“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

You're 15 years old and have skipped school to appear on the witness stand. All eyes are on you when the judge asks, "Did you ever love your father?"

That moment was the abiding image of my childhood, as it marked the final stage of a legal battle that had ravaged my family for 11 years. My voice trembled as I recounted the times my father beat my mother at night; the eight hours I spent locked up in a bathroom as a three-year-old, with only my mother’s soothing voice from the other side of the door reminding me that I will be just fine. I asked the judge whether it was humanly possible to love a person from whom your mother had endured constant violence and abuse in seven years of marriage, and who was only seeking custody of their two sons to punish her for her resistance.

That day, I laid bare a box of hatred that I vowed to never open again. Instead, I promised to use every opportunity in life to honor my mother who had fought the scars of a violent marriage to raise her children. Vacations, swimming lessons, and friends’ birthday parties were luxuries we could not afford. But she spent every ounce of her energy to put my brother and me through the best education her meager resources could buy. She never married again, never even went on a date, as that would be a distraction from her sole purpose in life – to make her sons the best human beings they could possibly be. That single-minded focus, unconditional love, and towering strength of character more than made up for the void of a loving father in my life. With my one precious life, I hope to be the father to my kids that my mother had been to me.

— Sheharyar Malik