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A picture of dad
Not a day goes by when I don't miss him

By Siamack Salari
August 16, 2002
The Iranian

I have a black and white framed picture from at least 50 years ago on one of our bookshelves. It shows a young, handsome cavalry officer looking confidently into the camera. The cavalry officer is my father.

I think he was around 25 years old when he posed for the photographer. He had not started medical school yet and my mum was just an 11-year-old kid in the family. My sister and I were still 15 years away and he was yet to experience the grief of the death of their first child at 6 months old.

Even though he looks much slimmer than me (he was never overweight), everyone who sees the picture for the first time knows it's my dad and comments on how much we look alike.

The reason why I like that picture so much is because of all the stories he used to tell me from the time when he was doing his national service somewhere near Qazvin. His stories were actually happening to him when the picture was taken and it serves as a link to his memories, experiences and inimitable humour.

The majority of his stories would be ruined if I tried to commit them to paper. I would have no way to convey the accents, gestures and voices with which he would express them. The two stories below are merely attempts:

When a fellow officer cadet, who stuttered badly, fell off his horse and broke his arm while jumping a training fence - their colonel had made them stretch their arms out, like wings, and take their feet out of the stirrups before jumping - he complained to my dad bitterly: "Yeh cheezee be een j-j-jenaab sarhang-e m-m-maadar gh-gh-ghahbeh begoo ke m-m-mekhaad asbo baa gh-gh-ghaach-e koonam begeeram." ("Say something that b-b-bastard colonel! He wants us to stop the ho-ho-horse with our a-a-ass crack.")

The second incident was about a French surgeon who my dad was a junior to in the 1960's at Mashad's Shah Reza Hospital. Dad had come across an elderly and extremely distressed patient from Birjand in the waiting room. He was upset because he had misunderstood the French surgeon who was explaining in his broken Farsi that he needed blood before he could operate: "Shomaa aval koon bedid va man amal kard roo shomaa..." The patient did not realise that the French surgeon was pronouncing khoon (blood) as koon (ass).

All of his stories were told in a ghaleez Mashadi accent which I, in my limited Farsi, still have. There are many, many more stories. But to do them justice, I would have to tell them to you face to face.

The picture also makes me sad. You see, dad died very suddenly of a heart attack 12 years ago. Only the day before he was taken ill on a beautiful June day, he had been planting new flowers in the garden with my mum. He began to feel poorly that same night and by noon the following day, with my sister holding his hand, he had closed his eyes for the last time.

I wasn't there with him because I was in my car driving up the motorway from London to reach him. Earlier that morning, Robert, my brother-in-law who is a doctor had called to say that my dad was in the hospital and doing very poorly.

I drove the car into our driveway and found the garage door open. Inside was my sister, standing facing me holding something in her hand. When I got out of the car and walked over, she held me tightly and told me our dad had died only 30 minutes before. I held her as she shook with her silent sobs and looked back at the other houses in our street.

No one else knew yet that our dad had died. Not the neighbours, not his brother (my uncle), sister or mother (who lived to 98) and none of our friends and relatives in the UK. I felt numb and had difficulty grasping the fact that dad would never call me an "olaagh" (donkey) again; would never phone me after the 9 O'clock News to discuss current affairs again and would never tell me his stories -- again.

Soheila opened my hand and placed a cold, metallic weight in my palm. It was dad's heavy Rolex watch. She had taken it off his wrist and was now handing it over to me to take care of. When she stopped crying we walked together into the house. My mum sat on the floor, surrounded by people I did not know, sobbing loudly.

When she looked up at me I could see clearly that she was in shock. Her eyes looked wild and her face had puffed up from uncontrollable sobbing. She started to shout at me in Farsi: "Your dad IS NOT dead - he is still alive! Please go and see him. He hates being on his own and they have left him by himself."

My mum's voice had completely changed. She sounded hoarse and fearsome. Suddenly all I could think about was her sanity and whether or not she would ever recover again. I thought she had had a mental break down. I knelt next to her and held her face. "Mum, you're scaring me... please don't do this..."

I desperately wanted her to sound and be like her usual self again. I order her to get up and make some tea for everyone. And to everyone's surprise, she got up, dried her tears and walked into the kitchen. I didn't want any tea at all - I needed to see her do something normal.

Mum recovered from the shock over the next few weeks but it was a full two years before we were able to come to terms with dad's death. In the days that followed I would wake up every morning, early, to look out of the window and see my mum in her dressing gown finishing the planting of flowers - finishing a job she had thought they would finish together.

Friends and relatives dressed in black arrived in relays. There was tea to be made, food to be offered and much, much crying to be done. One particular family member asked me which mosque we were going to use for the funeral. I tried to explain sensitively that my dad was an atheist and that he had asked to be cremated.

"You can't BURN your dad!"

We did, in the end, cremate him. It was a beautiful humanist, non-religious, service and various medical colleagues stood to remember him with touching anecdotes.

The thing about my dad was that he didn't suffer fools, including me, gladly. He loved animals - especially cats, dogs and horses - something which my sister and I have inherited. He also loved beautiful women, good food (he gorged himself on khiar and sekanjebin to the end) and cars. His down side was his temper which would explode, usually at my sister and I.

It was his good living that eventually caught up with him at the relatively young age of 64. Not a day goes by when I don't miss him. But he does come to visit us in our dreams. Only a few weeks ago my mum phoned me to tell me that she had dreamt that my dad had told her to tell "that olaagh" to lose weight. Yes, he is definitely watching over us.

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By Siamack Salari

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