Remembering Yaqub: A Restless World Traveler Who Lived The American Dream

A Tribute to the Life of My Father

Riz Virk
49 min readNov 28, 2022
My Dad’s Passport Picture From His First Passport in the 1960s

Muhammad Yaqub Virk

(April, 1937- November, 2022)

His adventurous spirit brought us East to West

His playful stories brought joy to many

Recently, my father, Muhammad Yaqub Virk, passed away at the age of 85, after having lived a long and very full life. It feels like the funeral was just yesterday, though it has been more than two weeks now. It might as well be a month or a year ago. You only lose your father once.

I was particularly close to my father, even though I spent almost all of my adult years living far away from my parents. As I reflect on his life, I realize that he inspired me to be the man I am today, in ways that I didn’t even recognize as a kid. A partial list: he inspired me to become a reader, a book collector, a computer programmer, an entrepreneur, a world traveler, a writer, and even now, later in my career, to become an academic.

I wanted to write this tribute to him and his life because as I learned at his funeral in Michigan, he made a difference in the lives of so many other people too. It was on a sunny but chilly November day, in a graveyard near the old mosque in Dearborn Michigan, not far from where many of his other relatives now lay, that I found out how he’d affected so many others.

This included the small number of “old timers”, long term friends of my mom and dad from the time they first came to Detroit,and members of our extended family. This last group, which numbers in the many hundreds now, can all trace back to my father’s decision to come to America and settle in Michigan. As one of my aunts fittingly put it, “He was like our Columbus”, having discovered the new world where we would all settle.

My father was a pioneer — the first in his family to go to college, first to get an advanced degree, the first to go from the village to live in the big city, the first to leave the country and settle abroad. This restless spirit was a key part of his life; he actually lived in 4 different countries (5 if you count North Dakota, which though technically not another country was definitely a world of its own).

With that in mind, I wanted to tell part of the story of the extraordinary man that was my father, Muhammad Yaqub Virk: world traveler, master storyteller, a scholar, gentleman, a husband, father and grandfather. To us he was “Abu” (a Punjabi word for dad). He is no longer with us in body, but will always be with us in spirit and memory.

This is a long post, because I wanted to include not just biographical facts, but some of the stories he told to his kids, grandkids and to anyone else who was willing to listen, over and over again.

For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, you can read the little abstracts at the beginning of each of the sections formatted like this.

Early Years in Punjab (1937–1950s)

Born in a small village in the Punjab, my father was not only the top student in his school, but went on to boarding school and learned about civil engineering

My father was born, like his father before him, and his older brothers and sisters, in a small village in the Punjab, Rasoolpur, not far from the great city of Lahore, which was to play an important part in his life to come. Since this was before partition, Punjab was a single province in India, unlike today where it has been split between the two countries.

My father entered this world with his twin brother, who shared not just a birthday but since their names were so similar (both were Muhammad Y. Virk), they were known by their middle names. My father was Yaqub and my cha-cha (a term for father’s younger brother in Punjabi) was Yusuf (the Islamic versions of Jacob and Joseph). Oddly, in a language that has different terms for every flavor of aunt and uncle (father’s older brother, father’s older sister, mother’s younger brother, etc.) there was no term for “father’s twin” — my uncle was called cha-cha (father’s younger brother) by us, and my father was called cha-cha (father’s younger’s brother) by my cousins (Yusuf’s kids). I don’t think they ever told us (or even know) who was actually older, since birth certificates in those days weren’t as accurate as they are now.

Though my father told us many stories of his later life, he didn’t tell us much about his early childhood; I know it was mostly spent in this small town with visits to the other slightly larger towns nearby. I know he showed an interest in getting an education and learning different languages at an early age. One story he told me during his last few years was about his father, who died young, before I or my brother were born. The family had been goldsmiths going back to my great-grandfather, who had built the shop in the town’s bazaar that my grandfather ran. He sold goods to many families in the nearby villages. He would not only have to go and deliver the work product to these villages, but he’d also have to go and go all the way to Lahore, some 60 miles away to pick up the raw material and goods that he would sell.

Images from the village where my father grew up in Pakistan (from web)

My grandfather had a horse, and that was how he travelled primarily. One day, he took his youngest son with him, setting my father on the horse while my grandfather walked from village to village. They would visit families in the various villages on their way to Lahore, spending the night somewhere along the way, before reaching the metropolis.

My grandfather passed away early, and my father’s elder brother became the leader of the family. The elder brother, Manzoor, in addition to working with my grandfather at the shop, taught some of the classes in the primary school. Still, when my grandfather dropped off the twins on the first day of school, they cried all day.

Yaqub quickly became known as a good student. His love for books was evident even at this early age, despite not owning many (or any, really). When India and Pakistan partitioned in 1947, and my father was 10 years old, the Hindu students (and their family) left for India. Before they left, my dad asked them if they would leave him some of their books. Many of them ended up doing this, and that was probably how my dad got ownership of his first books: not only textbooks, but plenty of other books that would have been left behind and possibly tossed out.

Given his love of studying and books, Yaqub finished at the top of his class when he finished the local village school (which only went through primary school, up to the eigth grade). Afterwards, he was sent to a boarding school that was set up by the government of Pakistan to support the need for engineers with its rapidly modernizing infrastructure. It was kind of a vocational high school and kind of like a military school, where my father learned about civil engineering principles. They woke the boys up early, like in the military, making them participate in various physical exercises, and then they took classes on engineering topics and played soccer.

The school was located near a dam on one of the five rivers that gave Punjab its name ( “punj” means five and “Punjab” literally means “land of five rivers”).

A job in the North (1950s?)

In which Yaqub lands his first job in the town of Rawalpindi, in the north of Punjab near modern-day Islamabad.

After this secondary vocational education, in an early sign of Yaqub’s restlessness, rather than stay in the village and join the family profession (which all of his brothers did), my father applied for and was given a job as a draftsman in Pakistan’s civil engineering department. It was located in the relatively far away city of Rawalpindi, which is today next to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Though still technically in Punjab, Rawalpindi and Islamabad are basically at the foothills of the mountains in the north east of the country, which eventually leads to Kashmir and India on one side and Afghanistan on the other side. (NOTE: Islamabad wasn’t established until 1960 so the only city in the area was Rawalpindi when my father was there).

Images of Rawalpindi ( bustling metropolis today)

While he worked there as a junior draftsman, learning the trade, he also learned about government bureaucracy and how things worked in the real world. While there was an informal system of rishwat (or petty bribes) that existed throughout the bureaucracy. It was so widespread that most people considered it kind of like tips today. He once told me that the supervisor described how it worked, and how every member of the office got a piece of the top of the contract; my father generally eschewed the idea and taught us to be almost scrupulously honest in this regard. I assumed it was because he had spent much of his adult life in the US, where these petty bribes are not kosher, but it turns out he developed a distaste for the practice even all the way back then.

Yaqub let a room in a house nearby the office, and walked or took a bicycle to work. I learned only in the last few years, that his mother often came out to Rawalpindi to stay with him, cooking for him and doing the kinds of things mothers did in those days. I suppose college kids today are extending this old tradition in a way by bringing their dirty laundry home for mom to wash.

I also learned that this is where my father started his habit of making sure that other members of the extended family were getting an education. He not only had my oldest cousin (my father’s oldest nephew), stay with him there often, but my father enrolled him in an English school in Rawalpindi. This explained why some of my cousins spoke English fluently even back in the 1970s before any of them had come to the US — my father had made a point of it. At the funeral, that particular cousin told me that my father had basically “raised him” (I always knew that cousin, who was much older than me or my siblings, was close to my father and always looked out for us, but I had never heard him use that phrase before, which was touching).

A Restless Spirit Goes to Karachi

In which Yaqub “runs away” from his job to look for more opportunities in the big city.

My father had a restlessness about him that came out every few years, and this inevitably happened a few years into his Rawalpindi life. He wanted to travel more, and perhaps eventually live and work abroad, and though Rawalpindi was bigger than the village, he became a bit bored with the work and life there.

Once there was an official from Karachi who visited the office in Rawalpindi, and he causally told my dad to visit his office in Karachi if he was ever there.

In another story that my father only told me in the last few years of his life, one day, unbeknownst to his superiors or his landlord or his family (who were not with him at the time but back in the village), Yaqub decided to skip work and went on an extended trip. Though he had limited funds, it was enough to get him on the train to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, located in the south of the country near the ocean.

Karachi railway station in the early years

When there, he wandered around Karachi, thinking that this might be the big city that would afford him the opportunity to go abroad. He found the office of the gentleman that had visited Rawalpindi (it was the local office the same government department that my father worked for). Yaqub then asked the man for a job in the Karachi office. The man apologized and said that they didn’t have a job available at the time, but that might change in the future.

It had now been several days and both his employer and the his landlord were wondering what had happened to Yaqub. They contacted his family in the village to see if he was there, but he wasn’t there and they didn’t know where he was.

My father hung around in Karachi for a few more days. During this time, the official from the Karachi office phoned my dad’s supervisor in Rawalpindi and mentioned that Yaqub had shown up and requested a job there. The supervisor then contacted my father’s older brother in the village of my father’s whereabouts. The elder brother then decided to go to Karachi to fetch him back. This seems to be a theme in stories from India and Pakistan in those times — the older brother was the one tasked with fetching the wayward younger brother back from some misadventure.

By then, though, my father had decided to go back to Lahore, the capital of Punjab, closer to home and place where he knew some people through his visits with my grandfather. But once on the train, Yaqub realized he didn’t have the train fare to make it back to Lahore. He was seated next to a gentlemen on the train with whom he had struck up a conversation. The gentleman offered to pay my father’s train fare, as long as once they reached Lahore, it could be paid back. As collateral, my dad offered him his jacket, which the man gladly accepted until he was paid back.

Meanwhile, my uncle went to Karachi, visited the office, but my father had already left. Luckily, everything worked out since my dad did in fact know family friends in Lahore, who paid back the main on the train (and returned my dad’s jacket). My uncle arrived there with enough funds to remiburse the family friends, and take Yaqub back to the village for a few days before he returned to his job in in Rawalpindi.

If You Haven’t Seen Lahore, You Haven’t Been Born

In which my father moves to Lahore, the cultural center of Pakistan, gets his bachelors and masters degree, and becomes a regular at the US Consulate — oh and gets married!

When he got back to Rawalpindi, his supervisor, who now realized that Yaqub was unhappy there, suggested that there might be a position in Lahore for him. My father inquired and was hired by the Lahore office of the civil engineering ministry and moved there, much closer to his family in the village.

Lahore was (and is) big enough to afford my father the opportunities that the restless young man was lookin for, and has been one of the biggest and most interesting cities in the north west part of India (thate later became Pakistan) for ages.

It’s a proverb in Punjab that “If you haven’t seen Lahore, you haven’t even been born.” Although not the most populous city in Pakistan, it’s seen as the country’s cultural center. A city that goes back a thousand years, it was the northern capital of the Moghul emperors who ruled over much of India up to Afghanistan. Remnants of the Moghul time still abound — the Badhsahi mosque for example, is one of the country’s biggest tourist sites, as is the Lahore fort, where emperors such as Shah Jehan (who built the Taj Mahal in Agra outside of Delhi) lived. Then there are the Shalimar gardens, another major tourist attraction, as well as key shrines to Sufi and Sikh leaders as well as the more modern Pakistan national monument. And that just starts to scratch the surface of this big city — later in life, I visited the Anarkali bazaar, a great bazaar that bears the name of a doomed medieval love story of slave girl who fell in love with the son of the mughal emperor Akbar and was buried alive.

Images of Lahore’s most famous tourist attractions, one ancient and one modern

It was here that my father, at the University of Punjab, completed his bachelors’ and masters degrees in economics, while continuing to work for the government. The US consulate was not far from his office and he would often stop there and read books that they had in the their library. He spent so much time there that the employees (Pakistani and American) got to know him quite well. So well that when immigration from India/Pakistan to the USA opened up in 1967, he was among the first to get approved for a visa, though he hadn’t yet competed his master’s degree.

My father also had other concerns by then. That same year, he married my mother in an arranged marriage. My mother was from the neighboring town of Pindi Bhattian, a slightly larger town located some 10 to 15 miles away from his home village. At that point, both of my grandfathers had passed away, and (as I understand it), it was the older brothers of both of my parents that settled the “arrangements”.

After the wedding, the newlyweds split time between living in Lahore, and the two villages where they were from. They also quickly had two kids, my older brother and I, during those early years.

At my father’s funeral I heard from relatives a few stories of their life in Lahore that my parents hadn’t told us about. In one case, my uncle (my mammoo, or mother’s younger brother) said that he came to Lahore and my father was sitting with the two of us in our apartment. When my uncle suggested that the kids might want to go play outside and run around, my father said something like “nonsense” and just gave us two kaidas (kids books) and sat down next to us reading a book of his own!

I guess that explains why I loved books from an early age — in almost every place we lived (in the US anyways, from various suburbs of Detroit in Michigan to various small towns in North Dakota), the local library was my favorite spot, and my father was happy to drop us off there for hours.

In another story I learned at the funeral, while my parents were living in Lahore, while we were still very young, they took in my father’s oldest niece (the sister of my cousin who had lived in Rawalpindi with him), and enrolled her in an English speaking school in Lahore. Again, while I always knew this particular cousin to be close to my mom and dad, I never realized why the relationship was warmer than with my other cousines: she had basically lived with them like a daughter for a while.

This must have been an interesting time for the young couple, living in the big city, but unfortunately, my father didn’t tell us many more stories from this time.

When he finished his masters degree, he was again offered a visa from the American consulate. At first, he was enthusiastic but as he began to think about the practicalities of going half way around the world, so far away from his young wife and very young children, without any specific idea of how he would make al iving there, he hesitated and wondered if he might go abroad someplace that was nearer.

My dad in the 1960s in Lahore, before he went abroad.

A Delayed Trip to Paris for a PhD

In which Yaqub travels to the great city of Paris; studies at the Sorbonne to work on his PhD; and gets valuable lessons of life and the wide world beyond.

Near La Sorbonne, University of Paris

In the meantime, another opportunity presented itself: he got admission to Sorbonne University in Paris for a PhD. It’s not clear to us how exactly he found out about the program at the Sorbonne, who advised or guided him to apply, and most of all, how/why he got admitted. My mom, when asked about how it all happened recently, said that my dad probably spent some time in the French consulate (and the library there) and probably after talking to some people there (my dad was pretty social and most people who met him, through the end of his days, recalled the joyful and talkative chap named Yaqub), and decided to apply. Thinking that France would be a much easier trip than a trip to America (Europe was and is a lot closer), and that he could bring his wife and kids there, as well as find a job while he was studying (just like had had done in Lahore) he decided to accept that offer.

There was at least one problem. Because he was a government employee, Yaqub had to get a “no objection certificate” from the government of Pakistan before he could get a visa to travel. That certificate had to come from the ISI, which was Pakistan’s version of the CIA and FBI rolled into one. This could have been a huge problem. However, one of his friends from the University of Punjab had a brother who worked for the ISI in Islamabad. When my father explained his situation, the brother invited him to Islamabad, and was able to get past the bureaucracy and get my father his certificate, which allowed him to leave the country even as a government employee.

Almost immediately, though, things began to go awry. For one thing, he was supposed to go to the school in the beginning of the fall semester, but a war between India and Pakistan was brewing. As my dad recounts, this was a real war, with real bombs being dropped on both sides of the border. All of the international airlines cancelled their flights from Pakistan to anywhere. He had to wait until December of 1971 when the war ended, before he could get the first flight out.

It was a flight from Sri Lanka through Karachi that was continuing on to Paris. As my dad tells it, there were 8 crew members and only 9 passengers. Only one of the passengers was French, an elder businessman who struck up a conversation with my father in English. When the young Pakistani told the elder Frenchman that he was going to live in Paris and study for a PhD, he gave my dad a piece of fortuitous advice. As soon as you land, the Frenchman said, go to the Pakistani embassy in Paris and let them know you are there and they will look out for you.

It was good advice. The ambassador to France from Pakistan at the time was a former general in the Pakistani army, and he made sure to look out for the (relatively few) Pakistanis that were in Paris at the time, especially the students. They let my dad keep his suitcase in the embassy, while he went and registered for his PhD program (in financial economics). They also told him, later when he was looking for a job, that unfortunately the French wouldn’t let him work. The French expected him to pay for his education purely out of his savings, which certainly wouldn’t last through his whole program.

He went to the hostel that first night and was so hungry because he had missed dinner. In a story he repeated almost any time any of us or his grandkids were having birthday cake, the only food he could find that first night in Paris was a chocolate cake at some patisserie nearby. He had never eaten chocolate cake before, but he was so hungry he ate the whole cake! This led to a weird bout of indigestion. Later that night, he threw up the whole cake! This, he always said, usually as the moral of the story just before the kids were ready to dive into some chocolate cake, was why he never ate chocolate cake anymore!

Later that week, the Pakistani embassy also offered him and one other student from Pakistan part-time jobs — they could work half days to earn some money, while taking classes. This proved an ideal workaround, since they weren’t allowed to work in France, a fact that had frustrated my father’s plans to bring us all there while he completed his studies.

There were further difficulties in France, but overall Yaqub settled into his new life in the city of Paris. He seemed to enjoy going to the local cafe in the Latin Quarter, next to the Sorbonne, and saying his favorite french phrase he would repeat to us as we were growing up and until the year he died, in his heavily accented french: “café au lait, s’il vous plait”.

An image of the Latin Quarter, where students hang out in Paris even today (I doubt it’s changed much since my father was there)

He also mixed with the other foreign students that were there, developing friendships. French was an issue for him in the beginning– while my dad had spoken some French, he knew English much better. In fact, he ended up writing what he called his initial residential dissertation (as far as I can tell, this is kind of like a dissertation prospectus today, or a pre-dissertation document of original research, a process that funnily enough i’m going through in a PhD program this year), in English, and another international who was fluent in both languages helped him translate it into French (it had something to do with the gold standard, which I think most nations were still on at the time— he showed it to me once, though I can’t seem to find it now).

He had many adventures and mis-adventures in Paris, usually involving another student or two. If you sat and talked to my dad for a while, some reference to a story from Paris would inevitably come out.

In one case, he was having lunch with an Indian student, who needed to drop off some document at the Indian embassy, but was running late for class. Since my dad didn’t have class that day, he dropped off the document at the embassy for his friend. Tensions between India and Pakistan were still high, not just because of the recent war, but because each was tilting towards a different superpower in the Cold War.

As soon as my father arrived back at the Pakistani embassy, the ambassador called him into his office and sat him down. They had pictures of him going to the Indian embassy, and he was to be grilled by someone (possibly from the ISI?) to find out why a Pakistani citizen was going to the “enemy’s embassy.” This accusation of being a spy shook my dad quite a bit, who was just dropping off something for a friend. He vowed to stay away from embassies and politics if he could in the future.

As the semesters went on, it became apparent that it would be difficult for him to complete his PhD in France without access to a proper job, and he was already starting to miss his young family, which he wasn’t able to bring over.

It was at this piont the Pakistani ambassador gave him another bit of advice in the form of a question: If Yaqub had already gotten a visa to go to America, what the hell was he doing in France? Basically, the Ambassador was giving my father the same advice that many in the nineteenth century America gave to young men there: Go West! In America, the ambassador said, you can bring your family and get a proper job and everyone speaks English!

Taking the general’s advice to heart, Yaqub eventually went to the American consulate, and told them that he had received an immigration visa already for the USA, but this visa was in Lahore. In those days it was a physical visa in a particular brown envelope that couldn’t be opened until he arrived in America. They assured him that they could get it for him, and they sent away to their consulate in Lahore, while my dad finished his first year of his PhD program.

When the visa finally came came, he had to take a break from his work at the Pakistani embassy to go retrieve it on day. The other employees of the embassy (mostly from Pakistan) were doubtful that this young kid from a a small village in the Punjab, could just hop over to the embassy of the wealthiest nation on Earth, and just “fetch a visa” to go emigrate to the United States of America.

When Yaqub returned later that afternoon, visa in hand, they were more than a little bit surprised. Once again, they started to wonder if he might be a spy, this time for the USA, an assertion that, unlike the other story which made him cringe, made my dad laugh when he told us this story with gusto years later. As if the USA, he would chortle, a world superpower, didn’t have enough spies and needed a spy like him!

Go West, Young Man

In which my father prepares to go west to America

Frankfurt in 1970

As he contemplated going to America, the only two cities where he knew anyone were Detroit, which was one of the largest cities in America at the time, where he knew some friends from his neighborhood in Lahore (Wahdat Colony), and Washington, D.C., where he knew someone who had just completed his degree from Paris. Still stinging from embassy politics, and longing to see some familiar faces, he decided to go to Detroit.

Yaqub didn’t have a lot of money, and the cheapest flight he could find was from Frankfurt. So, after finishing up his latest semester at Sorbonne, he took off again, to live in another country.

This time he took the train from Paris to Frankfurt, a story he always repeated to us when one of us was going to travel (or even if we weren’t!). They stopped the train at the German border where immigration /customs type officers looked at everyone’s passport. For everyone else on the train, they gave them their passports back quickly. For some reason, they kept my dad waiting. One of the German officials called out to another officer in German, gesturing to my dad’s passport: Look, here is a Pakistani!

They were suspicious, they told him, because Pakistanis who came to Germany never left. They just lived and worked illegally, so they were hesitant to let Pakistanis in the country. My dad explained that he had a visa to America and that he wasn’t planning to stay in Germany. They seemed doubtful, again that this young man with a funny accent had gotten a visa to go to America, but eventually they could find no good excuse to detain him, they relented and let him go to Frankfurt to catch his flight.

I always thought this story was perhaps a bit of an exaggeration on the part of my father. But years later, when I was visiting Europe as a young man jus graduated from college, I took a boat from Italy to Greece. Upon arrival in Greece, they looked at everyone’s passport, and let everyone go accept me. I was detained, they said, because, even though I had an American passport, I was born in Pakistan. My passport, which had been in my pocket for much of the trip, was soggy and they were suspicious it might have been a forgery or that I had simply replaced an initial photo with mine!

In a conversation that echoed my father’s some 20 years before, many Pakistanis, they said, came into the country and worked illegally but never left. I assured them I was a recent graduate of an American university, on vacation, and was planning to go home soon. I even showed them my airline reservations, which were through Amsterdam. Eventually, after detaining me for at least an hour, they couldn’t really justify detaining me longer, and their supervisor told them to let me go. This reminded me a lot of my father’s Frankfurt story, which may not have been an exaggeration at all.

Family and Work in Motown

In which Yaqub finally gets “settled” in Detroit, Michigan, the center of the American manufacturing industry in the twentieth century, know as the “Motor City” or Motown

My father arrived in Detroit, Michigan (via New York) in late 1972 or early 1973, where he was to spend most of the next few decades (with a few sojourns to live in other parts of the world, which I’ll describe presently).

The Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, constructed in 1977. In the background you can see the office building where my dad worked (One Woodward Ave).

Detroit was at this point a kind of business and manufacturing center of the world. American corporations like General Motors and Ford were still the world leaders in automobiles, and this spawned a large manufacturing industry all over the Midwest. Detroit was kind of like the San Francisco of this time, just as SF today houses some of the world’s largest corporations by market value and prestige. In fact, Detroit was the fourth largest city in the US by population, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. In short, it was a place for immigrants to go because of all the jobs. And go they did. Dearborn, which is the largest collection of Arabs outside of the Middle East, started to thrive, and there was a fledgling Pakistani community.

Detroit, having been on top for many years, was also starting some of the later decline that the city would be known for, with increasing crime rates and poverty inside the city, a process which had started with the suburban flight in the 1950s, which meant that the neighborhoods in the city closest to downtown, once you left the big office buildings, were also among the poorest in the state (and possibly the country).

Yaqub lived in a shared apartment with some of his Pakistani acquaintances in downtown Detroit, an informal group of 5–10 young Pakistani men, many of whom were married but hadn’t yet brought their families over, formed a bond that would last through the decades. One by one, they started to bring over their families, and then moved to the suburbs. The appropriately named Brownstown, in the downriver area of southeast Michigan (south of Detroit on the way to Ohio) became one of the gathering points for this community.

Yaqub first took on odd jobs, including being a security guard, until he could find something more fitting of not only his engineering skills but also his masters degree in Economics and his doctorate work. He then got a slightly better job as a draftsman, using the skills he’d mastered in Rawalpindi and Lahore, for a sprinkler company in one of the Northern suburbs (Rochester Hills maybe?). Taking the bus to go to the northern suburbs proved to be almost too much, so he found a way to stay in suburb by renting a small room there for a month or two. The job was only a short term contract and ended, and he moved back to live with his friends in downtown Detroit.

After a year or two in Detroit, several things happened in quick succession. He was able to buy (on credit in the great American way), a car: a white Buick Century. Not only was it his first car (probably the first car anyone in his immediate family owned), it would give him greater mobility in his job search.

Oh how he was proud of that car — there is a well-known picture in our family of my father, whose hair was already whitening at that point, wearing a plaid 70s suit and a short 70’s tie, standing next to his newly acquired automobile in front of Ford Motors World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

As soon as he got his car, Yaqub also got approval to bring his family, my mother and my brother and me, to Detroit. Right around that time, he also landed his first “real” permanent job as an economist, located at One Woodward Avenue, a prestige skyscraper at the heart of Motown, just next to where the new Renaissance Center was bring built. The job was as a natural resources economist/forecast with American Natural Resources company, one of the large energy companies at the time, and paid well enough that he could afford to bring us and not worry about supporting us.

As November of that year approached, we started our journey from my mom’s hometown, first on a bus to Lahore, a city she knew since my parents had lived there with my father. My mom’s family (including her mom and brother and sisters, and some of my cousins and uncles from my dad’s side) us to the train station in Lahore.

They waived at us as the train left and we ventured further than any of us had been, on the way to the even larger, stranger city of Karachi. I was 4 about to turn 5 and my older brother had just turned 6. For some reason, that train ride is the only part of that long journey, including the the ensuing flight from Karachi to New York. My father met us in New York, and we flew we flew to Detroit together as a family. Upon emerging from the airport, we piled our stuff into the Buick Century, and saw snow for the first time!

We went right to downtown Detroit, where my father had been sharing an apartment, and stayed with one of the old timers who had also just brought his family over from Pakistan. Just after my dad’s funeral, that friend, one of the few uncles from the old timers who was still around (everyone is an uncle or aunt in desi culture, not just the ones that are related to you) and his son, who was our age, both stopped by to say their respects. In that uncle’s mind, we were still the little kids he used to call “gugoos” and whose cheeks he used to pinch whenever he saw us. He continued the trend for decades and if i’m not mistaken, still tries to pinch our cheeks when he sees us.

The first few months we rented a nearby apartment off of Cass Ave — in retrospect this wasn’t the safest place to be since the Cass Corridor became one of the highest crime parts of Detroit. but we didn’t know any of this and the real bad years hadn’t started in Detroit yet. The apartment was small, with a little kitchenette and a murphy bed, but we made do just fine.

I started kindergarten at Burton International School on Cass, which is where I started speaking English. There was another Pakistani girl, who we called Bubbly, who was in my class — her family was another one of the old timer families from downtown Detroit. Though her family would move away from Detroit many years later, our parents would stay in touch, and my siblings and her sibling would re-establish contact in the Facebook years.

Despite the initial lack of living space, it was a happy period in that my father had a stable job and as kids we were happy not just going to school but learning about the new culture we’d landed in. We got our first black and white TV set during this period (we had moved to a slightly larger apartment on West Willis, just down the road further into the Cass Corridor, where I watched Cartoons like Mighty Mouse and Hong Kong Fuehy, learning English). I vividly remember the playground across the street, my brother and I would go and play after school with teh other kids, until my mother came outside, dressed in her shalwar kamiz (traditional Pakistani dress) before dinner, and called our names from the other side of the street. Not long after, my younger sister(s) arrived.

Eventually, my father was able to rent us an apartment in the suburbs, in Brownstown, joining his friends who had moved from the city center, and that’s where many of my memories of childhood are from. We took the school bus to Gudith Elementary school, which it turned out was close enough that we could walk or sled.

The Pakistani community had grown slowly in Brownstown, and they setup a committee to get a mosque for the 10+ families that were now living there. They were able to put a down payment on a ranch home on a dirt road (Racho road), near I-75, just across from the subdivision where any of the families who could afford to buy a house lived, and we went to Sunday school and did prayers in this house. (Years later, the house would be demolished and a proper mosque would be erected — you can see it if you drive on I-75 south from Detroit towards Ohio).

A Trip to the Desert: A year in Saudi Arabia

In which Yaqub brings his young family to the far away land of Saudi Arabia for new adventures and experiences

Riyadh in 1980, the year we arrived there

The rest of the 70’s were mainly years of stability as Yaqub raised his young family, and became a key part of the growing Pakistani community in the Detroit suburb of Brownstown. I remember lots of birthday parties that we have many surviving pictures of the communities’ kids and some 8mm videos which survive to this day (thanks to my brother in law who digitized them). Yaqub had a good job, a good car, and a growing family (my sister and two younger siblings, both of whom unfortunately passed away very young), but as the decade ended and the 1980s approached, the old restlessness was awakening in Yaqub.

At first, he tried to curb it by taking night classes in business school at the University of Detroit, while we lived in downtown and later when we lived in the suburbs. But a full time job, a full and growing family, plus the move to the suburbs, would make it difficult for him to finish the MBA. After his funeral, in going through old documents, we found that my dad, who usually did very well in school, got average grades of C and C+ in his MBA classes.

That said, he always bragged that two of his children (myself and my sister) both completed business school degrees (my sister at London School of Business and me at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business). We both were full time students when we completed our degrees , with few outside distractions. In retrospect, I am surprised that he even managed to get those grades while juggling everything he was juggling at the time!

His experience in the natural resources industry and background in financial economics made him a candidate for other positions in the energy industry. Some of these were in Houston, and one possible position came up in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which my father, sensing perhaps a unique opportunity, applied for. He was invited for an interview in either Los Angeles or in New York. Oddly enough, the interview in LA was supposed to be conducted by someone my father knew from the Sorbonne, but the timing was inconvenient and my father ended up going to the interview New York.

In late 1979 or early 1980, he went to the Saudi embassy (or building — this wasn’t clear from this story), wearing his suit and overcoat on a cold New York morning. He was early for his interview. He stopped by a coffee shop and got a hot drink, and as he walked from the coffee shop to the building, he noticed a man who was about his same height and complexion, wearing a very similar overcoat. The man was headed to the same coffeeshop. Meanwhile, Yaqub went into the building and check-in with the secretary, who asked him to wait for his interviewer. When the interviewer arrived, it was this same guy, wearing the same overcoat.

My dad always viewed this as one of those little coincidences that indicates that this was the right direction to go in (which I would later write about as synchronicities or clues in my book, Treasure Hunt). The interview went well and when he returned to Detroit, they offered him a contract, starting right away.

His restless spirit now once again activated, he took a leave of absence from his current employer, settled us in a temporary housing with another Pakistani family, and he went to Saudi Arabia to scope out the job and to make sure everything was set up for his family to arrive.

True to his old pattern of not telling his employer where he was wandering off to for his next adventure, he failed to tell his employer that he was staying in Saudi Arabia, as they were still expecting him back after the first month’s leave of absence. They called my mother to find out what had happened to him, and in her broken English, I’m not sure how much she managed to convey to them.

The Ministry of Planning of the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had offered him a contract for a whole year. That summer after school let out, we joined him in Saudi Arabia, leaving our furniture in the basement of some friends. We went to New York and flew in Saudi airlines, across the world again, this time to the city in the middle of the desert, Riyadh, the capital of the country.We arrived at the airport at the beginning of summer, when it got to 120 degrees during the day. The government had provided a townhouse for us in a complex that was very near to the airport, but not much else. e. In fact, it was at the every edge of the city — beyond were just sand and mountains. Even that first summer we could watch the American AWACs planes landing and taking off, while we got ready to attend school there.

My father’s driver license in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, circa 1980

There was an English Islamic school, called Minaret Al Riyadh, and my brother and I had to take entrance exams, which we failed because we hadn’t prepared for them at all. A few weeks later, we retook the exams and passed them. My parents wanted my sister to learn more about her Pakistani heritage, and she was enrolled in an Urdu elementary school for the year.

Saudi Arabia was a strict place, but within our compound, which was partly owned by a Canadian telephone company, we were with other Muslim westerners in our subsection. Like most westerners who lived in Saudi Arabia at the time lived in compounds (unlike most Pakistanis, who came directly from Pakistan and often did manual labor jobs for the cash rich Saudis).

One of my friends at the English school, for example, lived in a US military compound, and another’s father worked for a big oil company and they had their own compounds as well. The rules sometimes seemed arbitrary, and if you didn’t know them, you could get into trouble. Once my dad parked in the wrong area near his work, and they towed his car. He found out that he could be arrested for having parked in the wrong spot! He assured them it wouldn’t happen again and they let him go with a warning.

My dad had a friend from whadat colony, the government owned housing where they’d lived in Lahore, and on weekends we would visit with this Pakistani family, who had two boys that were near our age, or other Pakistani families that my dad had a knack for finding. Other times, we drove across town to the market where Yemeni’s sold delicious chicken-and-lamb and rice dishes, which we always enjoyed.

One of my dad’s reasons for taking the family to live in this strange (to us) desert land, was his hope that his children, who had mostly grown up in America, learn a little bit about Islam, which we did in our English language school. Though Yaqub wasn’t particularly religious himself (he was known as one of the more liberal Pakistani fathers in all of our communities), it didn’t stop him from making sure we learned the basics of our inherited religion.

When it came time for Hajj, my father, who was eager for us to go on the Pilgrimage which all Muslims are supposed to do once in their life, packed us into the company provided car (a brown Impala) with a caravan of cars of a few other families to drive across the desert to Mecca, which was located near a coast of the Arabian peninsula. Riyadh was in a valley more or less in the center of the peninsula.

The cars rose out of Riyadh in a seemingly endless road that wove into the mountains and then, once we passed out of the mountains regions, into the open desert. We found ourselves on long two lane highways threading through large sand dunes into an endless horizon fo desert. These roads usually had little traffic, but during the Hajj there were more cars on the road, and I always thought my dad was brave for driving across the desert like he did. At prayer times, which were announced in the city with the azan (the call to prayer from the muezzins), in the middle of the desert you could find groups of tourists pulled over by the side of the road, with sheets laid down over the sand and doing prayers together — adhoc desert mosques wherever you happened to be traveling.

A portion of the Riyadh-Mecca highway that cuts through the mountains

One story he liked to repeat to us (and which turns out happened on a different drive to Mecca than the one I was remembering), we pulled off the side of the road for a break with some other cars. After the break (which may have been prayer time), he tried to get the road back onto the pavement from the sand, but the car wouldn’t move. We were stuck in the sand in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, some Saudis were driving by and noticed that we were stuck. They saw that we weren’t Arabs, and stopped to see if they could help out. They were experts at getting the cars into and out of the sand, and knew just what to do! We were back on the road in no time due to the kindness of these strangers.

Mecca during the Hajj

We made it to Mecca and lived in tents for part of the week, along with the large number of other pilgrims (I’m not sure how many there were that year, but some years it was in the neighborhood of a million pilgrims). The white tents stretched out as far as the eye could see where we were staying. We did ablutions and drank the water of Abe Zum Zum (or Zamzam), the sacred spring that propped up when the patriarch Abraham’s wife, Hagar, looking for water for her crying infant, ran up and down the hills 7 times. Depending on which version you believe, her son, Ismail, starting kicking the ground (or in another version, the angel Gabriel did it) and the sacred water came gushing forth, which she used to quench her infant’s thirst.

My father and mother performed the Hajj, with us kids tagging along when it was safe, and sitting off to the side when there were too many people. My father also performed Umrah, which is when you go to Mecca (not during the Hajj season) and circle the Kaaba 7 times in a separate trip, our second drive across the Arabian Peninsula to Mecca. That time we went to Medina, and there saw the great mosque of the town that had adopted the Prophet Muhammad and become the first converts to the new religion. All I remember is sitting in the mosque with these rather lavishly dressed somber men with large earthen jugs on their shoulder. They would dip the jug so slightly and a stream of water would shoot down to a small cup in their hands, which they would then sell to someone. It was the holy Zamzam water from Mecca (which can now be bought in bottles!).

My father and mother in Saudi Arabia, with my baby brother (circa 1980)

When the year’s contract ended, my father decided to head back to America. But first, he wanted us to visit Pakistan to see relatives, since we were (relatively) close. It turned out that we wouldn’t visit Pakistan again for several decades so perhaps that was a good move.

A Trip to the Snow: Years in North Dakota

Upon returning to the United States, Yaqub finds a job in equally unfamiliar territory, the land of snow and tundra, in a very small town in North Dakota.

The small rural town of Rolla, ND, where we lived and went to school

After a trip to Pakistan, we returned to Detroit, but now my dad didn’t have a job and little money to support the family. Though the trip to Saudi Arabia had been a year of living Islamically, it didn’t provide much in terms of material rewards, and we arrived in Michigan during the recession.

This time, it wasn’t just us. My fathers two brothers (his older brother and twin brother) returned with us, as the first family members that my father was able to sponsor as a U.S. Citizen. This was the start of the extended immigration that would bring all of his brothers and sisters, as well as my mom’s brothers and sisters to the USA, looking to follow my dad’s lead to a life of plenty in the west, leading to the now 500 person extended clan, many of whom showed up to show thanks at my father’s funeral.

The only problem was my father didn’t have a job and we moved into an apartment in downtown Detroit, which by now, was definitely seen as a poverty stricken, crime ridden place to live. While my dad’s restlessness had given us valuable life experience and a new perspective on the peoples of the world, when we got back, not only was my dad on unemployment, but we were on food stamps, which we used to help buy groceries. While it just seemed like a fun thing to us kids to have these stamps and which my mom used to buy grocers, it must have been humiliating for him and my mother. Still, he made it a point to make sure he found local more manual jobs for his two brothers so they could start supporting themselves, while my dad started applying for energy-related jobs.

Because of the recession, his old company had relocated their office and didn’t have a job for him. The people that remained in Detroit, though, were happy to find that he was alive and well since they hadn’t heard from him for a year.

Though I remember this as a happy time, there was tragedy in the family. My younger brother, who was only 3 years old at the time, passed away while we lived in downtown Detroit. This must have been devastating for my parents to lose a second child (a younger sister of mine had passed away in the 1970s of an unknown disease when we were visiting Pakistan, which we did only twice in that whole decade). The ambulance came and found it hard to find the building we were in, because the addresses were confusing. My older brother, old enough to know what was going on, chased down the ambulance which was near the Masonic Temple that we lived next to. We buried my little brother in the cemetery by the Mosque in Dearborn, not far from where my father’s body now lies in the ground.

My father was anxious to both get a new job and to move away from downtown Detroit. Given his background in natural resource planning, he applied to an obscure job on the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota, which was to help manage the leases of Native American land to various oil companies. As he often did, he was able to leverage his education and experience to pivot to this new job. They were happy to have someone with his experience in the oil and gas industry, but they worried that he wouldn’t be happy since the job was a in very small town on a Native American reservation, Belcourt.

Since my dad didn’t have a lot of other prospects for offers during the recession, he assured them that we had lived in very small towns in Pakistan. Yaqub decided to move the family once again for a distant land, leaving his brothers in Detroit with their jobs, and in a position to start bringing their families over to the US.

We were off on a new adventure, and got on a plane and landed in a small airport in Minot, North Dakota, in the middle of the winter. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe how unbelievably cold it was. Even our winter clothes from Michigan didn’t seem to do much against the cold, which could dip to 20 below zero regularly (not counting wind chill).

My dad’s co-worker had driven a truck out from Belcourt, which was 120 miles away, and we piled into the back of the truck (inside luckily) and drove through what seemed like endless snow banks in the night to a new apartment outside the little town Rolla, North Dakota. Every now and then there were gaps in the snow with strange fenced off areas. My dad’s co workers explained to us that these were nuclear missile silos that housed some of America’s ICBMs, hidden far in the heartland and ready to take off for Russia in the case of a nuclear war.

local newspaper article from belcourt, ND about my dad

Though my dad’s job was on the Ojibwa reservation in Belcourt, Rolla was the “white town” just outside of the rez, and had a population of only 1500 people. We were the only non-white people in the town, as far as we could tell, in a land of Scandinavian sounding names. Though later we would learn that many families had mixed Native and white backgrounds, though to us pretty much all the residents of the town looked white.

Our first rental was one half of 3 duplexes located in a row next to a dirt road that came from the main highway, just outside of town. Beyond our little “complex” there wasn’t much — it looked to us like a winter wasteland — white as far as the eye could see. Every now and then there would be a clump of trees, evidently planted by some farmer. We would walk to the end of the little dirt road that defined our complex only when the schoolbus was in sight, given how cold it was. Still, we started school in Rolla; I was in sixth grade, my older brother was in 8th grade, and my younger sister was just starting school.

My mom, who unbeknownst to us kids, was pregnant again, and was having a hard time adjusting to the cold. At on point, it must have been a month or two into our stay, still in the middle of winter, perhaps January of February, we all talked about going back to Michigan to get out of this tundra that we had stumbled into.

My older brother objected, because he was happy in school, and thought we should give our new life a chance, rather than going back to Michigan and being on welfare again. My parents decided to stay at least until the summer and the end of the school year and then decide.

It turned out to be a good decision, as we made many good friends in that small town. The summers were very nice. And that spring, my youngest brother was born (in a hospital in nearby Manitoba — it turned out we were less than 10 miles from the Canadian border). My father also started teaching part-time at the Turtle Mountain Community College after hours, and brought us kids into his work on the weekend to show us the new fangled things. These were personal computers (TRS-80s at first and then Apple IIs). My brother and I started writing Tic-Tac-Toe for the computer, based on a few commands that my father showed us, and the rest, as they say, . Between the computer at my dad’s work, and one that the math teacher had in his office, which he let me and my new best friend John program in lieu of doing our math lessons. For me, it started a lifelong love affair with computers and programming that would take me to MIT and to Silicon Valley.

The job was on contract and the reservation ran out of funds, and my ever resourceful father found a similar job in Williston, ND, near the Badlands and the Montana border, where he worked again on the natural resources leases for a different reservation. Williston would, several decades later, become known as boomtown because of the oil deposits and frackingin the area, but back then it was a sleepy town of maybe 10,000 people — much bigger than Rolla, but still a small town. As a plus, while the Rolla library, which was just a one room library where my brother and I spent a lot of time reading Sherlock Holmes books, the Williston library, which wasn’t far from our apartment was much bigger.

Afterwards, my dad would often tell anyone who was willing to listen the story of how cold it was in North Dakota. We had to plug in our car batteries into a wall outlet at night (like people do with electric or hybrid cars today!), because otherwise the car might not start in the morning!

Altogether we stayed in North Dakota for three formative years. Not only did I learned computer programming, but we made great friends, I started my love affair with extracurricular activities like drama and speech competitions (which would help me in my college applications). My best friend in North Dakota, was from a Filipino family that had moved into the small town of Rolla the year after us.

The student council from the Rolla schools in ND, where at times it felt like we were the only brown faces in a seat of white people (not counting the Native Americans, who didn’t live in the towns we lived in!)

In all, we were all glad that we had stayed and not bailed on the small town in the dead of winter. The summers were great. Even my mother had adjusted well, even with a new baby.

Near the end of our stay, my dad’s doctor had told him that he wasn’t adjusting to the climate well, and it might be a good time for us to consider moving back to Michigan, which both he and my mom were interested in doing because there were now more relatives there.

In North Dakota, not only were the nearest Target and McDonalds over 100 miles away, the nearest Pakistani family we could find was also over 100 miles away (in the other direction)! On Eid, the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, the other two families that lived within a few hours drive of us, got together and we drove up to Winnipeg, Manitoba (the biggest city in the area short of Minneapolis), where they had a mosque and at least a few other Pakistani families for the yearly festivities.

Re-establishing the family in Michigan

In which we come back to “normalcy” in climate and terrain and relatives, staying put, and our tribe of relatives starts to expand; Yaqub’s two eldest graduate and go to university

Historic Train station in Detroit

After wandering from 120 degree desert weather and endless sand dunes, to minus 20 degree weather and endless snow banks, our return to Michigan seemed a kind of return to normalcy. My father was no longer a young man, now in his late 40s.

In Michigan we reunited not only our relatives in downtown Detroit (including many cousins who were in the US for the first time), but we also had all of the “old timer” Pakistani families in Brownstown. My dad, ever adaptable with work, first took the train from Detroit’s historic train station in Dearborn to North Dakota for a week at a time, to finish up some work and make a little income while he looked for jobs in Michigan.

His previous experience in civil engineering was useful in getting a field supervisor job in the Highway Transportation division of the state of Michigan. While it might have seemed like a downgrade from his white-collar jobs, driving around the state to survey and supervise construction, spending a majority of days in the summer, spring and fall outside at construction sites, did wonders for his health as he approached 50. He would tell us years later that this was one of the rare jobs where his health improved from being out in the sun and walking around for work.

Eventually, he leveraged his experience to find a desk job in downtown Detroit and Lansing, specializing in real estate (he had picked up a real estate license in his down time!). During this time, my parents finally got the American dream of buying a house in the suburbs. We bought our first house in the mid 1980s from one of the other old timers who wanted to sell his house. My father knew enough about real estate to negotiate a land-contract deal which didn’t require a mortgage, which might have been difficult to get with his choppy income history the past few years.

It was a small ranch style home, and it was there that his elder children, my brother and I, both graduated from school, with my brother off to University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor, and two years later, me off to Boston for MIT a few years later. I remember not only the time in the house fondly, but how my dad would drive me around the state for various extracurricular activities I attended. Sometimes this meant driving to Lansing, which was over a 100 miles away, including when I won the state America Legion oratory contest, and pictures of me and my dad appeared in the local paper.

An local article showing my dad and me after he drove me to Lansing for the state finals

My dad and mom and family spent the second part of his life, starting from when he turned 50, in southeastern Michigan, in an even bigger house in nearby Woodhaven, not far from the high school that all of his children would graduate from. This time he was able to buy the house and get a mortgage. It was here that my younger sister and brother grew up, went to high school, and lived while they were in college, both of whom graduated from University of Michigan in the 1990s. My father would be the first in his family not only to have gone to college and gotten an advanced degree, but the first whose children all went to and graduated from college (which subsequently, many of our younger cousins and their families would do as well).

Our family at the end of the 1980s — my older brother, my dad now aged 52, my mom, younger sister, me and my younger brother

Although his health had gotten better, in the 1990s there were already signs of health issues and heart issues. But these years were also happy, he was glad to have settled into a community where he had many good friends. Many of the recollections from community members at his funeral were of his friends, who said that he came to the Mosque every week for Friday prayers, and then would gleefully hang out and tell stories of the old times to his friends and their kids — whoever would listen.

Later years

In which Yaqub, retires and enters the final decades of his life, with his kids getting advanced degrees around the world, and his eldest brings him back to Pakistan for a wedding

My dad accepted early retirement at the end of 1990s, and carried on some part-time real estate work thereafter. Frequently my parents would visit my brother and I (who were both living in Boston working on our first startup).

In the 2000s, my father was extremely proud that two of his children graduated from business school — my sister with an MBA from London Business School, and a few years later with my graduation from Stanford.

Our expanding family — at my sister’s graduation from London Business School — including my parents first grandchild

It was during this decade that in a reverse of the direction my father took from Pakistan to the US, that my elder brother, who had grown up in the US, went back to Pakistan. There was a community of Pakistani-Americans and Europeans whose parents had moved away and who were coming back to get to know their homeland. My brother established a software business in Lahore, and more importantly, married a Pakistani girl he had met there. My parents were happy, since all of us had spent 25 years away from Pakistan, to go back there for the wedding and live in Lahore for a time with my brother and his ever expanding family as he and his new bride provided grandkids for my parents, which made them both extremely happy.

Me. my younger brother, Adnan and my dad, at Adnan’s wedding

My parents split there time between the house in Michigan, and visiting Silicon Valley, where I and my siblings had relocated to, and later to Boston where my brother had relocated in the later part of the twenty teens. This decade saw more marriages in our expanding family.

A picture from my sister’s engagement party; her husband was from France, and here is discussing some book with my father, now ~80 years old

It was particularly nice when my parents spent a year in Mountain View during COVID, in a little apartment not far from my home, and I would visit with them every day, learning some of the stories that I have recounted here.

My dad, ever restless, showed me that he had his resume ready and was still applying for interesting jobs in California, including one of a translator from Urdu to English at an internationally famous language school in Monterey. By this point, his health had become such that he wouldn’t really be able to hold a job, having been retired for decades. Yet his mind remained active even into his 80s, continuing to collect and read books and magazine articles about finance, world history, politics and Islam, making notes in the margins that he wanted us to follow up on later.

Final Year and Passing

As Yaqub’s health declines, he enters his final phase with a trip “home”

A pic of my dad in his final years, in Boston, with his oldest grandson, and my brother-in-law (sister’s husband)

My parents spent the last year, now over 80 years old, in Boston with their grandkids at my brother’s new house. During this last year my father, who had developed some lung issues in the past, spent time in the hospital where he developed pneumonia and then had to be on oxygen when he came back to my brother’s house.

Though his health was up and down for much of the final year, and we were aware that he might never recover from his lung issues, his health seemed to improve in the summer and my parents decided that the winter was too much for them, and they really wanted to visit their house in Michigan one last time, before coming to California to stay in my younger brother’s house, with his newly expanding family and their latest grandson.

My sister accompanied them to Michigan, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when he got off the plane, portable oxygen tanks, in tow, and seemed to be doing just fine. They arrived in their house, planning to stay only for a week or two before heading West for the winter. Within 30 minutes of arriving home, my dad had passed, leaving his now frail and dysfunctioning body behind as he rose up to go on his greatest adventure yet: the “undiscovered country” that Shakespeare wrote of.

It seems to me that Yaqub, after all of his years of restlessness and travel, living in different countries and cities and states, raising his children, and telling stories, wanted to be “home” (which had been Michigan) before he came to a final rest to go “home” in the sky.

He was buried not far from his twin brother, his other siblings, and my younger brother who had passed away decades ago. Yaqub was buried amongst the graves of many of the relatives he had helped to bring to the USA and whom he had outlived.

Rest in Peace, Abu.

Beloved father, husband, sibling, uncle and grandfather.

You will be sorely missed. You changed the lives of hundreds of people, but most of all, you set us all on our path. And we are all thankful for you pioneering spirit and kindness and courage and humility setting an example for us all. I’m sure you are already reading numerous new books about your favorite subjects in the library in the sky, making notations that you want us to follow up on, just like you used to do with books and magazines here in this world in the final years.

A picture of my dad in his prime, in his 40s from a local paper in North Dakota (1981)

A Loved One’s Lament (Poem by Ron Wood)

Let me finish with a quote from a poem I think that expresses what Yaqub would say to all of us left behind:

“Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free

I’m following the path God has laid you see.

I took His hand when I heard him call.

I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day

To laugh, to love, to work, to play.

Tasks left undone must stay that way

I found that peace at the close of the day

If my parting has left a void

Then fill it with remembered joy.”

-A Loved One’s Lament (Ron Wood)



Riz Virk

The Simulation Hypothesis, Play Labs @ MIT, Startups/VC, Sci Fi, Bitcoin, Consciousness, Space, Video Games: visit