The memories fall into stacks. Distinct piles of experiences where I watched, listened to and, eventually, began to understand Dad.
We grew up in Salinas, California, where Mom and Dad built their American Dream: A thriving physical therapy practice led by Pakistani immigrants in a community with few Pakistanis. Every summer, as I helped out, folding towels, cleaning up, I saw it was much more than a business.
Occasionally I would join him on house calls, nervously walking into strange homes, quiet with the tension that comes with recovery. Watching how people welcomed Dad.
I remember we visited the home of a boy who had been paralyzed after an accident. I don’t remember how old he was. Or how old I was. For all I know, we were around the same age. But I remember how the boy craned his neck, stretching through an exercise, trying to watch Dad help him. Just like I was.
In other homes, I remember seeing how the elderly would pull themselves up in their beds as Dad entered their rooms. Eager to show their progress; how his exercises were helping them recover. Their smiles. His warmth.
I remember sitting with him at lunch at the local deli. How, one day, he jumped up from the table, taking his sandwich with him. Watching how he returned with the sandwich still on his plate, unable to find the hungry homeless man who the owners had told to leave after he tried to take a leftover sandwich.
Alongside what I saw, there is a stack of memories of what I heard.
I listened to how he supported my sisters. Helping them become the amazing, brilliant, strong women they are now. I listened to how Mom and Dad negotiated life, supported each other, ensured our home and lives were filled with love.
I listened to how Dad treated people with respect, thankful for their service, for their contribution. His direct demeanor cracked by a sly joke and his wide smile.
Then the granddaughters came along and I listened to the impromptu music circles, the swim lessons, the stern directives at the dinner table, the joy in his voice. His granddaughters loved Dad as much as he loved them; their sadness eased by an excitement to tell future cousins the stories about their Nanoo.
A separate stack of memories where I began to understand Dad piles high.
His incredible work ethic was complemented by an adventurous spirit. Scuba diving in the Monterey Bay, getting his pilot’s license, multiple trips to Hindu Kush mountains for weeks of hiking. Somehow getting Mom to agree to backpack down and up the Grand Canyon. Life was too short, the world too big. Dad wanted us to pack it all in.
After they retired, through The Citizens Foundation, Dad dedicated his remaining years to the education of poor children in Pakistan. On a two week trip with him through rural Pakistan, I noticed that every time Dad saw children — especially girls who often did not have access to education — he would ask where they went to school. Soon, just like his granddaughters, these kids would follow Dad around, telling him stories, showing him what they were learning.
His energy was highest, his smile most intense, when he was writing “Agents of Change” about education in Pakistan. Or when he partnered with others to launch a music program within the Spinal Cord Injury Project for Pakistan Earthquake Rehabilitation (SCIPPER).
He gave so much more than he received.
Over the two years since his diagnosis, as Dad tried to hide the intense pain wracking his body from everyone — especially Mom — his stubborn persistence gave way to a peaceful acceptance.
In his final days, while the rest of us slept, Dad reached out to family and friends through late night emails and texts. Thanking people. Explaining his pointed advice. (Offering a little more pointed advice.) Sharing stories and memories.
I snuck a glance at Dad’s phone during his last video call with his doctor and scrolled through his inbox and text messages. The gratitude and emotion of his notes was only exceeded by the gratitude and emotion of the responses.
The next day, as their 52+ years of life together on earth came to an end, Mom and Dad held hands, cracked wise, shared their love. We gathered around, sons, daughters, granddaughters, watching, listening, understanding.
And then he was gone.
In the hours since his passing, the deluge of love and support from around the world completed the picture of Dad that I see in these stacks of memories.
People he worked with decades ago remembered how he treated them. Patients shared stories. Fellow musicians, hikers and tennis partners reached out. Students in Pakistan who benefited from his mentorship honored his life. Nephews, nieces, cousins spoke of how Mom and Dad supported them. Dad touched more lives than I could ever imagine.
Even though Dad is no longer with us, through what we saw, heard and came to understand, he will forever be part of us.