It seems that almost weekly we read that a parent has written an open letter to their child – or about their child – the content of which is so powerful, it goes viral.
But a letter written recently by one particular Canadian dad to his toddler daughter is particularly poignant, and relatable for so many parents.
Ontario father Elamin Abdelmahmoud wrote to his toddler daughter, Amna, explaining that he gave her an unusual and difficult name to teach her a lesson.
The lesson he wants her to learn from having a name that many people won’t recognise, nor be able to spell, and maybe even pronounce?
To always remember who she is.
The letter to Amna, called A father’s letter to an infant daughter: ‘I wanted my last name to be a burden’, was published by news website Macleans this month.
The letter starts with Abdelmahmoud explaining to Amna that both her first and last names are not common ones in Ontario – part of the reason why her parents have chosen them.
“The whole thing has a flow: Amna Eliot Abdelmahmoud,” the dad writes. He explains its meaning: “safe and sound.”
That description is important for two reasons. Firstly, it’s what her parents always hope she will be. Secondly, it’s because 11 months before Amna was born, her mother had a miscarriage. So Amna’s “safe and sound” arrival in the world was all the more significant.
Abdelmahmoud credits his wife for selecting the name, and to them, it’s perfect.
“It fits you. You smile when you hear it.”
Amna’s middle name, Eliot, is also significant, but not just because of its connection to poet T.S. Eliot.
Abdelmahmoud explains that he wanted his daughter to have options, if she ever finds herself in a situation where she simply can’t face another question about her other names: ‘Eliot’ offers her simplicity.
But Abdelmahmoud’s self-described “clunky’ surname was gifted to his daughter on purpose, for the exact opposite reason; intended by her parents for it to be a burden – with a definite purpose.
Abdelmahmoud explains that he was 12-years-old when he arrived in Canada; meaning that he still remembers his homeland of Sudan.
“That sense can’t be divorced from who I am. I think of it with a mixture of kindness and pride—okay, a lot of pride,” he writes in the letter.
Which is why it’s a legacy that’s vitally important for him to impress on his daughter. Without Sudanese names, Aman might not have any connection to her heritage. Her father beautifully puts the significance of that:
“You don’t know it yet, but every time someone asks can you spell that? You’re going to feel the sting of lineage, the gentle hand of ancestry.”
Knowing that she will be judged for her surname, and that people will make assumptions about her based simply on it, Abdelmahmoud says that will be an important experience for Amna to have.
“Because going through it every time means having to remind yourself of who you are, of how you got here,” he says in the letter.
To Abdelmahmoud, he’s just preparing his daughter for the “battle” that is life, as all fathers should. He concludes his letter by saying;
“I want you to know that you come from a sturdy tree, strong and resilient and enduring, rooted in the rich soil of history.”
What greater gift can a father give his child than the strongest possible sense of identity?