The Terrorist's Son
A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes. Mahatma Gandhi
July 1999, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania…
"By the time I’m sixteen, I’ve spent quite some time hiding behind the surname Ebrahim. It’s been like an invisibility cloak, and, lately at least, it’s been working: None of my new friends know that I was born a Nosair. My family’s Egyptian experiment has failed. We’ve moved back to the States. And— I don’t know if it’s because I’ve pulled further away from my father, or because I no longer live in fear of my stepfather’s violence— I’m starting to feel hopeful and buoyant for the first time since my mother woke me up to tell me there’d been an “accident.” I decide to take a leap of faith and tell my two best friends who I really am. I tell them I’m the son of El-Sayyid Nosair.
I confess to my friend Orlando first. We’re on a class trip, sitting on a bench in the courtyard of a museum. The name Nosair means nothing to him, so I take a deep breath and explain. I tell him that my father murdered a rabbi named Meir Kahane and helped orchestrate the attack on the World Trade Center. Orlando looks incredulous. He’s so shocked by the horror of it all that all he can do is laugh. He laughs so hard that he falls off the bench. He does not judge me."
"The second person I tell is my friend Suboh. We work together at a supermarket in a bad neighborhood and, since he’s old enough to drive, he drops me off at home when we’re done for the day. Suboh is Palestinian. He knows the name El-Sayyid Nosair and the dark things it stands for. I tell him that Orlando is the only other person in the world whom I’ve told about my father— or that I plan to tell. We’re sitting in Suboh’s car outside my house. He looks at me and nods.
I’m afraid of his reaction. The windows rattle as trucks go by. When Suboh finally speaks, he does in fact rebuke me, though not in the way I’d feared: “You told Orlando before you told me?” I feel a rush of relief. If my friends don’t blame me for my father’s sins, then maybe, slowly, I can stop blaming myself. I feel as if I’ve been carrying something enormous and heavy, and finally put it down."
Zak Ibrahim had lived his entire youth as the Terrorist’s son. But finally, he had come to accept that he was his father’s son, but not his mistakes. The essence of Gandhi's thought above had struck home to Zak's heart. A man is a product of his thoughts, not his father. He realized that part of being a man was defining himself. Setting boundaries to who you are, your values, your abilities, your interests, and your preferences. Accepting that who I am and who I become can be molded and shaped by my father, but does not ultimately define me. That's my job.
I am my father's son, but not his mistakes.
I recall a conversation with my father regarding this issue. My dad had pulled me aside for one of those dreaded, but now coveted, talks about manhood. He said, "What people think of when they hear your name, is a result of your decisions, your actions, and your words. You decide what people think of when they hear the name Sebastien Braxton. So the question is, 'What kind of man do you want to be?' 'What do you want to come into the minds of others when they hear your name?'
I grappled with those questions at the time. But now, on this Father's day, I have an answer. This answer is not to be shared but showed. Not described but demonstrated. Not proclaimed but performed. While we celebrate our fathers and remember their contributions and greatness, let us remember that we are our fathers' sons but we are not their mistakes. We are our fathers' sons but we are not their successes. We are the product of our thoughts, not them. We will become what we think. Whether our fathers were terrible or terrific, let us covenant on this today to be greater than them, by thinking greater than they did. If your father was bad, then be better. If your father was better then be the best. If your father was the best then be better than the best.
This thinking will help us break the cycles of our homes. This thinking will help us look at our fathers and raise the bar. This thinking will help us see our fathers as men, but ourselves as a man up.
Quotes above from : Ebrahim, Zak (2014-09-09). The Terrorist's Son: A Story of Choice (pp. 76-77). Simon & Schuster/ TED. Kindle Edition.