Zaynab

Today, my Zaynab turns five. This is what I wrote when she was born.

Fathers, be good to your daughters,
Daughters will love like you do.
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers,
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.

- John Mayer

I had a dream two years ago. 

I was standing in an open field, clouded by night. Feeling tense, I trembled silently in anticipation. I was waiting for some news and I didn’t know what to expect or how to even react. A female figure approached me with something wrapped in a white sheet resting on her arms. As she came closer, my vision blurred, I realized my eyes had welled up with tears.  

“Congratulations,” she said. “It’s a girl!”

I couldn’t believe it.

Batting my eyelashes, the tears began streaming down as I took the baby in my arms. I could barely see her face I was crying so hard. It wasn’t under my control. The torrent of tears were pearls of joy and a token of thanksgiving. Although I had kept my feelings hidden in my heart of hearts, I was longing for a baby girl.

Abruptly I woke up from the dream and found myself sobbing profusely—my face wet with tears. The whole experience was completely surreal. I knew I had been crying in the dream, but I was astonished to be shedding tears in real life as well. I had never felt anything like it before. 

The timing of the dream was strange as I was unmarried at the time. It was also unusual because the odds of a girl being born in the Mian household were strikingly low. I’m number three in a band of four brothers—no sisters. My wife has two older brothers—no sisters. Both my older brothers have a son each—no girls. My wife’s elder brother has two sons—no girls. 

My mother was crying when I was born. The pain of having another boy was more than the labor she went through. And when my younger brother was born, I think she didn’t see him for a full week. I really felt for my mom. I knew she desperately wanted a girl and no matter what anyone says, boys will be boys and we can’t fill that void. 

It is a known fact that a daughter is the beating of her mother’s heart. They are deeply rooted in one another. As I came of age, my mind was also set on having a daughter, if God so willed. Verily, I wished for my dear mother to experience the joyfulness of seeing a baby girl growing up in our house.

And then, just last month, on August 16, my wish was granted and the dream I had two years ago came true. Zaynab left the comfort of her mother’s womb and entered this complex world. She is no longer cooped up in the dark with her eyes closed. 

Unlike the dream I had, however, there was no soul-stirring or sentimental outpouring when I held her for the first time. It was contrary to everything I was told. I experienced no knots in the stomach, no melting of the heart, no choking at the throat, and absolutely no tears. I felt blank. But what I lacked in emotion, my parents made up for in abundance with their tub of love. 

When she was first born, Zaynab looked like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Hardly something you’d want to take home and show off to your family and friends. My mother vehemently disagreed but I wish I was exaggerating. In only a week though—as if she already wanted to rebel and prove me wrong—her face turned rosy with illumination. She filled the world with beauty. 

Now I can’t seem to take my eyes off her. 

My favorite pastime is to just sit still and watch her sleep for hours. I must have planted a million kisses on her bite-sized cheeks without her knowing. I’m addicted to that baby smell. 

In the brief spells that she’s awake, her cat-like eyes wander around as she soaks up all her surroundings. It convinces me of what Lusseyran observed many years ago when he said, “I am certain that children always know more than they are able to tell, and that makes the big difference between them and adults, who, at best, know only a fraction of what they say. The reason is simply that children know everything with their whole beings, while we know it only with our heads.”

Zaynab is an old Arabic name which translates to ‘a father's precious jewel’ or ‘the one who glorifies a father.’ My wife named her and now she’s worried I will love our daughter more. She forgets that the greatest thing a father can do for his daughter is to love her mother, to quote Elaine Dalton. 

As a first-time parent, everything is new. Even the feeling like my heart is now running around inside someone else’s body. 

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