Readers of my “A Father’s Perspective About Daughters and Engineering” and “Fathers Can Be Gender Equity Advocates” articles often ask what inspired me to become such a strong advocate for girls and women.
The answer? My mother, Wedad Ahmad Bani Yaseen. She was my mentor. I owe her everything I have and will achieve in life.
She died on 8 March.
I was fortunate to have spent the first 25 years of my life living with her. Even when I moved out, I lived just a few miles away. I relied on her advice in almost all my choices and decisions. She was always there when I needed her. Even when I didn’t ask for her advice, if she felt that something was not right, she would not hesitate to give me her thoughts.
My mother was not a college graduate, and she did not have a professional career. Her job was raising her kids and taking care of her family including her siblings. She learned from an early age how to find meaning in everything she did. She constantly learned new things. She was the most confident person I have met.
She was born to lead. Her father—my grandfather—was a leader, and she naturally became one herself. He was a village mayor, known as mukhtar in Arabic.
He was one of two mukhtars who represented the village of Kafr Al-Maa, in Irbid, Jordan. He was the leader of the largest clan in the Arabic village, located in the denuded eastern foothills of the Jordan Valley. The clan had the largest population in the area and was by far the richest. As mukhtar, he and the clan’s largest landowners often socialized in his guesthouse, where they shared information, discussed and resolved disputes, gossiped, and made economic exchanges.
My mother loved my role as an advocate for women in engineering, and she thought girls would be great in whatever career they chose.
My mother’s attendance at those gatherings taught her leadership skills. My grandfather empowered her—which helped her become more mature. Over the years, she became the person who would help resolve issues and tell everyone what they needed to do.
For three years, she helped build the family’s 250-square-meter house while my father traveled for work. While he was away, on her own, she took care of six kids, looked after their education and their health, and fulfilled their needs in a village that lacked electricity and running water. All my siblings are accomplished and living in either Texas or the United Arab Emirates. Most of them, as well as their children, either have graduated from a university or are about to.
WORDS OF WISDOM
Her wisdom in understanding the true meaning of cultural diversity was sparked by her honeymoon in the holy city of Jerusalem, where she and my father later lived for more than a year. She used to tell me that living in peace in one of the oldest cities in the world—which three major Abrahamic religions consider to be the holiest—gave her the wisdom to understand different perspectives, and it changed her spiritually.
I admire my mother for teaching me those qualities.
Because of her, I was able to achieve the highest level of academic success. During the summer she turned our house into an academic camp for my friends and me. I graduated No. 1 in my class in high school. In college, I completed an engineering program of 170 credit hours in only four and a half years, when most students take more than five. I was the first of my siblings to earn a university degree—which was a great achievement—and I was glad to be able to do that for her. For years, she proudly displayed my college graduation photos in her house.
I would always talk to her about my career choices, the projects I worked on, and the issues I had. When I sought advice from her, she never hesitated in giving it. On job interviews, she told me, ask first about the owners of the business, as she believed that only people with good ethical values would offer good opportunities.
I recently moved back to the Middle East from Texas, and I was fortunate to be able to talk to her almost daily. She knew about my volunteer duties with IEEE and was interested in the articles I wrote, even though she didn’t read English. She loved my role as an advocate for women in engineering, and she thought girls would be great in whatever career they chose.