I checked in with my dad today and we spoke about the London, Ontario attack that killed four members of a Muslim family and seriously injured a nine-year old boy.
He wondered if the family had been wearing traditional clothing that may have identified their faith.
« It’s better to assimilate. », he said, « to blend in. It was a very difficult decision to cut my hair but I felt my turban would hold me back from opportunity. »
I reminded my dad that he was still a brown man with a Punjabi name and a funny accent. Cutting his hair may have opened doors that would otherwise have been shut but he had faced discrimination nonetheless, all at a terrible cost.
I never fully appreciated the sacrifice he made until, on a family pilgrimage to India in 2001, I witnessed him practicing his faith at a Sikh temple in New Delhi: head covered with a borrowed handkerchief, fingertips touching forehead to each of the marble steps ascending to the temple, and lips reciting the Granth Sahib (sacred Sikh scripture) by rote. I had never seen him do this in Canada and that made me incredibly sad.
While I appreciate what my father gave up for his family and his new country, part of me wishes he had stuck it to the man and kept the turban.
The only picture I have of my dad’s uncut hair, without his turban. Circa 1962.