A Father’s Advice on Role Models

May 17, 2010

Dear Faisal,

Yesterday, we heard that THE 99 animated series will soon be broadcast into 60 million American homes. Other global broadcasters are lining up to follow suit. It looks like THE 99 will soon be the success we all hoped for and its new superhero role models that celebrate our common values instead of playing to the fears of our tiny differences will become the multicultural force that unites us. I think it was my years of feeling like an outsider as a nerdy, overweight, bespectacled, Arab, Muslim kid that led me to search for the common ground of acceptance. But history tells us that my experiences could have easily led me in the opposite direction.

Faisal, of all my children you are both the most and the least like me. You look like me, but you don’t act like me. Your brothers do. Your brothers prefer to act in haste while forgetting they may have to repent at leisure. They have an inherent ability to hitch their mind’s eye onto a North Star and then follow it with conviction all the way to the South Pole. But you Faisal, you are so worried about the aftermath of your steps that you would rather not move until you are certain of the weather at your destination. That is why I worry about you even while I sometimes wish I were more like you. In your brothers I find myself engaged in a war of genetic proxy. The very things that I could not control in myself, I try to control in them. My fatherly anxiety is almost always triggered by the déjà vu of their actions. Its one thing when you are the creator of chaos; quite another when you are the procreator of it.

Sometimes when people feel badly about who they are, they are quick to condemn those same things in others. Rarely does a day pass that we don’t see press reports of world leaders whose private conduct is exactly opposite to what they so loudly condemn in others. There are huge personal conflicts being played out on a worldwide stage in a way that may be fascinating to me as a psychologist, but absolutely devastating to those who are forced to live under them.

Faisal, those who find advantage in misinterpreting God’s laws to further their political objectives want the rest of us to submit to a black and white existence that often times gives them the illusion of control over their own colorful pasts. We are either with them or against God. Take it from me that many who are incapable of controlling themselves are the busiest trying to control others around them. It really is that simple, my son. Many leaders who use religion for the sake of politics do so in shame of their own shortcomings. They pass their guilt to us and then try to change in us that which they find lacking in themselves.

There is nothing of these people in you. You do not try to gain advantage through guilt. You make friends cautiously but easily. You choose your destinations before the journey begins and you keep your eye on the course you set. I have tried my best to instill in you and your brothers a positive focus on life and a celebration of your talents and differences. You have been given much and much will be expected of you. Many of the world’s greatest leaders have earned their leadership by living the quiet example of what their religion taught them. I expect you to lead by their example.

So Faisal, there you have it. Now you know why I don’t yell at you as often as I do your brothers, and it’s not our common good looks!


Baba Naif