My not-so-little brother completed his GCSEs today. It got me thinking about the day I got my own grades and I realised this is now seven years ago! As it turned out I achieved the best grades in the school that year, and set a school record (which has now been beaten). Looking back though, what should have been one of my proudest achievements actually brings me shame.
Now, I think many children of immigrants will know the overbearing parent who will be happy with nothing less than the best. But that wasn’t my mum – she was supportive and always told us that so long as we tried our best, we would have nothing to regret. She installed in me the need to be independent, to only rely on yourself and to love everything you do so you do it well.
I recognise now some of the little things she did that don’t seem like much but added up, they have caused many girls I know to stop studying. She never forced me to do any chores around the house. This is quite a big thing as I was growing up around girls who were expected to help their mum for several hours everyday whilst the sons could focus on studying. She never held me back from coming home late or going to trips away – again uncommon within our community, letting me build the core skills I needed to develop myself. And she always took our education seriously – like it was the most important thing to her. Which in turn made me value knowledge like it’s the most important thing to me. My father would complain “you’re bringing her up to be a son, not a daughter”.
After seeing my grades, it still hadn’t sunk in properly and I didn’t realise I had anything to be proud of. But all my friends were so so proud of me and they even came with me to my house to celebrate. My parents were sitting on the sofa making somosas, preparing for Eid. When I told them my dad scoffed, “why did you get a B for, that should have been an A* too”.
Yes – he literally said the thing we joke about. He was THAT guy.
9 A* and 1 B and that’s what he said to me – in front of all my friends. I felt so embarrassed and couldn’t reply for the tears chocking up in my throat.
You see, I had never made my father proud of me – no matter how many exceptional school reports I got. I was angry at my friends for making me think I had done anything to be proud of. And I was angry at myself for even caring what he thought.
There were no celebration parties, no gifts or any acknowledgement of my grades for a few days. That is until my father’s friends started asking what I got. And when he told them they were obviously impressed. They kept telling him how lucky he was to have me as a daughter. And that’s where it gets worse.
He started lying, telling them how HE had pushed me to work hard. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t actively tried to do the opposite – telling me off if he caught me reading too much, refusing to pay for tutitioning and being angry at my mum if she gave me permission to go to clubs like debating or MUN.
He started telling the world how proud he was of HIS daughter, even went on the local Bangla news to talk about how to help your daughters achieve well.
And all the while I was just glad I had made him proud.
But I got the grades, and even if I didn’t realise how special it was then, I realise it now and that’s all that matters. One person’s twisted words does not take that away from me. And despite what he had the world believing, in my own heart I know it’s all down to my mum: my constant rock & mattress (because it’s not fun leaning against a rock all the time, sometimes you need gentle support).
Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them. – Unknown