“It’s a collection of wise words from a father living with cancer to the children of the world,” writes Malaika Faizal Sahukhan in the foreword of her father’s new book, Authentic Relationships: Guidance for Resolving Challenges Across Cultures.
A compilation of Dr. Faizal Sahukhan’s popular advice column that ran in Metro Vancouver newspaper, the book is part love letter and life lessons to his two daughters as they ascend into adulthood, and part giving back — to the community who entrusted him with their relationship questions and to the BC Cancer Foundation, to which he is donating 10% of the book’s proceeds.
Born in Fiji but raised here since he was seven, Faizal says growing up “brown” in Western Canada wasn’t easy. He faced racism — “I was punched, spat on, kicked, called ‘Punjab’ or ‘Hindu,’ and so on every day” — and exclusion, and learned early on that being different was a disadvantage. As a clinical counsellor, he drew on those differences to help people struggling in interracial relationships.
“When I opened up my practice there were only a handful of sex and relationship therapists in B.C., and none was of Eastern descent. Most of my clients — who were in cross-cultural romantic relationships and didn’t know where else to go to be understood — appreciated that I had a good command of both the Eastern and Western cultures, family dynamics, and therapeutic interventions.”
With hundreds of distinct ethnic groups in Canada, a large portion of singles date outside their own culture, says Faizal. A decade ago, however, only a small percentage of those relationships made it down the aisle. Today, that number is a lot higher. “I’d like to say I played a little part in that, in educating and helping people,” he laughs.
In 2017, Faizal was at the height of his career — a clinical counsellor, a college instructor, author and advice columnist. “Everything was clicking for me. I had multiple careers on the go. I had a solid family life. I had everything. And then one evening at the dining room table I felt a tightness in my neck. I touched it and there was a huge, what turned out to be 10.5 cm long, mass.”
It was lymphoma. And it was aggressive. Tests, biopsies, six months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant followed. Complications required the removal of a large part of his intestine. “After all this, I thought for one year that I was in remission,” he says. “That was not the case. It’s peripheral T-cell lymphoma — there is no cure.”
Having been rushed to emergency several times when his hemoglobin levels dropped dangerously low, Faizal admits it’s hard not to live in fear. “There have been times through this hard journey when I was sitting around depressed, thinking, ‘I’m a ticking time bomb,” he says.
“Even my oncologist, BC Cancer’s Dr. Diego Villa (who Faizal says is wonderful — professionally and as a human being) has looked at me on multiple occasions and wondered how I’m still here.” Faizal’s answer is simple:
“I’m not done yet. I’d like to touch more people. I want to be here to help guide my daughters through as much of their life as I can. That’s the reason for this book.”
The book is 100 handpicked questions from his fortnightly advice column, “Dear Dr. Faizal” that cover topics such as career, family, diversity, intimacy and relationships. Each is lovingly answered, with his daughters Malaika and Alishba in mind.
Dr. Faizal Sakukhan with his daughter Alishba, who designed the book cover.
“They have been my inspiration. I hope that my responses to the plethora of questions from the public will help them as they grow up and face the typical concerns that we all experience at different times in our lives.”
And while the book is dedicated to his daughters, they also had a hand in its creation. Malaika, his oldest, penned the foreword. And Alishba, his youngest, designed the cover. “So it just comes full circle,” he says. “It’s been an opportunity to share some of my philosophies and values with my daughters, and that has been healing for all three of us.”
More than just a project, the book has brought Faizal and his girls closer together. And he hopes that through its pages, he will always be a part of their lives. “This is a legacy I’d like to leave. I might have 10 years ahead of me, who knows? But when my time comes I’d like my daughters, when they have kids, to say, ‘You know what? Your grandad had a best seller.”
To achieve this, and enable his book to help as many people as possible, Faizal is making Authentic Relationships: Guidance for Resolving Challenges Across Cultures free to download from Dec. 4 to 6 — 10% of the sales of the paperback ($19.99 on Amazon.ca) will go to support the BC Cancer Foundation.