My beloved father
I didn't want anyone to know I didn't have one
October 1, 2004
I was about 12 years old when I realized that I didn't have a father. Up
until that age I didn't feel his absence. I had friends that called a guy "dad",
but their "dad" beat them up when they did not conform to the rules
established by him.
I had my own kingdom at home; I ruled, for I was the only
boy in the house. My mother saw in me something of great, which I never
understood. Throughout my life, I sensed that I was different,
of special merit. But this
sense of pride always faded when either of my two uncles
was present and while my mother was out of sight. They took "good
care" of me, for the sake of my sisters.
"What's wrong with you boy!?" This was the line
my uncles started off with. It was at these very moments that
I would realize that something intimidating was going to happen.
My minimum sentence was a kick in the butt. I didn't mind that
since I had a natural cushion that would protect me from any long-term
pain. Pulling my ear was the one punishment I hated the most,
since it was the sisters' favorite. I remember having a perpetual
lesion in the back of both of ears, where the handles of my
glasses are sitting now.
No obvious bruises were ever marked on my skin. The idea, I guess,
was not to hurt me physically, but to make me realize that I wasn't
the king of the house after all.
I was the favorite child of the entire Changizi family when my
mother was around and the most miserable when she wasn't; another
reason I loved my mother so much. Almost the same reason I did
not feel the absence of my father. I never missed him. Nor did
I feel his
My friends, though, always resented me, for I had no
bruises on my skin, except little secrets on the back of
my ears. They had long "adjustment times" with their
fathers almost every day, especially in the evening when fathers
came back from a long and hard day of work, and mothers had done
all their invisible jobs and were ready to complain about
everything, including the boys. Girls were fine, I sensed, until
they became teenagers and physically grown. I never understood
why, until I grew older. But every time I saw bruises on my friends,
I prayed and thanked god that I did not have a father.
At the beginning of sixth grade, on the first period of the
first day of school, I had an English class.
was the teacher. He, unlike other teachers, was a very nice and
gentle guy. At the first session of school, teachers
would go over the roster and tale roll to make sure that everyone
was there. Then they would find their
favorite students based on their last name and their association
with people they knew outside of school. These associations would
always come handy when it came time to reduce your "crimes" at
school. The closer the ties with the teacher, the lesser the punishment.
I didn't have any problem
that, for my family was well known in my hometown of Gorgan
in northern Iran. I never feared any discrimination from my teacher.
However, being the teacher's
pet did not completely discount the possiblity of physical punishment.
That year there were a lot of new faces around; kids that were
coming from other towns or even villages. Mr. Habibi, was young,
inexperienced and, therefore, different. He cared about the students
and wanted to get to know them.
Our class had eight rows of long tables formed in two columns
accommodating three students on each table. Mr. Habibi's desk was
near the second column of tables next to the window, across from
the door. I was on the forth row, first column. That was my favorite
place: not too close to the teacher, since I did not intend to
be under his nose, and not too far to avoid any accusation
of mischievous behavior.
That very first day he did not take roll. He simply began from
the first row on the second column closest to himself and asked: "Please
introduce yourself and tell me how many brothers or sisters you
have. And also what your father does for living."
I thought I hadn't heard the last part right. "Did
he ask about our fathers? Teachers don't ask these kinds of questions," I
thought. Suddenly, something weird started happening in my stomach.
Ah, what do I say? I didn't want anyone to know.
Absolutely no one! Announcing I lacked a father was to admit I
was weak. It would do nothing but attract pity. Or even worse,
some kids might tease me for that. How cruel and dumb of Mr. Habibi!
The good feelings
I had for him as a new and gentle teacher
The whole column was done. I hoped the next column would start
from the back, for it would take longer to get to me. By then recess
might start. I looked at my watch. It was only 20 minutes past
the hour. We still had half an hour to go. The introductions
continued from the back. Now I could feel the burning hot air coming
from the eighth row. I was going to melt in a minute or so.
barely hear anything. My ears started to make noises as though
I had mosquitoes
in them. My storm in my stomach was getting worse. Drops of
sweat poured down on my face. My whole back was wet. My
hands started trembling. I wanted no one to see me that way. My
had to remain my secret.
Now they were up to the row behind me.
My heart was pounding. I could hear every single beat. For
some reason I couldn't raise my head. I was trapped. I had surrendered.
I couldn't think of any way out of that inferno. The heat was
going to melt me, like a cheap tasteless ice cream, in a second
"Next!" Mr. Habibi called. My heart dropped. I rose
my head and looked at him. He wasn't looking at me. The guy behind
me stood up. "My name is Ali. I have one brother and two sisters
... " He was speaking slowly. His voice was shaking. He moved
right up to his next sentence hesitantly: "I don't live in
Gorgan. I travel every day from my village. I walk four miles
to the main road to join other kids who get on a bus to Gorgan."
The more he talked the worse his voice got. Then he stopped and
"Well, how about your father? What does he do?" Mr.
Habibi asked. Ali stood up again hesitantly: "My father,
my father ... he ... he ... he's ... dead." Suddenly
he burst into tears. I automatically turned and looked at him.
shoulders were shaking. He had his head down. He was pressing hard
the bottom edge of his faded and wrinkled old coat into his pale,
bony fists. His hands were shaking.
My heart sank. I could hear
the loudest silence, the most annoying noise ever. Time had frozen.
Everything was dead, but Ali; he had been chosen to suffer. I
couldn't move. I was dead too. I had almost forgotten
Suddenly, I remembered what was about to happen to me in a second.
I felt the flames rising from within. I was on fire, deaf, blind,
speechless. I was paralyzed, next to nothing. Then I heard
a kind voice: "Dear Ali, don't be so sad. It's a great loss
to you and your family. But guess what? You are not the only one.
I know how you feel. I lost my father too. And not just me, Changizi
has lost his father too when he was very young ... "
As soon as I heard Mr. Habibi referring to my secret, a thunderbolt
struck me. It awakened me. A wave of sudden shock traveled throughout
my body at the speed of the light. A pleasant wind rushed over
my whole body. I miraculously felt revived and relieved.
"Our strength," he went on, "is not coming from our father
but from within ourselves. A lot of great human beings did not
Take Einstein for example. In fact I have read somewhere that kids
who lose their father grow stronger than the rest of their peers.
They become more successful in their lives, since they learn the
toughness of life early and they rely on their own strength rather
than someone else's. I am sure you and Changizi will be stronger
than the rest of us ... "
The more Mr. Habibi spoke, the stronger I felt.
Strangely, I was feeling special and important, since I was being
as a strong child and glorified by Mr. Habibi. I now saw myself
as a pioneer or a knight. And I owed all this to my father -- the
one I never touched, saw, felt or missed.