Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

As a father, 'I have to be the best human I can be'

By Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Special to CNN
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri June 15, 2012
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin says young fathers have to be the best human beings they can be to deserve the joy of fatherhood.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin says young fathers have to be the best human beings they can be to deserve the joy of fatherhood.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ibrahim Abdul-Matin looked for advice when he was becoming a dad; now he offers his own
  • He and his wife, both Muslim, know they're raising their son in a different time than theirs
  • He lays out five principles for raising his son, including building faith, setting example
  • Writer: A father must work, must teach respect for women and teach that all are equal

Editor's note: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the author of "Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet" and contributor to "All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim." He is a former sustainability policy advisor to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a regular contributor on WNYC radio's nationally syndicated news show "The Takeaway."

(CNN) -- Much advice for fathers is written about reluctant dads. But, of course, this is not all of us.

Before I became a father, I struggled to find advice that really spoke to me, and I hope that the following bits of wisdom speak to other American dads, men who really want to be the best they can be. Let me begin with where it all began for me.

In August, in the waning days of Ramadan, the month of fasting observed by Muslims, I was confronted with a devastating choice. While Hurricane Irene raged through the streets of New York, my wife was in labor in a Manhattan hospital room. She had been laboring for 22 hours, and now, after repeated attempts to control it, she was wrestling with a fever.

My son, still inside her, was slipping away from us. His heart rate was rapidly increasing, a sign of his distress. My wife and I are the "do everything natural" couple. We took prenatal yoga, went for prenatal acupuncture, found a loving doula and ate copious amounts of kale, and my wife refused all drugs from the moment her pain began. But like countless others, we had to make a difficult call that day. "Let's end this," I said. "Let's take the baby out."

In less than an hour, just after the sun set, doctors performed a c-section and pulled our baby boy out. After they clipped the cord and I said the call to prayer in his ear, we brought him around the curtain to his mother. It is strange that we bring our children into rooms that are brightly lit, with sterile walls, surrounded by strangers wearing plastic gloves. I could only imagine my son's confusion. Thankfully, my son heard our voices, the same voices he had been hearing since he was able to hear while inside the womb.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

On the day of his birth, he opened his beautiful eyes bright and wide (thank goodness he has his mother's eyes) and studied us.

It was like he was asking, "who's responsible for me? Oh, there they are. Are they sure they know what they are doing?"

Dads to media: We're not idiots!
Dads pick TV's best fathers
NASCAR drivers are dads, too

The answer in a word: No. We had no idea what we were doing.

My wife and I are both Muslim, and we both come from large families. I am black, and she is Indian-American. We are tied together by faith and an overriding sense that we need to raise our son in a way that is different from how we were both raised. He is very different from us, born into a very different time. But how do we do this?

As a father, I started by laying out some nurturing father principles and assumptions. They are based in my faith but resonate universally.

First, my faith tells me that my son is without sin. My wife and I are his "spiritual parents," with the tough job of guiding him down a righteous path. To do this, we had to be prepared. Getting married was step one. Waiting a bit before diving into parenthood was step two. Sure, we could have waited longer and discovered more about ourselves as a unit and therefore been better parents. But in truth, no one is ever "ready." Constantly strengthening our own sense of faith as he watches is step three.

Second, my son is good. He is untainted. He does not lie or cheat or steal. He has never cursed, never talked about someone behind his or her back. He smiles at strangers; he's calm when we pray. I have to nurture and bring out the best in him. I have to pay attention to him, let him cry and express himself and listen to him even when I have little attention. Among the tools I have at my disposal is my example. He will follow what I do more than he will follow what I say.

Third, my son was born intelligent, as a whole human being, with the ability to express and understand human emotion. I must help fill that brilliance with information and rich experiences that let him see the beauty of the world and understand how to navigate around the ugly.

Fourth, my son has rights and responsibilities. He has the right to be loved and to find love. He has the right to fail and to succeed, to never go hungry, to never be homeless and to always have a community and a family. He has the responsibility to nurture others, to fight oppression.

Fifth, I have to be the best human being I can be. It is my responsibility to work even when I cannot find work. I must maintain a true and loving partnership with his mother. Through me, he must learn to see all people as created equal, to never disrespect women in any way with verbal, emotional or physical abuse.

Right now, my son is sleeping. I look upon him knowing he feels my love. I also know he can feel stress, tension and negative emotions. As a nurturing father, I should always remember that any mistakes he makes are not a reflection of who he is. At the core, he is a good human being whose soul comes from the Creator of the Universe, and my wife and I have been chosen as the primary caretakers for this vessel of light, this small human being. And we will do the best we know how, praying all along that it is enough.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ibrahim Abdul-Matin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT