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What My Father Taught Me About Beauty

Life, beauty, or something like it.

My father died slightly over two months ago. Despite the fact that I’m a writer, I cannot even put in words the magnitude of devastation I have felt every single day since he passed. In the past sixty days or so, I’ve begun to realise that when a parent dies, you don’t just say goodbye at the time his soul leaves his body, but also, at every single crossroad — some so minute and insignificant to other people, but it rattles you to your core.

While I’m learning to live in a world without my father physically a phone call or a short taxi ride away, there is strength and power knowing that he is in everything that I do — even right down to my beauty rituals. Because my friends, my father was not only good looking, he was also a vain man, and I love that he cared about how he looked. Here’s what he taught me about beauty.

#1: Presentation is not just for other people

When he was done lazing in bed watching the telly, my father would get up and run a comb through his hair. As a child, for me, that would be an indication that he was going somewhere and I often jumped at the chance to tag along. He’d say, “I’m not going anywhere — I just don’t like it if I look messy.” He took pride in how he looked, whether he was headed to work, or putting his head down to the prayer mat in solitude.

#2: A headstand a day does wonders

My dad would do headstands every morning without fail, after his morning prayers and before breakfast, up till a year before died. He never practiced yoga like I do, but his practice is something celebrated by yogis. By reversing the flow of gravity, a headstand simulates a “face lift” by letting your skin hang in the opposite direction. The inverted position of a headstand also flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, creating a glowing effect on the skin, amongst many other reasons.

#3: There is beauty in standing up for people who don’t have a voice

As a child, my parents always taught us to stand up for what we believe in, to speak out and especially, to help people who need it. My father wouldn’t flinch when I choose to question power dynamics — whether it was in school, my extra curricular classes, or on occasion, even at home. When I first began to write about my experiences with racism and colourism, he told me, “People who once thought they were alone in this don’t, now.”

#4 Nivea Creme is truly the best moisturiser there is

My father was never without a tub of Nivea Creme in the vanity drawer next to my mother’s. He would literally use it for everything, and likewise, so do I. Perfect when you’re travelling, for extra dry elbows, and even on the skin of toddlers, it’s something I fish out twice a day everyday and say a prayer for my Abah every time I do.

#5 Quality of life can persevere despite a devastating illness

My father was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer 87 days before he passed away with his family by his side. With the help of his palliative care doctor, Dr Lalit Krishna at the National Cancer Centre, my dad lived his last days exactly how he wanted: with his family and friends, in the comfort of his home, and on occasion, enjoying the food he loved. While cancer was eating his insides, he still had it in him to make people laugh, as he always did, without missing a beat. It took strength, determination and perseverance and I aspire to carry those qualities with me through my life.

My dad was my rock, my ever-present, my hand to hold and every day, I’m more than just a little lost that he’s gone. While I know we’ll see each other again someday, for now, I’m rubbing some Nivea Creme on my scaly elbows and putting one foot in front of the other.