How my absent immigrant father raised 3 feminists

It is not uncommon for immigrant families to have broken homes because a parent educated in a different part of the world is deemed unqualified to work in Canada. A child’s identity is not only divided between culture, religion, and language but also between their caretakers. I’m not sure what I’m writing is considered daddy issues or the life of an average immigrant. Let’s see.

I remember when the man I was supposed to look up to would come to visit and our relationship would feel so fake and forced – an inconvenience to have in our small all female home. The vast geographical distance created an even more hollow emotional bond to the extent I’d replace my teachers as father figures. I cried more when the eighth grade was over and I had to say bye to Mr. Damtsis more than I cried when my father first left to work abroad.

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However, I believe everything happens for a reason and this too was a part of a bigger story. Trusting my mother with his three girls in a foreign land was the seed towards my journey to feminism that sprung from my father. At the age of 10, I saw a man who encouraged his wife to work and drive and stand tall on her feet in his absence. I saw a man who was not afraid to discuss his depression and helplessness over failing to find employment in his field, something which at the time felt like emotional guilt over adjusting in a life I was finally starting to enjoy without him. I saw a man leaving his “blood, flesh, and bones” (a nickname he had for his three daughters) behind at the airport time after time in whims for their better future.

My feminism started to stem when my father ensured I was educated about my roots. On his annual visits, he’d sit on the couch for hours and tell us about his life back home and about our religion with wild metaphors embedded in his storytelling persona. Understanding where I came from helped me be critical of institutional white feminism and encouraged me to search for role models that I familiarized with.

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My feminism flourished when my father trusted me to make my own life choices based on his major decision to be absent. The awkward phone calls I wanted to avoid by running to the washroom had in them assurance and empowerment to do well in school and see the world. Though he was away, he ensured my sisters and I went to Saturday school, entered post-secondary programs we loved, and chipped in all the plane tickets so we could reunite with the land where the color of the ground matched our skin. His choice to migrate oceans away became the reason education in form of travel became so instilled in me.

Next time you see an immigrant father with broken English holding this daughter’s hand tight, it is not because he is oppressive with his Eastern values, but because he is guiding her to be a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man to complete her.

In light of this, for my fourth-year thesis project, I, along with a team of 7 other badass immigrant/first/second generation women are working on @Borderline_TV, a female-led sitcom about two first-generation girls living in the city. It’s a buddy-buddy comedy that meets cultural identity crisis. Help us tell the story that so many of us have experienced by donating what you can. If not, like/share our page with your friends and family! Everything helps.

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