Raising a Daughter Alone: A Single Father’s Journey

Glenn Silver is a planner/evaluator for the North Carolina (USA) Division of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing and is a single parent to his 16-year-old daughter, Candace.  He received his Master’s degree from the University of Florida and has worked extensively in the non-profit sector.  A former pastor, Glenn is now a practising Muslim and maintains an active role at his local mosque.

Despite her challenging childhood, Candace is a remarkable young lady who has achieved a lot academically in her young life.  She has recently wrapped up a summer course at The National Student Leadership Conference Psychology and Neuroscience Program at American University, and she is now on track for admissions to neuroscience and psychology programs at several prestigious universities.

Tell me about your journey to parenthood. What were the circumstances that led you to single parenthood?

In 1994, I married my first wife and began my own grant writing consulting business in North Florida.  In 1996, we had a baby girl. We had started experiencing marital problems by then and one day in the same year, I went back home only to discover that my wife had packed up and left.  The only things she left behind were my clothes.  After a few months, I caught a bus to Seattle, to return to where I had been living a few years prior.  However when the bus stopped in Chicago, I chose not to travel further.  I ended up enrolled in the Pacific Garden Mission Men’s Bible Institute and studied there until 1997.  My brother died the same year.  He had been the one taking care of my mother so I moved to North Carolina to live closer to her.  By the end of ‘97, I received divorce papers from my wife; I hadn’t seen my daughter for more than a year.

It sounds like it was an intense period in your life.

Yes, it was. But it is all qadr (destiny).

 glenn_candace

When was Candace born?

 In the midst of all these major life events, I met the woman who would be my second wife at church.

She already had a 3 year old son. We married in August 1998.   After we were married she injured her wrist and could no longer work. I went from consulting to full-time employment with the City of Rocky Mount. I also became Youth Pastor and Assistant to the Pastor at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

In 1999, during Hurricane Floyd, Candace was conceived and she was born on June 18, 2000.

A little after that, I became Pastor of Tillery Chapel Missionary Baptist Church – a small, rural, black church in NC, while also working at the City of Rocky Mount.

In 2005, I left the City and began working for the State of NC but by then  my wife had begun to show signs of mental illness. Twice, she forgot to pick the children up from school and I had to leave work and drive 45 minutes from my job to get the children. My wife’s mental health continued to deteriorate until in 2009, I left and Candace decided to leave with me. We moved to Burgaw, NC.

My wife filed papers in court and I was forced to take Candace back to her. It was the worst day in my life. Candace cried and did not want to go back but I had to take her back because the court ordered it.  For a little more than a year, I lived in Burgaw while Candace lived in Whitakers, NC with her mother. I visited her at least once per month and took her to the dinner, movies, etc.

 That’s awful. How did you cope?

I coped by having good friends in Burgaw and through the mercy of God. By Spring 2012, Candace could not take it anymore and asked me if I would come back for her sake. So in Spring 2012, I moved from Burgaw back to Whitakers and reconciled with her mother. I tried to make it work for Candace’s sake.

After a couple of months, things got really bad.

 What happened?

One Saturday morning, my wife began fussing at Candace for placing the forks in drying rack with the handles up rather than the tines up and things escalated to the point that I called 911 and the police came. They called Social Services and Social Services told me that I was solely responsible for Candace’s safety and her mother was not to be alone with Candace.

How old was Candace when this happened?…The knife incident

I could not live in the house with the mother of my child not being able to be left alone with her. What was I to do when Candace went to the bathroom and her mother went in there with her? Candace had just turned 12.

Candace was terrified that her mother was going to come and do something to me or her so we packed our clothes, left the house, and stayed in a hotel in Raleigh for a couple of weeks until I got us an apartment. When I got an apartment, we started with everything from zero. We had nothing but our clothes, so in the beginning, Candace slept in her sleeping bag while I slept on the floor.

Luckily for us at the time, my employer, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, let me bring Candace to work so I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving her alone.  All this time, I also was fighting a court battle for custody of Candace.

What about your other daughter? What happened to her?

She remained with her mother and her mother cut off contact. I have not seen her since she was 3 years old but I do provide financial support.

You had been a practising Christian. How did you transition to Islam?

I found Islam as a result of all that I was going through at this time. Although I had served as a Pastor for more than 15 years in the Whitakers area and was very active in the community, none of my fellow pastors or the churches did anything to help us. I was very disappointed that they had no concern for Candace.

So, the pain of having the church fail me caused me to critically assess Christianity. After a few months of contemplation, I contacted the Islamic Association of Raleigh and Brother Fiaz Fareed responded to my email.  When I told him I had been a Christian pastor, his response was that he wanted to be respectful.  “Would you like me to call you Reverend, or Pastor, or something else?” he asked.

I was astounded because here was a Muslim wanting to be respectful of my non-Muslim religion while when I was a Christian, I had no respect for any religion other than Christianity. That small, simple act of kindness was all the daawah I needed. Brother Fiaz and I met on February 10, 2013 and I took shahadah that day.

Please tell me a little more about your journey into Islam.

So as I began to study Islam, I discovered Qiyaam al-Layl and read that Allah descended to the lowest part of heavens in the last third of the night to answer prayers.  I calculated the last third of the night and prayed. The next day, alhamdulillah, I received the notice that the court had awarded me full and sole custody of Candace.

After that, I continued to learn and grow as a Muslim.  Islam and the local Muslim community have helped me and Candace endure our tests. Islam has taught me about sabr (patience) and perfection of my character; those two things have helped me be a good parent.  It is the love and forgiveness and provision of Allah (SWT) for me that I try to reflect, albeit dimly, in my relationship with Candace.

As a father, who inspires you?

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW).  I have learned a lot from his character and I try to replicate it in my life as much as possible. He was an exemplary father.

As a revert, it was inspiring to know that the Prophet (SAW) also raised daughters and that daughters are a blessing from Allah.  There is a hadith which states that anyone who brings up a righteous daughter is guaranteed a place in paradise.

Are you raising Candace as a Muslim? Or does she get to decide what faith she wants to belong to?

She gets to decide.

Being abandoned by the church has made her sceptical of religion and I understand that. Plus, religion is not but compulsion. The best I can do for her is to let her see the power of Islam in my life so that she reverts. Otherwise, forcing her to live as a Muslim would be insincere and could do her more harm than good.

 How long have you now been living alone together?

 Candace and I have been living alone together for four years.

You are a single father. You haven’t had it easy in the past and Candace hasn’t either. What have been some of the most difficult moments for you raising your daughter alone?

The most difficult moments were when we first moved here and we were going back and forth to court in the custody battle. Candace had been physically and emotionally abused by her mother so we went to therapy together. Then, in January 2013, I lost my job the NC Museum of Natural Sciences because I had to be out so much with the custody battle. So I had to return to consulting full time. That worked out well because I could arrange my schedule to be there for Candace more than I could when working outside the home.

One of the most challenging things was seeing Candace endure the pain of having her mother reject her.

Do you have a support system?

My support system is my local ummah and my friends in the Wilmington area.  My reliance on Allah has helped tremendously.

How does society judge you as a single father?

I am not sure how society judges me as a single father. To be honest, I hardly ever think about it. I do think that as a black, single father in America, I break the stereotypes that many have of black fathers. However, my breaking those stereotypes is a testimony to the mercy of Allah (SWT) rather than any traits I have, as a man.

As for having to have gone through so much, it is the will of Allah (SWT) – qadr. When Allah (SWT) loves His (SWT) slave, He (SWT) test him. And for that, I can only say Alhamdulillah(thanks be to God).

You have come out the other side a winner in spite of your difficult past.

I believe if anything in my life had been different until now, I would not know Allah (SWT) as I do. I  strive to be a better slave to Him (SWT), moment by moment.

Wow! I’m in awe of your attitude.

Yes. Alhamdulillah, that Allah (SWT) has kept me around to see Candace achieve all that she has. May Allah (SWT) allow all of us to grow old and see our child become pious offspring, ameen.

What are your hopes for Candace as she transitions into adulthood?

I hope that she use the gifts she has to serve humanity and that her heart softens to accept Islam.

She has admitted that if she had to choose a religion it would be Islam. The local ummah is very supportive of us. They always ask about Candace and invite her to events.

Is it easy for her to communicate to you regarding issues surrounding femininity?

I always have talked to her as an adult so she is very comfortable asking me anything. She trusts me and I trust her. By the age of 8 or 10, you have instilled the core values of a child so all you can do beyond that is reinforce those values, guide the child along, and support them as they make mistakes.

So, she’s been an Honors student throughout high school and is now picking out colleges. Did you ever think, about 10 years back, that you’d be here today? In a place of success as a father?

Yes. My mother raised me as a single parent and I always have been GGod-conscious   I always have relied on God for support.  However, I had no idea I would endure the trials I have but that is a testimony to the mercy of Allah (SWT).

What advise would you give other single parents out there that are going through a dark period in their lives?

 I would advise them to seek Allah (SWT) to bring light into their dark experience. Admit the limits of your own power and submit to Allah (SWT) so you can then have the assurance that even the worst of times are being used to your benefit – in this life and in the Hereafter.

Islam helps me keep things in perspective. All I can do is put forth my best effort and trust Allah (SWT) with the outcome.

There is this hadith of the bird. The bird awakens each day, hungry and not knowing where it will get food. But the bird puts forth the effort – it flies from its nest – and because it puts forth effort, Allah provides sustenance as the outcome: the bird returns to the nest full!

What a beautiful reminder for life.

For those who are reading this and aren’t Muslim, how can they relate to your advice on leaning in on Allah. It’s the feeling of leaning on something bigger than us, isn’t it?

Yes. Leaning in on your own understanding or the support of other people alone will eventually lead to a led down because those resources are limited but God is limitless.

We must lean on something bigger than us because we have an enemy, shaytan, who is bigger than us. But he, like us, are subordinate to Allah (SWT). It is like this. The shaytan is the neighborhood dog and if we try to get away from that bad dog on our own, sooner or later that dog is going to get us. So the logical thing to do is to go to the owner of that dog and plead with him to restrain that dog so the dog cannot do with us as he pleases. Allah (SWT), in this metaphor, is the owner of the bad dog.

 I love that analogy.

What do u look forward to in the future?

Inshaallah, I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in my iman(faith) as a Muslim; re-marrying; seeing Candace graduate high school, college, and begin her career; and making hajj.

That sounds wonderful         .

Inshaallah, if I can just see Candace get off to a good start as a psychiatrist and make hajj, that will be fulfilling.

And to conclude, what is your definition of success?

Taqwa– a closeness to Allah (SWT).  Taqwa is my definition of success because if I am close to Allah (SWT) then I have solid refuge from the vicissitudes of life; provision for my journey in this life; and a place near Him (SWT) in paradise.

Thank you, Glenn, for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us. We wish you and Candace all the best in life!

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What makes a successful marriages?

“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put Love and mercy between your (hearts), verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” [ar-Room 30:21]

In what is one of the best pieces of marriage advice I’ve ever heard, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan lays out a common sense explanation of the difference between the genders and how we can capitalise on these differences to build strong marriages. He uses basic pyschological principles to explain why men and women think differently and follows up with advice from the Qur’an and sunnah to prescribe behaviours that can make us better spouses to each other. After listening to his lecture, this is what I learnt:

Wives:

Men’s biggest weakness is women. As soon as wives understand that God created this desire in men, they will understand that their greatest role is in supporting their husbands, and NOT to fighting them. If you are angry, he will feel angry too. Men are not as emotionally expressive as women are, so he will not tell you if your actions hurt him. If you are angry often enough, resentment will build up and over time it will spill into other areas of your relationship. All of a sudden, he will start picking on minor things such as too much salt in the food or a stain on his shirt. If this goes on long enough without being resolved, he will eventually lose interest in you and start seeking attention elsewhere. If you notice that your husband is picking on ‘small’ issues, it’s time for an honest talk with him.

Understand that a man is surrounded by temptation all day: a smile from the lady on the train, a sexy model on a billboard, kind words from the cute secretary.  Instead of constantly interrogating your husband and checking his phone for potential affairs, be his rock instead. Offering something as simple as a smile will make him feel wanted, loved and appreciated.

Husbands:

The biggest mistake that men often make is trying to understand their wives using logic. Woman are wired to be more emotional (and that’s not a bad thing!) Women may be complicated creatures but this does not mean that you should dismiss their thoughts and feelings. Instead of arguing with her using logic, try adopting the sunnah method. When she is expresses anger, answer back with kind words and empathetic silence. Never answer back harshly or roll your eyes. A reasonable women will take silence as a sign of discomfort and will often come back to you with questions of concern and reconciliation. Also, never reprimand her for her behaviour and retort with phrases like ‘I wish you could be like the Sahabiyya.” This does nothing but make her build her defences up. If you cannot be like the Prophet (PBUH), don’t expect her to be like Lady Khadija.

Speaking of expectations, the greatest source of frustrations in marriages today is unmet expectations. We expect so much out of each other, yet we constantly fall short on delivery ourselves. If you want to receive something, you must first give it. If you want your spouse to show you love, you must be willing to give it first.

May Allah grant us tranquil marriages and blessed homes.

If you’d like to watch the video in full, please click on the link below:

Unfold your myth

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I stumbled upon the profound poetry of Rumi in my teens, among my father’s piles of books on philosophy and Sufism. While I loved everything I read by this popular 13th Century Persian mystic, the one that stood out for me was this:

But don’t be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth…

 I had largely abandoned Rumi in my early to mid 20s in the pursuit of getting through college and starting a family, but later came to rediscover him during a quarter life crisis in my late 20s.  Up to that point, I had done everything that society had expected me to do yet I felt the constant, almost daily, sharp pangs of disillusionment. What followed was an intense period of soul searching; of near break downs, followed in turn by days of slow and painful breakthroughs.

‘Unfold your own myth’-This line both haunted me and inspired me.  Amidst much resistance from a few from my inner circle, I went about the business of ‘unfolding my myth’.  What did the future have in store? I had no idea. The need to know had actually ceased to matter.  It was a rough journey but one that resulted in the kind of inner peace that no money can buy. Was it worth it? Most definitely.

I googled Rumi recently and stumbled upon my favorite quote.  However I made a discovery that startled me: what I thought was a stand alone two-line quote was actually a full stanza within a larger poem.

But don’t be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanation,so everyone will understand the passage,
We* have opened you.

 (From The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

The two line quote was always beautiful but the stanza, in its entirety, makes absolute sense.  I recognized it the same way you recognize the value of your mother’s advice when you become a parent yourself.  Hindsight is the old man whose wisdom echoes long after the words are said and actions are taken.

….without complicated explanation, 

If you are treading on the path led by your inner (and truest) compass, you do not need to defend your decisions.  Those that matter will stand by you no matter what you decide.

so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

 Ultimately our destinies are governed by God.  Who are we to question His divine grace? At times I am at loss for words that accurately describe my thoughts, and the last two lines are examples of such thoughts.  To me, the closest words I can think of that capture the essence of the poem’s last two lines are from Forrest Gump, perhaps my most favorite philosopher of all:

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”

Here are my humble parting words for today: Go ahead and unfold your own unique myth no matter how absurd it sounds to others. If it makes sense to your inner Rumi, that is all the sense you need. Take ownership of your unique journey; you never know what kinds of delicious chocolates lay ahead.

Additional note:

*The word ‘We’ is used in the Holy Quran to refer to God.  It does not indicate plural; rather it is a linguistic representation of the Most High.

(Photo credit: http://i90.photobucket.com/albums/k252/emperorsdarksister/Dervish/dietrich_rumi.jpg)

In Defense of Always Tying Your Camel First

ImageThere was once a man in Arabia who came from the market one day and decided that, on account of his good day,he would go into the mosque and offer his prayers of gratitude.  And so he went into the mosque and left his untied camel outside.  Upon finishing his prayers, the man stepped outside but alas, his camel was gone.  In his outrage, the man shook his hands and raised them to the sky yelling, “I put my trust in you God! How could you let this misfortune befall on me?”

Perhaps the story of this man is what inspired one of my favorite hadiths (acts or sayings ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad):

“Trust in Allah but tie your camel first” (At-Tirmidhi).

I was prompted to write this post because I’ve noticed that alot of us tend to face difficulties with a defeatist mentality and a resigned “If it’s God’s will, then there nothing I can do about it” sigh. It isn’t that I don’t believe in divine will.  It’s that alot of us tend to take the back seat in our own lives and ignore the fact that our input really does matter in the end.

Over and over again, I have seen people from my community stuck in situations and yet are too complacent to do anything about it. Here are some common scenarios:

Unfulfilling relationships? I’m stuck in this relationship, despite the fact that everyday I wake up everyday feeling like dying. This is God’s will that I am unhappy for the rest of my life.

Chronic illness? There is nothing I can do to improve my health or improve my quality of life.  I’ll just keep on ignoring my health and wait for my death.

Injustice? I just have to accept that some people will step on me and de-humanise me.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I simply have to suffer in silence and accept that my suffering is God’s will.

However as a Muslim, I believe that complacency is as much a sin as the disbelief in Divine will.  We should try our best everyday but if things don’t work out as we’d like them to, we should be grateful for the lessons learned along the way.

“And that man can have nothing but what he strives for” (Qur’an 53:39)

When things go wrong, it just means that this is an opportunity to re-think our lives and come up with better alternatives of living.  As long as we have the ability to change that which is harmful to us, it is our responsibilty to do so.  We were created with brains, hearts, hands, and feet in order to do enable us to make the best out of our lives and to leave the world better than we found it.

So, you trust in God-awesome! But have you tied your camel first?

O young man! You do not amount to anything. Islam (submission to the will of Allah) has not become completely real for you, yet it is the foundation upon everything is built. The profession of faith has not become completely real for you. You say: “There is no god but Allah”, but you are lying. Your fears of your ruler and your local governor are gods. Your reliance on your earned income and your profit, on your power and your strength, on your hearing and your sight and your energy, all are gods. Your ways of viewing creatures as the source of injury and benefit, of giving and witholding, are also gods. Many people talk about these things in their hearts, while they appear that they are talking about the Lord of Truth. Their mentioning the Lord of Truth has become a habit for their tongues, not for their hearts. When they are challenged to this score, they fly into a rage and day: “How can such things be said of us? Are we not Muslims?” Tomorrow the shameful acts will be disclosed, and things kept hidden will be revealed.”
(from ‘Al-Fath ar-Rabbani’, 15th discource, by Shaikh Abd Al-Qadr Al-Jilani)

Faith


“Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be… a prudent insurance policy.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert