Owing to my father’s behavior and his family’s ill treatment to my mother, my parents got divorced soon after I was born. After the divorce, my mother was abandoned with no support or financial aid. My paternal grandparents also boycotted my mother and refused to offer any financial or emotional support. As a result, I grew up under the sole custody of my mother. As my father severed all ties from us, all the responsibility fell on my mother. With no qualifications to her name and no support from my father, she had a hard time finding and holding a job. Nonetheless, she kept on working hard and stayed determined. She did multiple jobs - taught as a teacher in a local school and as a driving teacher for females to make ends meet, often depriving herself to make sure there was enough for me.
Growing up in a single parent household is never easy. In a country like Pakistan, where issues like divorce and single motherhood continue to be considered taboos, children are hardly ever counselled about how to deal with the loss or abandonment from a parent. Growing up fatherless, there is a lot I’ve held on to from my childhood – getting fee vouchers from my school addressed to my father but not knowing anything except his name, looking at kids around me being picked up by their fathers from school and feeling a deep sense of deprivation. I remember I would often sit alone and burst into tears, overwhelmed by the absence of a father in my life and feeling a great sense of loss – a loss of someone I never knew and someone who didn’t want to know me. At times when I did gather the courage to ask my family about him, I was told that my father had died a long time ago. Being a son, I was reminded of my strength– weakness was not an option, neither was grief.
When I was around eight years old, my mother was made to re-marry and I was left in the custody of my maternal grandparents. The man who married my mother, my step-father, refused to accept or support me. Thus, my maternal uncles and grandparents became my financial guardians as they wanted my mother’s second marriage to succeed. I would meet my mother during vacations and sometimes during the week, if and when her new husband allowed her to visit. I never accepted my mother’s new husband as a father and only ever saw him occasionally. I wasn’t allowed to visit my mother at her new house and so my main means of communication with her was through hand-written letters, as, back then, internet and telephone coverage were a luxury only a few could access.
During her second marriage, my mother gave birth to three children – two girls and a boy. I still got to see her once in a while but given her commitments with my step-siblings, it was difficult to maintain our relationship as before.
When I was eleven years old, my grandparents moved me to my aunt’s place and I was enrolled in a new school, along with my cousins. However, I struggled with the studies at school due to the changes in my life and was sent back to live with my grandparents. Seeing how things were, my grandfather deemed it beneficial for me to get engaged in some vocational work. I was sent to a bicycle repairing workshop for three weeks, followed by a three-month placement at a computer hardware shop. Thereafter, I was sent to my second aunt’s house in a different city to work in a photo processing shop. I had no say in where I was sent and what I was made to do. I was unhappy but, given my circumstances, there was not much I could do to change my situation.
By fate or by chance, I encountered the opportunity to return to my city to work at a local office. Being extremely disgruntled and disappointed with how my life had been with my family earlier, I decided not to return home and set out to make it on my own. But things were difficult. I worked extended hours on less than minimum wage and lived in dire conditions to make ends meet. A few months later, came across an opportunity to start a commission based job at an American call center operating from Pakistan. Since the job was night shift based, I worked at the office during the day and at the call center at night. During this time, I would sleep less than three hours a day and, eventually, this took a toll on my health. Shortly after, I quit the office job and decided to resume working at the call center.
Even though I had no permanent salary from the job, I gained invaluable experience during my time there. But, most importantly, the job served as a buffer against the abjection and melancholy brought on me due to my personal circumstances. After about a year of working away from home and having no contact with my family, I decided it was time to reconnect with my family. I apologized for staying out of touch, hoping they’d understand that it was the hardest decision I had ever made in my life. I eventually moved back home.Based on my earlier experience, I was able to gain employment at another call center – this time with a reasonable basic salary along with commission entitlement. At that time, I wish I had known this job would change my life in ways I had never imagined.
One night, on my way home from work with some colleagues, a stranger approached me. He asked if I could spare a few minutes to have a chat. I did not know who this man was or what he wanted, but I was keen on listening to why he had approached me. He asked if I had recognized him to which I replied in the negative. When he told me his name, I felt as if the world around was going collapse. It was the same name I had heard my entire life, associated with mine but without an identity. It was my father’s name and the man standing before me was allegedly my father. A million questions sprung in my mind but all I could manage to ask was, ‘Why now?’. He claimed that he had never forgotten about me – ‘his blood’ and he had always wanted to be a part of my life. Naturally, I did not trust a word this man said and asked him to approach my family if he wanted to establish any further contact. Shortly after, a meeting was arranged between my father’s family and my family. There were a lot of tears, emotions and apologies. At the end, my father said he was ready to assume responsibility for my boarding. I remained skeptical of his promises and assurances. My intuition did not let me down as he returned to Saudi Arabia and after supporting me only for a couple of months, he abandoned me once again – this time saying he was unable to continue supporting me as he already had another family of his own. I was left shattered. He gave me several assurances that he would call me to Saudi Arabia permanently but as expected, none of these ever materialized. Once again, I was left alone and despondent. I lodged with a friend for a while and shortly after, I moved back in with my maternal family. The only two people who showered me with love and affection during this difficult time in my life were my maternal grandparents, both of whom passed away. Their demise left a void in my life that no one can ever fill. Following their death, I continued living at their house with my uncles. However, my life took a sharp turn again when my uncles made it clear they did not want me to stay at the house anymore, and I was left homeless once again.
They say, “There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.” Looking at the cards life had thrown at me, I never really believed this. But I was wrong. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes, this comes in the form of solace from a stranger. For me, the light came in the form of Bruce Hopewell – the person who changed my life, shaped me into what I am today and to whom I shall remain forever grateful.
I became acquainted with Bruce while working night shifts at the call center. I had initially called him to pitch cleaning services on behalf of a well renowned Canadian duct cleaning company. He had asked me to call him later and so I made a note on my diary and contacted him a month later to pursue the lead. I gave him a quote for the services and he agreed to have the services rendered a week later. This was a big deal for me at the time as I was only 16 and procuring him as a client was just the encouragement I needed. While speaking to him to finalize the details of the services, I told him I am based in Pakistan which greatly surprised him. I called him later to obtain his feedback on the cleaning services and he said he was extremely satisfied and he would definitely use our services again. Usually, when I made marketing calls, people either hung up, shouted or treated me rudely. Bruce treated me with a lot of kindness and, with time, I would speak to him almost every day on his landline as he did not have a mobile phone.
He told me that in his 57 years of existence, he had never been married and lived with his elderly mother to look after her. I would speak to him every day – sometimes helping him with his IT and computer related queries. With the passage of time, I found a friend in Bruce and his kindness and generosity changed my life forever. He told me about his new business ventures, which he wanted me to be a part of. He offered to help me apply for a Canadian visa and visited several lawyers to try getting this sorted out for me. He showed me the generosity, affection and care which I had longed for from my own family. And most of all, he did this without expecting anything in return.
I managed to rent a small house with my salary from my job at the call center and, after a while, I decide it was time to further my education. To this end, I started applying for English language courses in the UK. During the same time, I also joined a business venture through which I earned $20,000. I used a proportion of this money to enlist the help of a consultant to get admission at an institute in the UK and also invested the remaining money in car sales.
After I had finally managed to secure a place at a university in the UK, I went to study there. My plan was to use the money from the car sales to sustain myself in the UK and to eventually move to Canada from there. However, fate intervened again as the man whom I had invested the money with refused to give me my share of the investment and I was left without any means of sustaining myself in a foreign country. I had family in the UK – all of which belonged to my father’s side. I had hoped I would be able to seek some assistance from them but they, like my father, abandoned me in my time of need. I had no place to live in England, but I was still there. I could get a place to live in Canada, but was not able to move there. I turned to Bruce for advice and he suggested I should move back to Pakistan. He sent me money to buy a ticket to go back home and always supported me whenever I was in need – be it financial or emotional.
Upon my return, I resumed my job at the call center and rented a house. I continued to stay in contact with Bruce who continued to support me and helped me start my business ventures. He would share details of his life with me and his love for his mother influenced me to reconnect with my own mother. Her second marriage had fallen apart and I asked her to move in with me, along with my half siblings.It was a difficult decision to make as this meant I was now also responsible for supporting my half siblings, financially. However, I was reminded of how I had been rewarded for my hardships through the kindness and generosity Bruce had shown me and so, I arranged for all three of my half siblings to get enrolled in a public school and assumed responsibility of their sustenance. After years of treating them poorly and depriving them of the most basic human needs, my mother’s second husband completely abandoned her and his children. To date, he has not offered to support his children – even though he has a well-paying and pensionable government job. Looking at the life my mother and half siblings have led, I have undertaken to support them to the best of my abilities.
During all this time, I remained in contact with Bruce. I would often go to him for advice and he would keep me informed of what was happening in his life. Bruce reinstated my faith in humanity. His relationship with me was not based on religion (he was a Christian and I, a Muslim), race or mutual benefit; it was based solely on humanity. He brought me back from a dark place in my life – a place where I had left myself void of faith, emotion and confidence. His generosity knew no bounds and I was not the only person whom he influenced the way he did. I was lucky enough to find love when I met my (now) girlfriend online on Facebook. It was a long distance relationship so it came with its fair share of difficulties, but was totally worth it. Her role in my life was no less than a savior too because she complemented my personality and gave me a sense of companionship amid a chaotic state of life- something I never realized I really needed in all those years. I often used to speak to Bruce about this and turned to him for advice. He supported me financially and emotionally to help sustain my relationship – especially given the long distance, he helped me several times so that I could go see her.
Bruce passed away in 2015 and his demise hit me harder than any other hardship in my life. And even though Bruce is no longer with us today, he lives many lives he touched with his compassion, kindness and generosity. In carrying forward this spirit, I have established the Bruce Hopewell Memorial Fund to help the underprivileged abandoned women and their children in Pakistan. Having personally been a victim of child labour, the fund will also support the eradication of child labour in Pakistan and to empower and educate young people. Your generosity can help change a child’s life and take them off the streets and into a school, receiving the education and opportunities they need and deserve. It will also enable us to help sustain those women and children who are abandoned by their partners/fathers in a society where marriage is considered to be the sole reason for a woman’s existence. No donation is too small – every little bit will help reach closer to our goal. Please donate whatever you can to help make our society a better place for those who cannot support themselves.