Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Coding to Communicate: Bridging the Gap Between Dad and Daughter

Fathers Day is fast approaching.

Normally, I’d attempt to put together a mushy paragraph or two in a Whatsapp message addressed to my dad, the number of emojis peppered throughout the message substantially outweighing the actual words, as opposed to sticking to the traditional ritual of sending a card through snail mail.

My dad lives in far-off lands. Well, Scandinavia to be exact (apparently Scotland wasn’t cold enough!), and each year, despite setting back-to-back reminders in my phone, I continually forget to post a card early enough for it to reach him in time for Fathers Day.

So in order to curtail the flurry of panic that arises after seeing #FathersDay trending on Twitter every 18th of June, I resort to composing a small Whatsapp greeting and although it never fails to bring a smile to his face, it doesn’t always succeed in conveying everything I set out to articulate.

My dad represents a lot of things to a lot of people.

To the friendly South Asian man who used to run our local corner shop near the outskirts of a suburban town in Glasgow, my dad was a familiar face and a fellow ‘brother.’

To his co-workers, he is the quiet, genteel man who works with his head down all day, very rarely breaking the silence to utter the odd witty comment here and there in his trademark accented English before returning to work with the same unwavering attention as before.

To my mum, he is the sole reason there is a perpetual stench of cigarettes in the house and an unwashed cup of tea, with the teabag miserably clung to the bottom, always lying in the kitchen sink, filthy and forgotten about.

To me, he is an amalgamation of quirky anecdotes and slightly hazy memories.

As he lives abroad, I only see him a hand-full of times for fairly short periods each year, mainly for birthdays and Christmas. When I do see him, I spend most of my time trying to explain to him what I do for a living.

I work for a large technology consulting firm and describing what I do on a day-to-day basis without resorting to industry buzzwords and baffling acronyms has always proven to be somewhat of a challenge.

This is further hindered by the fact that he doesn’t speak English overly well, something that I found, growing up in Scotland, occasionally resulted in sheer hilarity.

For instance, at my high school graduation when he wanted to stress how momentous of an occasion it was for me and started off the morning by a joyous exclamation of ‘Let’s call it a day’, thinking the expression signified the grandeur of a day, as opposed to merely marking the end of one.

The conversations that take place during my time at home (home being Denmark, where he now lives) are normally a tad abnormal; a rich cacophony of sounds that can only be described as a diverse mix of English mixed with Scottish slang, Urdu littered with Punjabi, and the occasional barely decipherable Danish sentence thrown in.

Although I was taught to speak Urdu as a child, my dad is perhaps one of two people I would speak it with and compared to his vernacular, my vocabulary is understandably, severely limited.

There are occasions when I am overcome by emotion and want to tell him how grateful I am for all that he has done for me; uprooting his entire life and moving thousands of miles across the world from South Asia to the UK, so I wouldn’t have to face the same hardships he did whilst growing up, but all that comes out in my feeble and diluted Urdu is a rough equivalent of ‘Ta dad, nice one.’

Recently, I started to learn how to code, mainly for career progression, initially starting off with a simple front-end language like HTML and slowly moving on to more advanced back-end programming languages like Java.

This revelation, for some reason, excited my dad a lot more than I would have expected. He began to take a sudden interest in the day to day workings of my time in the office and soon I developed a habit of ringing him after work for a detailed account of my day. Going from seeing and talking to him a few times a year to regular phone conversations has undoubtedly brought us closer together.

I often get asked if I’m bi-lingual (perhaps, as a person of colour, more often than usual), and I always reply with ‘Multi-lingual, actually’ and then rattle off the tech languages I’ve picked up so far ‘Java, Python, HTML, CSS’…

Whilst this doesn’t really deflect from the conversation, it usually gets a perfunctory laugh and perhaps more importantly, distracts me from the melancholy I often experience at my own faltering attempts of communication with my father.

It is (ironically) hard to put into words, the pain you feel when you witness your father, a man who can speak, read and write three languages fluently, yet is lost for words and reduced to a mere stutter, desperately attempting to decipher the barely coherent jumble of words uttered by the Glaswegian Checkout Operator in the supermarket, whilst simultaneously and frantically trying to formulate a sensible reply.

It took me a while but I have finally come to terms with the fact that due to our varying language abilities, I’ll only be able to see snippets of my dad’s life, just as he is able to see wee snippets of mine.

He is a huge fan of poetry and some of my earliest memories of growing up is him reciting poetry to my mum, which being a 6 year-old, went straight over my head but it did instill in me the importance and power of the spoken word.

I always wonder if part of the reason I started learning so many different coding languages and subsequently articulating my experiences as a women in technology, stems from a subliminal need to learn languages and enhance my ability to communicate to appease my dad. Perhaps, I took it one step further and instead of learning new languages to be able to communicate effortlessly with humans, I went straight for the machines!

I don’t really know how much truth underlies this speculation, but what I do know is that whilst my dad isn’t always able to grasp the full meaning of what I say or understand the depth of what I write, when I do show him a website I’ve built or even a functioning piece of code I’ve written, his entire face beams with utter pride and at that minute in time, there is no need for any words.

Happy Fathers Day dad!

Let’s call it a day.