Man to man
I owe everything to him, everything
June 15, 2001
The other day I happened to walk into a greeting-card store and noticed
the strategically placed Father's Day cards on the rack near the entrance.
The cards came in every color and relation: Son, daughter, stepson, etc.
I stopped to pick out a few cards (I always buy more than one).
While I shuffled through the gigantic display, all I could think about
was my father and how much this man means to me. I began to feel a little
frustrated. Actually, I was frustrated about a lot of things; about how
little I have communicated with my father lately, beyond regular business.
I was angry with myself. Here I was, caught off-guard trying to funnel
all those emotions in a few simple cards. I was asking myself, "Why
does this store have to remind me that Father's Day is near? He lives in
Iran, so what does he care if it's Father's Day over here? Why do I have
to wait for Father's Day to thank him? Would the cards get my feelings across?
Would he even like the cards?"
By that time I had picked a couple of cards for review but I didn't like
any of them that much and I put them back. With all their charm and applied
sensitivity, they somehow seemed impersonal. I decided I'd write a letter
Back in my apartment, while staring blank at the white sheet of paper,
I felt silly because I had found the right time to have a total block. My
mind was racing and traveling way back to my early childhood. I noticed
that all my favorite memories of me and my father are still there, and not
a bit tainted. That was reassuring. I wanted to start the letter but nothing
was happening. I didn't know where to start, or at least, ease into.
This went on for a few days, but something had triggered my mind hard
enough to be constantly thinking about what I wanted to say to him. Maybe
I should have bought the cards, but that would have been the easy way out,
and I couldn't accept that. Not this time. I have too much respect for him
to do that.
I finally wrote the letter. In a way, it was the hardest thing I had
ever written, yet it was very simple, because on that sheet of paper, I
was talking to my Dad. That made it simple. I basically told him how much
he means to me and why. I thanked him for teaching me the ways of life when
I needed to know them, and when I was ready to know them. I wanted him to
really know what a hard-working person I think he is.
I went over a lot of memories in the letter like when he used to take
me to school in the mornings in his blue Peugeot 504 back when I was in
fourth grade. In winters, he used to leave the house a couple of minutes
before I did to warm up the car, so by the time I got in, the heater was
warm enough. I used to love those morning rides. We used to talk about everything
I initiated. I really enjoyed those talks because there were no interruptions.
It was just me and him -- man to man.
Besides the drives to school, we used to take a lot of leisurely drives
together. He loved taking me with him to wherever he went. I loved being
with him. It made me feel exultant to be with him. I felt so content and
safe. His presence still does that to me.
As the years progressed, our talks became more serious. Our conversations
revolved more around the subject of choosing a career. I was about to choose
a major in high school. I remember one day telling him that so and so is
going to take the math major but I'm more partial to natural sciences. I
was really confused. I remember vividly that he looked at me and said, "Never
compare yourself with anyone. Never compare your life with anyone else's.
You are Sina and you have your own life. Others have theirs. Do what you
like to do. You can be a doctor, or even become a welder. As long as it
is you, you've done the right thing. Never hurt anyone, and never, ever,
cheat. Always go forward like a man, always." I am still using that
bit of wisdom a couple of times a day.
I remember turning thirteen or so and girls were becoming a big mystery
to me. I had heard from my father's old friends in various gatherings that
he used to be quite a lady's man when he was in college. So one day while
we were driving, I asked him -- in so many words -- about how to impress
girls. I remember him giving the answer a bit of thought and while he was
pulling into a gas station in Tehran's Mirdamad Avenue he answered, "The
minute you try to impress a girl intentionally, that's when you've already
started to look like a looser."
He added, "You don't impress girls with your clothes or your car
or anything. If that's the impression they're looking for, they're not worth
it. Impression has to come from within." And then he said this: "You'll
most probably meet the woman of your life when you're at your worst. When
you're least expecting it."
Well, guess what? My first serious conversation with my wife was in a
family gathering when I had just spilled a full cup of Turkish coffee on
my lap. I looked like a slob. We still laugh about it, but I did meet the
woman of my life at that very moment. I still think about all that and say,
"He was right. How about that?!" I still can't believe it.
I left Iran when I was seventeen and did not return for nine years. During
that time he came to see me four times and had basically put his life on
hold to help me get an education. I knew how hard it was for him to visit
me -- visa, finances, etc. I have a lot fond memories from those visits
too, like the conversation we had while having breakfast in a greasy-spoon
in downtown Boston in the dead of winter on our way to get me a decent suite
for an upcoming college interview. He gave me his all. In the letter, I
acknowledged that fact and thanked him for it, just so he knows. I owe everything
to him, everything.
I left Iran again right after I got married to my wife. My wedding day
was the happiest day of my life for two reasons: One, because I got married
to the girl I loved. And because on that day, my father took me aside and
told me that he is very proud of me. I didn't expect that. It was the best
present he could have ever given me. I had his blessings. I was ecstatic.
I was off on a fresh horse named Pride.
The bond that exists between children and their fathers is magical (mothers,
those little angels are also equally noteworthy, but I leave that for another
time). It never changes and can only improve in quality. I think whenever
anyone thinks about his or her father, the feelings are still very vivid
and overbearing, no matter if they're still with us or have passed away.
In 1988, I was watching Chet Atkins play his famous song "I still
can't say goodbye" to a group of world's most famous guitarists from
every discipline. Atkins had written a song about his father and by the
time he finished singing it, there was not a single dry eye in the audience.
Some of these guys were notorious for having very tough Rock Star images.
They were all weeping. It was an amazing display of emotions. Just goes
to show you that when it comes to our fathers, we are still that little
kid again. Some things never change.
I hope my father has gotten the letter. I'll find out the next time I
speak to him. One day I'll be a father myself and only wish that I can be
half as good at it as he was. It has not been easy keeping up with him,
but it sure has been a blessing to be his son.
I read somewhere about a conversation that a son was having with his
father. The son said, "You know dad, if we gather all our favorite
memories and pile them up, they would only amount to a couple of hours."
The father replied, "Yup," and looked into his son's eyes and
said, "Precious, aren't they?"
Thanks dad for everything. Happy Father's Day!
The following is from the song "I still can't say goodbye"
by Chet Atkins (1988):
"You know, every time I look in the mirror I see my Dad.
I think that's why this song means so much to me:
When I was young my Dad would say
"Come on son let's go out and play."
Sometimes it seems like yesterday
Then I climb up, the closet shelf
When I was all by myself
Grab his hat, and fix the brim
Pretending I was him.
I walked by a Salvation Army store
Saw a hat like my Daddy wore
Tried it on when I walked in
Still trying to be like him.