The birth of my son, the passing of my father… and the brief moments in between

We were days away from welcoming our baby boy into the world. In Australia, my wife Lama, my 3-year-old daughter Wafa and I had everything ready to welcome his highly anticipated arrival. Halfway around the world, in Beirut, Lebanon, the whole family was just as excited. But one man was more excited that all of us. My father was walking the streets of Hamra, our hometown, telling every living soul that his grandson, his namesake, was arriving a week early!

But then, it happened. And our whole world was turned upside down. Happiness and sorrow, hope and despair, even life and death, all collapsed into one. This is a story of the day my son opened his eyes to this world moments after my father closed his eyes on it.

When I found out we were having a boy, two thoughts crossed my mind.

I knew that was ‘it’. That was my one proper way of showing my father just how thankful I am that I was his son. As for my wife, that meant she was finally going to get her way… Mazen Al Kaissi Jr. was coming into this world. I made the overseas call and the lines couldn’t connect fast enough. ‘It’s a boy Baba, and we’re naming him after you.’

My father with his granddaughter Wafa

My father was always the most rational of men. His response was nothing out of character. ‘A healthy child my son, the gender doesn’t matter… And please, don’t feel obliged to call him that. Have fun with the name, you only get one chance to do it.’
 My father was always this measured. Even when I was shaking in my boots at the thought of leaving him, my mom, and everything I knew behind and immigrating halfway across the world to find a better life in Australia, not once did let his voice shake. Not once did he let his emotions take over. He pushed me to find a better life, even though it would make his worse.

My wife Lama, baby Mazen and our daughter Wafa

A few days ago, my baby boy was born. Mazen Junior opened his eyes to the world on Sunday, September 2nd. Mazen Senior though, his eyes went shut a day before.
 That Thursday morning I got a call from Beirut saying my father had a stroke that wiped out the left side of his brain and left him paralysed and unconscious in the intensive care unit. That same morning, my wife found out she was 4 cm dilated and was preparing for labour.

Her and I met at home. She packed her hospital bag. I packed my carry on. Wafa gave me a kiss to put on Grand Pa’s boo boo. I packed that too.
 36 hours, 2 flights, 5 tweets, 23 WhatsApp conversations and 927 megabytes later I was standing in front of my father’s ICU room, with nothing but glass between us.
 I asked the ICU doctors if he could hear me. ‘Look at the heart rate monitor’ they said. If the heart rate rises, he might know who you are.

A number. My whole relationship with my father has now been reduced to a mere fluctuation in numbers. I opened the glass door, walked in and glanced at the heart monitor…

55 beats per minute.
‘Salaam baba’, I mustered underneath my breath.
80 beats per minute.
I smiled. ‘Thank you for waiting for me. I’m here now.’
112 beats per minute.
The machine started beeping.
His arms shook.
His head moved.
His mouth opened.
His voice cracked.

And tears.

Never had he ever let his emotions take over. Not once did I ever see him cry. But now, tears were the only form of communication his body allowed him to use.

I smiled.
I. Smiled.

I hugged his head. And I spoke to him calmly. I knew that that was my last chance of showing my father just how thankful I am that I was his son. I realised that for the first time in his life, he needed me more than I needed him. I told him I’d try to say the things he wanted to tell me, but couldn’t.

He calmed down. And after a few minutes, he went to sleep.

When I found out we were having a boy, two thoughts crossed my mind.

The second was one of doubt. I always wondered what kind of role model I’d be for a boy. My father had a brain stroke. He went into a coma. He lost his senses. He lost his reason. He lost his logic. And just a few hours ago, he lost his life. But his last act was still to give. He saved his last bit of self, to give to me. To give me closure. To say farewell.

As I prepare for the final farewell, I keep thinking of the parallels those last few weeks have drawn. How my father’s last breaths and my son’s first almost intertwined into a whirlwind of emotions that challenged every inch of my faith, reason, and logic. I keep thinking how yesterday I put my father down for the last time, and how in a few days, I’ll pick my son up for the first.

This morning I noticed that my father had bought some new shoes that he didn’t get to wear. It was then that I realised…

I am not the role model my boy will grow up looking up to.

My boy was always going to live a lifetime with my father’s name, but now, my father has given him the chance to walk a few miles in his shoes…

by Kais al Kaissi

Kais Al Kaissi is a 31 year old designer, children’s book writer and co-founder of Jolly Animals. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Kais lives in Australia with his Wife Lama, and his 2 children Wafa and Mazen Junior.

Kais Al Kaissi is a 31 year old designer, children's book writer and co-founder of Jolly Animals. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Kais lives in Australia with his Wife Lama, and his 2 children Wafa and Mazen Junior.

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