Problem solving

Hakim Lahman envisioned a life tackling complex mathematical equations, but his own life, at times, didn't seem to add up. A career far removed from his passion. A long distance family relationship. Now, with his son, Faessal, at his side, he's living a dream that's been three decades in the making.

By Lee Rasizer, CCA Public Relations Coordinator

 The lines of communication were always technically open between Hakim Lahman and his son Faessal. For nearly a decade Faessal considered himself a “phone father” as his son lived hundreds of miles away and they kept the cell towers buzzing.
 Parental advice was offered. Teenage angst was voiced. Their numerous conversations were get-to-know-you sessions in abstentia.
 The two had been separated in 2000: Hakim sought better wages with a move to Colorado; Faessal went to public school and spent a lost year at a Durham, N.C., community college, growing up faster than normal while he, his brother, Alexander, and divorced mother took care of an ill grandmother on disability and confined to her bed.
 It was heart-wrenching but dutiful responsibilities for both kids.
 But it wasn’t until Faessal followed his brother’s lead to Aurora to join their father that they realized there was additional suffering in their family.
 The children were unaware that Hakim’s trucking contract hadn’t been renewed long ago, or that he was struggling month to month to hash together enough moving jobs to survive on meager hourly earnings. Faessal at the time viewed his kids as financial reinforcements coming to his rescue when they arrived in the state. They’d all get jobs; all get on track.
 But Alexander soon would leave to pursue his passion in Judo. And Faessal had other ideas, too. He’d work to help out, but his priority was going to school. Too many of the people with whom he grew up had abandoned that possibility and seemed destined to a life of dead-end jobs. He’d steeled himself that it wasn’t going to be him. 
 Faessal looked at Community College of Aurora as his education destination but it was, at first, deemed financially unfeasible.
 “But,” the youngest Lahman son recalled, “I refused to put the idea down.”
 Faessal remained steadfast in his arguments, telling his father he couldn’t jeopardize his future. He laid out his case why school made the most sense,
 “How can any father deny that?” Hakim responded.
 Especially one with his particular life’s tale to tell.
  Dreams, like phone calls, can be at risk when put on hold.  Dropped. Forgotten.
  For most of 23 years, the hum of the road was the soundtrack for Hakim Lahman, the spinning wheels of his moving truck and sliding of furniture serving as muzak for a restless soul.
  Problems and carefully packed boxes many times were stacked equally over more than two decades; his family the saving grace for a life he’d envisioned interrupted.
  In high school in Oujda, Morocco, in 1979, Lahman had been something of a prodigy. He was handpicked to be a future pillar of the state’s educational program after showing special abilities in Math and Physics. He’d study those two disciplines a combined 32 hours per week and not much else as one of his country’s elite young minds.
 Lahman would move on to attend the prestigious Université Mohammed V in the capital of Rabat, with curriculum steeped in such advanced theory that the professor might take nine straight months breaking down a single theorem from scratch.
 Lahman recalled only 29 students out of 200 passing to a second term. He was one, and giddy to be.
 Then, turmoil struck his country. A Socialist Party leader was killed by a member of the Islamic movement. Fighting between factions ensued. The Moroccan king declared a “white year,” which, from an educational perspective, was like an executive do-over. No one advanced. The scholastic year repeated.
 As turning points of life go, this one veered Lahman off wildly.
 He’d join his sister in Canada but transcript problems meant he’d have to clear a test for college and need to prove himself in what were, for him, elementary math courses. He kicked around Montreal for four years; renewing his student visa but not attending classes the final two, instead filling big-rigs with gasoline in 20-below weather part of the time.
 He was bored, upset -- and worse.
 “I had already lost my heart,” Lahman recalled tearfully.
 He’d travel to New York and become a dishwasher, then a waiter. He moved to North Carolina and became a salesman, offering laser pictures door to door. He’d once again become a server at a Greek restaurant across the street in Raleigh from North Carolina State University.
 “I used to take my break between jobs and hit the books,” Hakim remembered. “That’s what kept me sane. I’d never lost the touch.”
 And he never lost sight of his original goal in life.
 “At the time,” he said, “my dream was doing math.”
 He’d instead play family man for years. Get married. Two kids. Helped his then-wife, Ann, start a moving company, putting his own visions aside. One decade, then another, the divorce in between; the move to Colorado to better support his family.
  His sons were his pride but his path in life hardly a joy, if grudgingly accepted.
  One of Hakim’s small consolations during that time in North Carolina was surrounding himself with people in academia. His best friend, not surprisingly, was a math teacher.
 “I had unfinished business,” Lahman said. “Regardless of what I did, it was not using all my potential. Yes, my mind was being used. I used physics to find a better way to load a truck or delegate leadership. There were ways to keep my mind sharp, but it wasn’t enough. The mathematics was always what kept me sane. The higher difficulty, the better. But I needed to be humbled.”
 His downward spiral financially after moving to the Aurora area did just that.
 Faessal’s steadfast desire to attend college was the counterweight, stemming in large part from his father’s fall through life’s cracks.
 “It’s hard,” the son maintained. “When someone tells you something like his story you feel pretty small. It’s just like, ‘Oh wow, I just went to public school and you went through all this stuff.’ At the same time, it’s almost like a crime to squander what I have because of what he went through.’”
 Hakim nodded as his son spoke. “My struggle cannot be yours.”
 And it didn’t have to be, as it turned out. 
 Each could have a piece of their dreams realized, together.
Finals were at hand in Faessal Lahman’s  Trigonometry class last fall at CCA. Sitting in the small one bedroom apartment that he shared with his father, he and a couple of his friends wondered how they would master the equations after an arduous semester.
 “That’s when the light bulb went off for me,” Hakim Lahman remembered.
 Hakim purchased a grease board and told the college students he would get them through their academic conundrum.
 “That marker board was the most thrilling thing I ever bought,” Hakim continued. “Because I was going to teach.”
 Not just teach, teach the one subject that consumed him.
 His son and friends gave Hakim math problems. Hakim solved them and showed them the steps to reaching the correct answer. All three students passed their final.
 “Did I get comfortable as a trucker? Did I want more? Yes,” Hakim said in relating his emotions at the time. “But I lacked that extra motivation and got tired. I had two sons. There were bad economic times -- some of the worst. It was too much to handle. I just wanted to find a hole and hide for a little while. But you don’t have that. So I just came out and said, ‘This is it. This is my hole, and I better enjoy it.’
 “But they took me out of the hole.”
 Hakim not only rediscovered his love of math but of service to others. He’d already made sure to keep his mind sharp by spending countless hours trying to educate himself.
 “Barnes and Noble was my truck stop,” he related.
 But if his son and his friends didn’t need help with their test, he would have been smarter but no happier.
 “You will never be complete until you fulfill the things that keep you going,” Hakim said. “Mine was a thirst for knowledge.”
  The week after helping with the Trigonometry, he talked to a CCA advisor and joined Faessal as a student at the college with a whole new plan to get a math degree and teach it to a younger generation of high school and community college students. 
 Hakim knew the subject matter well but if he was to serve American students, he needed to know what and how they studied. He did so not only by taking classes at CCA but by becoming a math tutor at Lowry on top of his class work. 
 “Being 51 years old and the economy the way it is, I’ve seen a lot of people that are very gifted and talented but need a little help. We have a lot of work to do, and I want to be part of that enterprise,” he said.
 Hakim has 47 credits so far, with a plan to accumulate a total of 80 before a potential transfer to the University of Northern Colorado or University of Colorado-Denver.
 All those miles, and trials may potentially lead to contentment, far removed from his Morocco and Canada experiences.
 “You got on this train and you’re really happy to get on the train, but then the train suddenly stops and you have to get out,” Hakim said of his journey. “The train leaves and you’re stuck there in limbo, not knowing everybody and you only want for that train to come back. 
 “The train’s come back. I got back onto the train and back into my comfort zone.”
 Faessal’s doing exceptionally well fulfilling his college dream, too, with 63 credits while moving toward a computer science degree. He’s rediscovered his father in the flesh and blood, not long distance. They live side by side; attend school floor by floor together.
 Their timelines are such that the possibility may even exist that the pair graduates one after another on CCA’s commencement stage.
 “Oh, my God, that would be a milestone for me,” Hakim said with a shake of his head.
 “But you have a higher GPA than I do,” Faessal interjected sheepishly.
 “I’m not sorry for that,” Hakim answered.
   The pair broke into laughter, happily challenged.

PHOTOS: Hakim and Faessal Lahman outside CCA, relaxing between classes, and in the classroom.


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