Irshaad Ally, husband, dad of two girls, actor and production company owner, talks to Baby’s & Beyond about positive transformation, prioritising family, and particularly, building strong relationships with his daughters.
Your story is one of transformation – from being involved with the wrong crowd as a youth, doing hard drugs and getting arrested, to becoming a committed family man. What was the driving force behind your transformation?
It was completely my environment. I was lucky enough to find myself amongst people that always wanted to help me. Even during my rehabilitation period, I had family members that helped by taking me out of my environment, removing me from the triggers of my drug addiction.
As with most drug addicts, I had extreme psychologically problems and I also didn’t have a father figure. I looked to friends and gangsters to show me what a man was – which was what I needed at 15 years old.
When my family removed me from that circle and exposed me to a different environment, I learned that I could be someone different – that spearheaded my transformation.
Environment plays a crucial role in who you become – I love knowing things and am a bit of a nerd. My wife, who is a teacher and currently pursuing a postgraduate degree, and we spend hours discussing different subjects.
Acting is all about you, but marriage and fatherhood is about the family. Family grounds you and ensures that things don’t go to your head. Once you marry, you commit to someone, and you realise that it’s not all about you – you are part of a team.
Being married and having daughters is demanding work. My family is my drug now and I am getting so much out of it.
What are the greatest lessons you have learned since becoming a parent?
The greatest lessons are about sharing and realising that with giving comes receiving. You give to your family and somehow there is always a reward. The more you give, the more you get. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I suppose somehow, somewhere, that is the way the world works.
With a wife and two daughters, you are fairly outnumbered in the Ally household. What are the highlights of being a “girl dad”?
I am the King! Yes, they argue with each other, but I am the person they come to when they need affirmation. It is a bit tough on me as girls are more emotional, but I am everybody’s ‘boyfriend’ in the house.
How does your past shape your parenting style?
Given my experience, people might think I come from a world of gangs and drugs, but I was brought up in a fairly nurturing household. My wife comes from a very sheltered household – she has never even taken a taxi in her life, and I was a taxi ‘gaaitjie’ and a taxi driver.
I try and show my daughters the nurturing world, especially now while they are so young and need to feel loved. For the same reason, I also try and show them the real world and that life is tough and a mix of many things – they need to be prepared for the future.
Why is being a hands-on dad important to you, and how does it impact your relationship with your daughters?
I want my daughters to know that this is what a husband is and does, seeing that I didn’t have it with my dad as he was a very ill man. He was wheelchair-bound and died when I was 14 years old.
My dad came from a family where he had an absent father, so he didn’t really know how to be a father. I realise that I may want to overcompensate with my kids, but I want to be present; I want to be involved and available, which is not always possible due to my work. Ayesha is much more involved, but I try and spend as much time as I can with them all. I want them to remember their father as being present and available.
How does your relationship with your daughters change as they get older?
There is a difference between having a three-year-old and an eight-year-old in the house. Rahmah tuned eight last year and I can see she is taking in a lot of information and is realising there are things happening in the world that she was not aware of before. I am going to try and let them be children for as long as possible; not baby them, but at least not want them to adult-up too quickly. We have a rule in our home, when adults are talking, you as the child can excuse yourself.
With a demanding schedule, how do you ensure that you continue to prioritise your relationships with your wife and daughters?
Prioritising time with family is not always easy. There is a moment after you have done all your work that you remember you haven’t spent enough time with the family, and that is normally the time you should be resting. I used to do this thing where I would take my journal, find a spot, and write, but I realised that I should be spending that time with my family instead. Now I spend time with the girls whenever I can and just be silly with them. Bedtime is always fun. I love it and always make time for it.
What is your favourite pastime with your girls?
We love watching movies together. I can sing the theme song from Frozen! Now that Hanaa can sit still and watch a movie, what a jol! We often have to watch the same movies over and over, hence me knowing all their movies.
What do you hope for your daughters?
My wish for them is just that they become good people and benefit mankind in some way. That is what we need for our children and that is what every parent should aim for, to be able to rear children who will become a benefit to humanity.
Every day we are witness to what is happening in the world. Never in our lives have we seen so many homeless people at traffic lights or sleeping in tents all over the city. We know that something needs to be done about it. I want children who will have those kinds of things at the top of their minds; how can we help humanity to be better?
And obviously I want them to be happy and unafraid to go through life’s trials and tribulations so that they become wise. I often pray that God grants them good challenges but that they are also not too difficult. Make them clever and smart but don’t make the challenges too tough for them.
From being an actor you diversified into writing and producing. How does being a “creative” help define your family life?
Everything I do stems from being a creative. I come from a small conservative community with limited jobs available. I was into writing poems when I was younger, but I could never express the fact that I liked poetry and writing stories. But I was also the kid whose hand was up first when the teacher asked who wanted to read a poem.
Being creative defines my family life. My daughter Rahmah, loves to write and has won an award for best author at her school. At first, I was a bit afraid of them leading the life of a creative, as it is not an easy life to live as a performer. However, I believe it’s good for Rahmah to exercise the right side of her brain and develop her analytical brain, which is more like Ayesha, who is an excellent maths teacher.
As a creative and family man I am anxious in that I don’t want my kids to be creatives or musicians and artists, but Rahmah draws all the time as she loves colours. Even though I encourage her in her artistic endeavours, I can’t help wondering how her maths is doing and when last she worked with blocks. I think together with my wife we manage it on both ends.
You describe yourself as a humanist. Could you elaborate on what this means and how it shapes you as a person?
I say humanist because I think of people first. Because that is what humanism is; that you consider people first. I could have said Muslim of which ‘mu’ means person and ‘slim’ means ‘of Islam.’ Islam is about helping people. It’s about making sure that you do right by mankind.
For me it’s always people first, before anything else. If that is our point of departure then we would do much better in the world. But we don’t do that. It’s always something else first. Its money first, its network first, it’s my own little, small universe first; but if we can think humans first, mankind first, I think we would get ahead much better.
How do you define success?
Success for me is about being challenged enough so that I can be busy enough. Keeping my mind busy enough I can apply myself enough, at the same time doing right by whoever is around me.
It’s also about dealing with people in the best way possible. We actors have a thing about being liked. I overcame that when I realised, actors can be people pleasers as well. It’s making good with other people but also being okay with myself.
There is a lot I still would like to achieve. I am busy producing a film. There is a lot I would like to do in terms of storytelling, in terms of family and career, and as long as I can be busy I think that’s success. I really think having a family, a wife and two kids, is something I never thought I would have, and I am very happy and grateful to God for it all.
What do people not know about Irshaad Ally?
People don’t know that I am actually an introvert! I can sit in a coffee shop alone or go to the movies alone. I am a big loner. People think I have a big personality, but I don’t think so. It’s not fake. I talk and interact and be friendly, but if I don’t have to, I would rather just shut up and sit still and let the world pass me by and I will be happy.
What does the future hold for you?
I am unsure what the future holds for me, I suppose it could be anything. So many things are crossing my path at this very moment. I will probably stay in entertainment and telling stories, but I will also probably diversify, and that’s as much as I can say.