When Being Filial to One Means Neglecting Another

by Alia

I have been thinking about this for a long time. If he died, would I know? If I died, would he forgive me? Where would God place me as I walk the crowded fields of judgement day? Would I be seen as a filial daughter? Or the opposite; someone who has abandoned her parent? Where would Allah place someone like me; an adult child of divorced parents, forced to pick a side?

My parents’ marriage could be chronicled in a Sam Smith’s record album. Love, anger, betrayal and disappointment marked their matrimony. My mother catered to my father’s every waking need. She would have his work clothes pressed, hung and ready to wear, squeeze a slick of toothpaste on his toothbrush before he takes his morning bath, and prepare his tea and breakfast in the best china every morning without fail. Before he came home, she would hurriedly slather lipstick onto her frail lips, transform her tired eyes to resemble Cleopatra’s and encase her body in shimmering droplets of scented attar. She was the ultimate Muslim Stepford wife, a woman of Jannah. She challenged him emotionally, intellectually and most probably physically. No woman can ever replace her, it seemed. No woman can ever top her. But for my father, there was. 

The affair started soon after I was born. Secret phone calls, late night ‘meetings’; all of us were suspicious. But our suspicion was always kept locked in the inner recesses of our minds. We did not want to find the keys, ever. However, through the years, those keys kept appearing, as if pulled by the unbelievable magnetism of the lock. And one night, they found their way home and everything unravelled; my mother and I overheard my father telling the other woman how he loved her more than my mother. An indescribable pain crippled my body as I saw my mother slumped into a heap of anguish. That was the last straw, for her and for us, her daughters. She was going to get a divorce. 

Evidently in the months that followed, our allegiance lied with our mother. My mum’s heart was fractured to pieces, bit by bit, over a period of more than 25 years. It was time for my sister and I to be her support system. How could we not? She had supported us throughout our lives. She had been our greatest cheerleader. She sacrificed for us, emotionally and financially, so that we could become strong, independent women, in her words, so that we would not suffer the same fate as her. Now, as women, we could not reconcile with what our father did to our mother.

So, my sister and I removed all traces of our father from our lives – pictures, gifts, his phone number. We did not want to be associated with him in any way or form so we even dropped our ‘binte’ in any documents or correspondences we were a part of. He was the Voldemort of our family, the one who must not be named. His name had been tainted, saying it felt disgusting. If our memories of him could have been erased from our minds, we would have done it.

However, as the initial storm that weathered our hearts died down, it began to be replaced with a surge of guilt and longing. Those feelings crept up and lingered like a tick sucking all sense of peace in the essence of my being. I missed my father. He was the one who sparked my passion in politics simply by making the evening news a nightly family routine and having Time and Newsweek magazines a coffee table staple. But it was because of this passion instilled in me that my heart flamed in anger for the injustices that he had committed towards my mother. How could I ever reconcile with that? 

Then one Hari Raya morning, I received a text from him. My heart beat fast as I saw the familiar number and read the contents; it was awkward, honest and vulnerable. He said he loved me and missed me; words that had never been uttered when we were a whole family. He wanted to meet me and lay eyes on his grandchildren for the first time. And so, I relented. But another surge of guilt engulfed me. I felt like I was betraying my mother. She would be crushed if she ever found out that I met my father and therefore it had to be a clandestine affair. So, I set for my father and I to meet somewhere where there was no possibility of her bumping into us. I rejected his calls whenever I was in her presence only to reply hurriedly to him via text. I also quickly deleted our worded conversations on the phone lest my mum discovered it. My father had dragged me into what had broken his marriage, our family apart in the first place: an illicit relationship filled with secrets, lies and guilt. 

Just as he got caught then, so was I now. My mother’s eyes were a sea of disappointment as she asked, sotto voce, as if she wanted me not to hear, not wanting it to be true, if I had met my father. I was not going to make this a sickening moment of Deja vu for her by lying and so I told her the truth; yes, I met him. A torrent of questions came, asking me for reassurance that I still loved her, that what she did was right, that I was on her side. As she searched my eyes for approval, I found a profound sense of betrayal in hers. I could not do it again. I could not hurt her. So, I stopped all contact with my father. 

What is a daughter in my position supposed to do? It is rather ironic to think about it now; from when I was young the notion of piety has always been inculcated in me. From seeing my parents take care of my sick grandmother to being reminded how only ‘bad’ children sent their elderly parents to the homes I visited as part of my school community project, it was ingrained in me that it was the child’s duty to mind over her parents when they are old. A bad child abandons her parent.  Now, I have little to no contact with my father, I have abandoned him. But, isn’t it also a sin for me to hurt my mother? Paradise, as I was constantly reminded, is under her feet. To hurt her would be egregious. Besides, I do not want to crush her already fragile heart. But what about my father, then? How terrible am I that my children are oblivious to the existence of their grandfather? What if he got sick? What if he is in financial difficulties? Will the other woman still be there for him? I have not done my duty as a good daughter and I might not be able to get a chance to do so. Will I even know when he dies? Will he forgive me? Will God forgive me? How will Allah judge me in Akhirah, when being filial to one means neglecting the other?


Aila (pseudonym) spends most of her time exploring the outdoors with her active kids. Kahlil Gibran’s poem, ‘On Children’, acts as a guide on how she wants to be a mother. She also loves watching Hallmark movies in December.

illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu