From Father to Son- Muhammad Bala pens a sad letter to his atheist son

Popular Dailytrust columnists Muhammad Bala has penned a sad letter to his son and namesake Muhammad. The younger Muhammad had in 2011 raised eyebrows after accusing his father of abduction and forced incarceration on account of his atheist views. Since those sad events, the relationship between the father and son have been cold with attempts at mediation by the former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau yielding nothing. Last week the younger Muhammad wrote a cryptic message on facebook which some people apparently understood as a critic of his father, this week, the elder Muhammad wrote this sad reply in what some have called a heartfelt letter
Below is the letter:

As always with this Column, it sometimes eschews this murderous politics of ours, and even our economic and security travails, and traverses the uplifting and inspirational paths of old-age and modern-day wisdom. This week’s offering is of a story that is still making the rounds in cyberspace – what the social media milieu would call ‘gone viral’. And it is about attitude, something your Columnist is a student of, having worked as Attitudinal and Behavioural Change Czar for some years past.

The fact that I got this (and many similar) stories from more than a hundred different sources says a lot about it; many people have read it and feel good about it enough to share it with others. And because the Column has many traditional followers who are not social media-savvy, it would be a social service to ‘forward’ to them. And we can be assured that each one of us will learn a lesson or two.

On this and similar stories, we sometimes don’t even bother investigating who really are the original authors of these ‘think pieces’, the real sages, as the social media (and especially the practitioners) are notorious for appropriating someone else’s creative output. But as we are only after the lessons contained therein, we will just wish all of them (original authors) divine rewards.

The story, which we choose to call “From Father to Son, A Lesson”, will strike a chord in many a father’s heart and mind, as it will also strike a bigger one on a conscious child’s psyche. Almost all of us fathers have similar sons – disagreeable, rebellious, stubborn. And that is their nature. Because that is their age.

The story has been edited for space and localisation. Enjoy:

The home is typical middle-class. The fresh graduate son (who is just over his teenage years) is tired of everything – the parents, the siblings, the house, the school. “You are leaving the room without switching off the fan”, he could hear his father’s voice nagging him again. “The TV is on in the living room where there is no one seated. Switch it off! And keep the pen in its stand; it has fallen down.”

The son didn’t like his father nagging him for these ‘minor’ things. He was only being tolerant of all these ‘insults’ since he still lived in the same house with this bothersome man, as that’s what he thought of his father. But today, however, he has an invitation for a job interview, so he would do as directed in order to remain calm and composed. “As soon as I get the job,” he thought to himself, “I would leave this house and these people. There won’t be any nagging again from my father.”

On the interview, the father advised the son: “Answer the questions put to you without any hesitation. Even if you don’t know the answer, mention that confidently.” The father also gave him more money than he actually needed to attend the interview.

The son left and soon reached the interview venue. There was no security person outside or inside the gate, even though the door was open. But the door’s metal latch was protruding, and could probably hit the people entering through the door. Without prompting, the young man put the latch back in properly, closed the door and entered the premises. On both sides of the pathway he could see beautiful flowers being watered, but the gardener had kept the water running longer than necessary as the hose was oozing water which was even overflowing onto the pathway. The gardener was nowhere to be found. Again without prompting, the young man switched off the tap and adjusted the hose and went further on his way.

There was no one in the reception area, but there was a notice saying the interview was on the first floor. He climbed up, noticing the lights were still on – at 10am! He remembered his father’s admonition, “Why are you leaving the room without switching off the light?” and thought he could still hear that nagging voice now. Even though he felt irritated by that thought, he sought the switch and turned off the lights.

Upstairs in a large hall he could see many aspirants sitting, waiting for their turn for the interview. He looked at the number of applicants and wondered if he had any chance of getting the job. He entered the hall with some trepidation and stepped onto the “Welcome” mat placed near the door. He noticed that it was upside down, so he made it right although with some irritation. Habits die hard.

He also noticed that all the applicants were seated in the front rows, and the back rows were empty. But then a number of ceiling fans were running over those rows of empty seats. He heard his father’s voice again, “Why are the fans running in the room where there is no one?” It had become second nature, despite himself, so he sought the switches again and switched off the fans that were not needed. He then sat on one of the empty chairs.

He could see many applicants entering the interview room and leaving almost immediately from another door. There was thus no way anyone could guess what was being asked. Finally, his name was called. He went in and stood before the interviewer with some trepidation and concern. He was asked to sit while one of the interviewers took his certificates. But without even looking at the documents, someone who looked like he was chairman of the panel asked him, “When can you start work?”

He thought, “Is this a trick question everyone is being asked at the interview, for them to gauge your desperation? Or perhaps it is what I think it is – a real offer of a job?” He was mightily confused.

“What are you thinking?” asked the boss. “We didn’t ask anyone any question here. By asking a few questions we won’t be able to assess the skills of anyone. So our test was to assess the attitude of the person. We kept certain tests based on the behaviour of all the candidates and we observed everyone through CCTV. No one who came in today did anything to set right the door latch, the water hose, the Welcome mat, the unnecessarily running fans and the lights. You were the only one who did that. That’s why we have decided to select you for the job”, said the boss.

The young man nearly fainted. He was always used to getting irritated at his father’s discipline and remonstrations. Now he realised that it is that same discipline that has gotten him this job. His irritation and anger at his father immediately evaporated. He uttered a silent prayer for his father. What a good man his father was, is, and will ever be, he thought. He left for home a very happy and gainfully employed young man.

So then, a father may be a son’s teacher when the child is five; he may be a villain in the mind of some children when they become teenagers; and then he becomes a guidepost to remember when he is no longer alive. Sometimes when it’s too late.

All cultures are used to seeing mothers going to live in her daughter’s or son’s home when she is old; but the father doesn’t know how to do that. He is always independent and alone. So don’t hurt him. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt a father.

And attitude is everything!

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