Doctor And Son: A Tradition Of Service

As part of NPR StoryCorps National Day of Listening project, Tell Me More regular contributor Arsalan Iftikhar sits down with his father, Tariq, to share personal thoughts and stories that have shaped their father-son relationship.

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ALLISON KEYES, host:

As you know, conversations have long been a part of this program. Today we feature a conversation between a familiar voice and his next of kin. Arsalan Iftikhar is a regular in our Barbershop segment. He sat down with his dad, Tariq, as part of the National Day of Listening. It's something we're doing across NPR with the StoryCorps project, encouraging folks during the holiday to sit down with family members and listen.

Arsalan's dad is a surgeon in Chicago. And in the '90s, he changed his son's life by giving free medical care to Bosnians who were helped to flee genocide in their country.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Human Rights Lawyer): There was a story of one man, whose name was Adam, who after you had performed your pro bono surgeries on him, about a year later, I remember you telling me the story when I was still in high school that you had received a phone call. He and his wife had just had a baby son. And he had actually named his son after you. He had named his son Tariq. I'll never forget the look on your face as you relayed that story and from the age of 17, I had decided from that day that I was going to dedicate the rest of my insignificant life to give my life to public service.

Dr. TARIQ IFTIKHAR (Orthopedic Surgeon): I'm really grateful to God Almighty to see the fruits in front of me. When I look at you, I think it really humbles me, but it gives me a very strange sense of pride, also, at the same time. A lot of parents and a lot of people, they put in efforts and do things, but they still are not lucky enough as I am to see the outcome. And I think it's a great feeling. It is very difficult for me to put into words.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, for me it's funny because, you know, as sort of the bleeding heart liberal, lefty human rights lawyer, you know, I remember growing up when, you know, you used to, you know, listen to Rush Limbaugh, you know, during the Clinton impeachment years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And, you know, looking back, you used to love Rush Limbaugh.

Dr. IFTIKHAR: At that given time, with the Clinton impeachment, my God, I was really impressed by the way he was giving facts and all that. But when you and I started talking about the other side of the aisle, then I said, you know, wait a minute. I want to make sure that the path which I am following is a correct one.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, obviously, as your son I've learned a great deal from you after the major 2005 earthquake, you know, in South Asia that affected India, Pakistan and Kashmir, half a million people were killed. You actually went on a mission with Doctors without Borders. You know, I just want to hear a little bit about your experience. You know, what was it like going into, you know, that earthquake zone, you know, with Doctors without Borders in the earthquake region?

Dr. IFTIKHAR: You know, whenever you really try to heal human soul, the gratification is beyond any expression, beyond any words. Besides the broken bones, I saw the broken souls, the bruised minds, depression, the broken limbs which you can't even imagine. So I stayed there for five weeks. I did a lot of surgeries, of course. That's what my field is. And the day I was leaving, you know, the people were kissing my hands and all that and they were asking me when I'm going to come back.

I said goodbye to them, but I still remember them by the face, by their names. I know where they were from. And I know what I did to them. And one of my drivers from Doctors without Borders who used to drive me every day, he still calls me just to see when I'm coming back and it was so good to see you. And he was telling me about the well-being of the people and how well or how well they are not doing. That foreign trip was one of the - probably the best trip of my life so far.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: One of the things that I've always wanted to ask you, and you know, maybe we've just never had an opportunity over the last 10 years, obviously you've seen the work that I've done, you've known about, you know, the death threats that I've received. You know, what's it like for you to see your son going through that? I mean, what's been your thought process in the last 10 years?

Dr. IFTIKHAR: There were times when as a parent we were concerned about your well-being. You know, your mother and I, we both were. But this life is not forever. I pray for your well-being to God Almighty all the time, you know. Of course we want to see you safe and sound. And of course we would like to see you carry the message on and on and on and hopefully you will give it to your next generation.

And I think that alone, sense of fulfillment, makes everything secondary, you know. Because your mother and myself, we are both very proud of you. If God takes your life doing this positive work, this is a destiny. I hope it doesn't happen in front of us, but history will tell that at least when you left this world, there was some positive impact, no matter how small it is.

KEYES: Tariq and Arsalan Iftikhar for the National Day of Listening. Tips on how to do your interview are at NationalDayofListening.org.

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