From fathers to our sons
Bruce is dead. He passed away in hospital on Friday last. The presumed cause of death was massive internal bleeding and organ damage as a result of two gunshot wounds to the stomach. A contributory cause of death was his unwillingness to live. He pleaded to be allowed to die. The real cause of death was my failure to be a father when he could have been my son. Bruce was 29 years old.
The story of the event is not clear. What is known is that Bruce went into a bank somewhere in West Port of Spain either walking with or pulling and brandishing either a large knife or a cutlass. What he went for is not known. Nor is it known, at this time, exactly how and why he got into an altercation with the security guard. What is absolutely clear is that the security guard shot him twice in the stomach.
I knew Bruce many years ago when he was a young boy just on the verge of entering those teenage years. His mother, a friend of my sister’s, was a frequent visitor to our family home and invariably Bruce would be with her. He was a beautiful boy, somewhat shy and retiring but invariably polite and soft-spoken.
I remember one occasion there was a gathering at the family home, (my eldest brother, Allan, had just been buried) and I saw Bruce together with my own son and another boy, the son of some dear friends of mine, standing together chatting, leaning against the front wall, oblivious to everything but their own conversation.
I see them now in my mind’s eye and my heart breaks. They were so beautiful the three of them. Like golden angels. They were still largely innocent and pure but soon to begin that treacherous transition to adulthood which is such a testing time. I know now, in hindsight, that it was a moment for a Father to intervene even with respect to a son he had not fathered.
At that moment I failed to act. Bruce grew to manhood. We lost contact except for the occasional news about him from my sister. And now he is dead. A lifeless statistic. A mere and meaningless number, except as part of an ever-expanding array of numbers which tallies the count of our youth that are dead.
Some die as criminals and bandits; shot by police or by rival gang members. Others die as collateral damage in gang wars. Yet others die seeking meaning in the lethal combination of drink and speed on our nations highways. And yet others, like Bruce, die because their souls are too sensitive and fragile to withstand the raucous, uncaring cacophony of our times.
But the real reason they die is that we have failed in our responsibilities as fathers to fulfil our obligations to our sons. And as we survey the wanton wastage of generation after generation and clamour for “de government” to introduce yet another crime plan, or some new educational, social, or economic fix let us remember that the foundation for all of those necessary programmes is still the guiding hand of a father extended to a son.
So today, my dear friends, as I weep for my son Bruce, whom I did not father, I think that I can do no better than to give you some excerpts of a justly famous letter written by another father to his son. I hope that it provides some assistance to those of us who know that we are failing in our responsibilities as fathers.
The letter was written 1,400 years ago by Hazrat Ali, the adopted son of Prophet Mohammed (SAW), who later became the fourth Caliph of Islam. Hazrat Ali was a man of great erudition and has become famous in history for the beauty and eloquence of his letters and essays.
The letter to his son is long so I can only give the merest glimpse of it here. But it is well worth reading in its entirety.
“These exhortations are from a father who realises the morality of life, who is getting old, to his son who is young, a son, who is mortal and is bound by nature to follow the steps of all mortals, is subject to ailments, is surrounded by misfortunes and calamities, has to face oppressions and tyrannies, has often to confront with and sometimes to tolerate hypocrisy, deceit, guile, duplicity and treason and who is to end his life in death.
My first and foremost advice to you, my son, is to fear Allah. Be His obedient servant. Keep His thought always fresh in your mind. Be attached to and carefully guard the principles (Islam) which connect you with Him. Do not barter away eternal blessing for pleasures of this mortal and fleeting world.
Try your best to keep away from those who indulge in vices and sins.
Fearlessly and boldly help truth and justice. Bear patiently the sufferings and face bravely the obstacles which come in your way when you follow truth and when you try to uphold it. Adhere to the cause of truth and justice wherever you find it.
Develop the habit of patience against sufferings, calamities and adversities. This virtue of patience is one of the highest values of morality and nobility of character and it is the best habit which one can develop.
Do unto others as you wish others to do unto you. Do not oppress and tyrannise anybody because you surely do not like to be oppressed and tyrannised. Be kind and sympathetic to others as you certainly desire others to treat you kindly and sympathetically
Earn your livelihood through scrupulously honest means. Be contented with what you get honestly and honourably. Take care, my son! Be warned that you do not make yourself a slave of anybody. Allah has created you a freeman. Do not sell away your freedom in return of anything.
My dear son! After having given these pieces of advice to you I entrust you to the Lord. He will help, guide and protect you in this world and the Hereafter. I beseech Him to take you under His protection in both the worlds.
Bruce, my son, please forgive me. I did not know then that which I know now. I pray that Allah will forgive your sins and grant you Peace.
v Michael Harris has been for many years a writer and commentator on politics and society in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean