before he could even finish greeting me, he stopped to criticise the fact that I shaved some hairs from my beard near my ears, saying: ‘Leave it the way your father does.’
“Do you know that a traffic cop took me out of the cell I was in after only three hours to ask me at his desk what your opinion was on some issue?
“You might find it hard to understand what I’m going through, but you would if you were in my shoes. People wear me down with their love for my father by wanting me to be a copy of the one they love.
“The same goes for my father’s opponents. They hear my name and say: “You are who’s son?” Then the whole conversation turns to their disagreements with my father, and often I realise it is because they misunderstood something. Believe me, I am not a defensive person, though I might sometimes feel angry inside. I merely want to tell them that they heard the word wrong... and also that I am not the person with whom they are having the disagreement! I am someone else. I am not a photocopy of another book. I am a brand new book.
“Dear father, even you fail to treat me like a son who needs love and affection, or like a teenager who needs patience and forbearance, or like a unique person who has his own needs and temperament. Instead, you always tell me: ‘What are people going to say about us.’
“I know we live in a close-knit society, and I identify with it strongly. At the same time, it can become stifling when it obscures who I am or imposes upon me presumed personal connections which do not really exist.
“Dear father, remind me of my value as a person. Let me be responsible for myself and respect my decisions. Give me your advice. Be patient when I act foolish at times and let me grow out of it on my own. Let me have your support, but do not smother my personality. I do not want my father, the preacher, to become one of the people who constantly remind me that I have no value except as the preacher’s son. I am, before that, a descendant of Abraham and a descendant of Adam, and maybe some other prophets. Allah says: ‘And We blessed him and Isaac. But among their descendants is the doer of good and the clearly unjust to himself.’ [Sūrah al-Sāfāt: 113]
“Do you see me, dear father, as being in the wrong?”