You’re not even born yet. We are expecting to welcome you to this world next month. Your mother, little sister, and I have been preparing for your arrival since we heard your heartbeat at the doctor’s office. Your sister, who’s turning three next week, often points at your mother’s belly and says in her innocent broken language that Atif is “wa wa,” which means Atif is nice, cute. We can’t wait for you to be part of our small family.
I write you this open letter so that one day, when you’re old enough to read, you can go through this and understand the historical context of the timing you were born, our situation, and your role in the family and this contentious world.
We are living in a very cruel and painstakingly conflict-ridden world today. Your mother, sister, and I recently returned from Afghanistan where I worked for about three years. In the last three years, a lot happened: I got married to your mother, and your sister was born in Kabul. While I enjoyed every bit of my work at the Ministry of Finance helping Afghans, it was no longer safe for us to live there. I didn’t want any of us to fall victim to a suicide attack. We didn’t want to lose you prematurely due to lack of medical services as happened to our second child last year. That devastated both your mother and me.
I always remind our family that we are the lucky ones. We had the option to leave a terrible situation like the one in Afghanistan and come to the United States, a place I have called home since I first came to this country almost twelve years ago, if you can believe it, as a high school student.
Others are less fortunate and still live in fear of war and bomb attacks, with a lack of social services and hunger. My generation of Afghans was born in war and has lived through it since. It is their only reality. Some have lost their loved ones to suicide attacks, others have suffered a painful death due to the lack of medical services. Your grandfather, my father, died when he was 55 due to medical malpractice in Kabul. Recently, one of my students at a private university was killed by a suicide attack. The young guy had just gotten married and leaves his wife and one-year-old daughter behind.
I’m telling you all this to highlight that as a second generation American, you have a lot to be thankful for. While you will be born in a very peaceful environment with all the medical care available, know that there are people in other parts of the world who fear to lose their newborn baby due to malnourishment or a bomb attack on their way home from the hospital.
First, you have to be grateful to the United States for providing us the chance to build a better life here. As a first-generation immigrant, this country has offered me the chance to go to college and build my professional career.
Second, it is vital for you to have empathy for others. We have a saying in Persian that “as long as you are standing, give a hand to the fallen.” You need to get out of your comfort zone and try to help those in need, anywhere in the world, whether it is your neighbor, friend, local community, or someone far away in a different country. We have named you Atif for a reason: it is Arabic for “the kind one.” Your mom and I want you to be the kind one.
Finally, you have to learn, learn, and learn… Never stop learning. Be curious. Don’t take anything for granted. Question everything you see with your eyes, even question me. We’re blessed to live in a free country where our imagination can run free, and we can question everything around us. Curiosity breeds curiosity which leads to expansion of knowledge. Therefore, I would like you to be a great thinker who serves humanity with his intellect and capacity to serve.
Having said all this, I have to remind you that I am a flawed individual who wishes he could live up to even half of the advice listed above.
However, I am a father who loves you dearly.