Hasan: Unveiling the human side of dad

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Empathy is essential for positive mental health because it allows us to develop stronger relationships with others and cultivate a sense of compassion and understanding.

Empathy helps us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and experience their feelings, thoughts or attitudes. But it’s not just about understanding someone else’s perspective, it’s also about understanding our own feelings, leading to increased self-awareness and a greater sense of well-being.

Exploring empathy does not undo or make right what someone has done, but when we are intentional about having empathy, we can choose to show compassion over judgment. In a world so deeply divided, we need to be able to listen to each other and connect.

Here’s how Hasan’s experience with empathy has improved his mental well-being.

Hasan Shahzad

Does anyone else think that Spiderman is the best superhero? Like legit, just swinging around the city from building to building? That’s the dream.

I still love Spiderman, but as a kid I was obsessed. I remember when Spiderman 3 came out and I wanted nothing more in the world than to get that game. I had an original Xbox and my Dad and I went from store to store trying to find the game until finally one associate at the store explained that they were not releasing the game on the older consoles and I wouldn’t be able to get it.

I thought all hope was lost. That it was over, throw in the towel, doneski.

Then my dad asks, “Well what consoles work for that game?” The associate said, “The PlayStation 3 can support that game.” And my dad’s like, “All right, let’s do it. Get the PS3.” I remember on the drive home clutching my PS3 and just sobbing.

More than Spiderman, the greatest superhero I knew was my dad.

The power of a parent’s presence

I remember getting off the plane in Canada from Pakistan and seeing my dad at the airport. He left Pakistan when I was two and now, standing there at 6 years old, he was bigger than I imagined. It was like watching a slow-motion hero shot from a Marvel movie.

Everything was amazing when we first immigrated to Canada to be with my Dad. What I didn’t expect was that, over the next couple of years, my dad – who was like a hero – would slowly become more of what felt like a villain in my story.

As I began to grow up in Canada, there was always this tension in my family and it stemmed from my dad not being present. Parent-teacher interviews, basketball games—you name it, he wasn’t there.

I remember in the eighth grade he finally showed up to something; it was my provincial spelling bee final. I had won at my school level, made it through my district and was headed to provincials. It was the big time, baby! The best part was that my dad was going to be there.

I remember the feeling of approaching the microphone on stage to masterfully execute the spelling of a word like “chrysanthemum.” But I remember standing up there looking towards my parents, and there my dad is looking down at his phone. He stands up and just walks out. He was on his phone the entire time.

The Bag of buttons that changed everything

I had all this bitterness and anger and resentment towards my Dad, but that began to change because of a bag of buttons.

I remember one day my dad pulled out a small plastic bag full of pins. In the bag were pins from a gas station, McDonalds and KFC, and all the different jobs he had during his time as a new refugee working in New York and New Jersey. He began to explain how there were seasons where he would have to walk 45 minutes each day to work, just to make $6.50 an hour. He sent most of the money back to Pakistan to support my mom, sister and me.

He told me about the moment he knew he needed to leave New York. It was September 11, 2001, when he was on a train in New Jersey. The train was stopped on the track because there had been some sort of bombing in New York City. My dad sat there and watched the second plane crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

When people on the train started getting word that it was a terrorist attack from someone from the Middle East, he could feel everyone’s eyes turn to him. He no longer felt safe or welcome.

My dad immigrated to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, to start over once again. He worked at a hotel, would do nights as a cab driver and eventually got into real estate and started becoming an extremely successful real estate developer.

I started reflecting back to the time when my family first arrived in Canada to finally be with my Dad. I remember walking into my sister’s and my room and on either side of the room were matching bunk beds. One was red and one was blue. The closet was full of brand-new clothes and there were so many new toys. And for every toy I had, my sis got one that countered. I got a cool Jeep and my sister got a Barbie convertible. I thought we were in heaven. I began thinking about all the things that my Dad went through to get to that point and I found a deep sense of gratitude.

The power of empathy: Reimagining my dad’s story

At the end of the day, I would have traded everything my Dad gave me just to have him be more present, so I asked my dad “ Why weren’t you there for me? Why couldn’t you just be there for me when I really needed you?” And I remember he replied, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in your basketball games. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in these little moments. I had a job to do. And I did the best job I could to give you guys everything I didn’t.”

When I took a second to imagine life from his perspective and imagine myself escaping persecution and fleeing to the U.S. to make a life for our family, landing in New York, facing discrimination and starting over again in Canada; when I think about all those things, I think I might have done the exact same thing … I might have been the exact same way.

When I reflect on my Dad’s life, I think about all the sacrifices he made so that my life could be easier than his. In my mind, I had always made out my Dad to be a hero or a villain in my story, and what I have learned through empathy is understanding that my dad is just human.
So now I’ve chosen not to write a story of bitterness and anger from my past, and have chosen not to see my Dad as a hero or a villain.

Instead, I’ve chosen to see him as the man with a bag of pins that made a future for our family.

Learn more

Mental health is an ongoing journey and it is important to make sure that we all take the time to check in with ourselves, our loved ones and our mental well-being.

LiveDifferent Circles equips young people with the skills and tools needed to build positive mental health. Through conversations on authenticity, empathy, growth, resilience, altruism and values, youth develop the self-confidence to deal with the issues they’re facing and take positive action in their communities.

Want to join people like Hasan and help youth across Canada build positive mental health? Become a Road Team Volunteer! Want to learn more about Circles and how it can make a difference in your community? See how LiveDifferent can help!

Author: LiveDifferent

Date: May 23rd, 2023