This Father’s Day I spent a lot of time thinking about my father, Sherali Bandali Jaffer. I miss him dearly.
Both my Mum and Dad were very loving parents. They instilled in us many important values. Above all, they told us to always fight for equality among all people.
My Dad, in particular, used to say that our family encompassed the identities of every continent;
We were very proud Africans.
We were of South Asian descent.
We were Muslims.
And eventually, we became Canadians.
He used to remind me that every identity we had was a blessing.
As my dad saw it and as I do now, having all of these identities carries with it a responsibility; I must always stand up for the rights of all people, from every walk of life.
As a young child, I remember many secretive meetings my father had with his friends, during which he would be discussing his plan to fight for the independence of Uganda.
Our family was touched when President Museveni recognized his work as a freedom fighter in Uganda who was protecting Ugandan people against the British powers. As a result, a few years ago, he was awarded a medal for his actions.
Not surprisingly, I credit my father with my early exposure to frontline politics and political organizing.
I remember accompanying my Dad to many political rallies when he was running to be elected as a Ugandan Member of Parliament (MP). He had a very tough race ahead of him and was not expected to win. So much so, he had not even bothered to organize a party to celebrate his potential victory. As those of us in political realms know well, it was a very tough and dirty fight.
However, this strong opposition only pushed him to work harder to achieve his goal. Deep down he knew he was making an impact. He always said to me that he knew he would win because he had the support of the people. Sure enough, my father won the election by 21 votes.
As an African MP, my father travelled all across the world. Each time he would return, he would recount to us his many stories, which he would always relate back to ideas and principles of socialism, Communism and democracy.
In 1972, with the rise of a new dictatorial political power and structure of Ugandan politics, my father was removed from his position. Our family became stateless and we feared we were losing all we had worked for.
This was a very challenging time for all of us. Still, my father always encouraged me to have empathy and compassion for others. As a young girl, it used to really frustrate me that when I would get angry with Ugandans for not protecting us, he would always remind me that we were indeed the lucky ones. So many Ugandan people were suffering unimaginable pain under the hands of then dictator, Idi Amin.
I would just stare at him with anger and I would wonder to myself, how could he be so forgiving. Now, as I myself have made it through many ups and downs throughout my own career, I understand what he meant.
Eventually, we sought refuge in Canada. From the moment we stepped foot on Canadian soil, my father ingrained in the minds of all his children that we were Canadians. With this new identity came a new responsibility. Now, we had to work for the welfare of Canada and help the country become the best it could be. I remember him taking me to see Pierre Trudeau and the committee that his team was organizing and preparing for his upcoming election in Vancouver.
Seeing my undeniable interest and passion for politics, my father encouraged me to run to be a Member of Parliament, not once but twice. Even though I may not have received the outcome I was hoping for, during these times, I learned very valuable lessons and revisited practices of humility.
In 2001, when I was appointed to the Senate, on the advice of then Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, I still remember my Dad echoing the words I have heard all my life. He reminded me that I must use this new position of power and privilege to create harmony in Canada and around the world. Today, I still see this as one of my primary objectives that centres all of the work that I do as a Senator. Every day, this is what I fight for, and I fight hard for it.
Sadly, when I returned to Vancouver, my Dad was in Hospital, having suffered a heart attack. At the time, I was the filling my role as the Envoy to Sudan for Canada. Among many tasks, the job entailed me visiting Sudan to foster peace negotiations in the region. Knowing the importance of this work and in spite of his worsening health, my father instructed my husband to take me to Ottawa. The next day, I flew to Sudan.
However, before I left the hospital, my father once again reminded me of what he had taught me all throughout my life; “you are a proud Canadian and your role is to create harmony in Canada and around the world”. I will never forget these words. Both my parents believed, as do I, that we were born to create harmony, no matter where we lived.
Despite, the sadness I felt from having to leave my father’s side, I could not help but smile.
My memory took me back to the time, when as a young child, my mother wanted me to play the piano and my father wanted me to be a politician. It goes without saying, my father won this fight as we won so many throughout his life. Nevertheless, my mother, too was a strong and determined woman. Every day, she used to insist that I practice the piano. To annoy her I would just play on the white keys. Try it. The sound is terrible. Sometimes to further annoy her, I would just play on the black keys. Try it. The sound is just as bad.
Even in the midst of my young self’s stubbornness, my father would sit beside me and remind me that to create harmony, I would have to play on both the black keys and the white keys.
All through my life, I learned this very valuable lesson from my father.
To truly have harmony in our country and in our world, we have to treat black and white and all racialized people, equally. Then and only then, will we create harmony in our beautiful country of Canada and promote peace across our global communities.
Today on Father’s Day, I miss my father dearly and I remember the valuable lessons he taught me about life and about the importance of always being a creator of harmony.
I love you Dad and now rest In Peace.