The gift of fatherhood – from the eyes of a daughter, mother and wife

On Father's Day, we must honour what, and who, most profoundly shapes our lives
Shamma sohail al mazrui

While the world celebrated mothers last month with great fanfare and gifts, I've noticed that we tend to stumble into Father's Day more half-heartedly. It seems more difficult for the world to grasp the "idea" behind Father's Day. Is it a marketing tactic to sell greeting cards? Does an annual day of celebration cheapen the real sentiment of lasting love? Maybe we just don't get as sentimental about our fathers because we think they show less emotion.

But underneath the commercialism lies an important invitation to honour what – and who – most profoundly shapes our lives. And this is the value of Father’s Day – a chance to reflect on what the love of a father means, and who it empowers us to be.

This is my appeal to us on Father’s Day. And every day.

The father-child relationship is so magical, profoundly powerful and deeply transformative. When I think of my father, I think of what it feels like to have permanent armour around me for the rest of my life, how he spent countless hours envisioning and working to create a path for my life and the lives of my siblings it. He taught us the value of unconditional love; he is as prone to loving me as the sun is to shining.

Being a daughter to a devoted father and caring father-in-law helps me to better understand the love that the UAE’s Founding Fathers had for our people.

Children will often follow examples, not just advice. I often thought of the example of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and his father, Sheikh Mubarak bin Mohammed. In a 2010 tribute to Sheikh Mubarak in The National, Rym Ghazal writes: "In keeping with a family tradition, Sheikh Nahyan would drive his father around the capital, stopping frequently to ask after the well-being of families and people they encountered on the way."

Sheikh Nahyan made the word “love” a verb, by showing respect and giving quality time to his father. I often saw this for myself, when I would come home from school and see Sheikh Nahyan making the rounds with his father and connecting with people. It left a powerful impression, and one that my own family tries to model.

Every day, my uncle takes his father, who cannot walk, drive or speak, to the hospital for peritoneal dialysis. While it is painful to watch their struggle as patient and caretaker, equally it is beautiful. There are many stories like this, of love in action, in our nation. We are attempting to capture some for our Early Dreamers Jubilee Project, in which young people interview unsung heroes who helped to shape the UAE in its first 50 years.

Becoming a mother to my son helps me appreciate the powerful love of a father more than ever. It is one of the most beautiful things to watch my son receiving his father’s love and guidance; I see how he rises to meet his father’s gaze, laughs when he laughs and aims to please him. What I’ve learned in observing this exchange is how important it is to our fathers that we understand why they love us. It is not based on our grades, athletic achievements or our success. Let me clarify this for you. A good father’s love for us is based on something that will never change: you are their child and nothing can change that. We will always be bonded in this unconditional biological truth – even before we were ever able to do anything worthy of approval.

To young fathers, I want to say that you matter intrinsically. Putting your love into action is not a given. It is easy to take family for granted because, no matter what else is going on, they are always there when you get home after a long day.

But the growth you achieve in becoming a dad is very special. It is not something that can be taught in a class or learnt from a book; rather it is acquired from the experience itself. And here is the true richness in your role of a lifetime: how you love your children will shape every relationship they form. It lays the groundwork for your child’s success and, by extension, plants the seeds that shape our world.

I hope all young boys and men learn so much about how precious this period is, because they have to raise strong men and women who will push us into the next 50 years with endless strength.

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To our nation's sons who may one day become fathers, watch the fathers you admire most

So embrace the joy of helping shape your young children. See them grow into the man and woman they will become, be fully present in every step and your reward will be the shared experiences along the way that will be the root of your happiness. Many of these will be captured through family photos, school year books or Instagram moments. Many will be etched into your memories that will become your most valued and treasured possession. And while these photos and memories seem to record things that simply happened, the reality is that lifetime memories are created – they just do not happen.

To our nation’s sons who may one day become fathers, watch the fathers you admire most. Instil their values into your daily choices that could eventually shape the character of your sons and daughters.

My appeal on Father’s Day is: Let us all widen love without a frontier, and let us open our hearts to new possibilities of caring to our fathers or father figures. Indeed, this kind of connection and care can only happen when our hearts keep opening. Can we be just a fraction braver to do so?

I want this for my own son, Abdulla, who gives me strength I didn't know I had, and has taught me the true meaning of serenity and peace. And I am grateful to a certain young father I am proud to call my husband. He is the reason I keep trying to be a better woman.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who shape the men and women that shape our world.

Shamma Al Mazrui is the UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs