I think the idea of family is among the greatest in the world, but then, I am horribly biased. We always covet what we do not have. How many of you have all of your family members around you? Do you remember the last time, if there ever was one, that you had three or four generations of your family in the same house or park? Or both your grandparents talking to you at the same time? I do not.
I am as much a stranger to most of my family as they are to me. However, I have always had the fortune of charming the families of my American friends. I have been invited to weddings, graduation parties, family vacations, and barbecues — and I have been to funerals, witness to arguments, and asked for my opinion in their family matters.
I have never given much thought to my role as a family observer, I have always just accepted it and for the most part enjoyed it. And I know exactly why I have enjoyed it — it is my only way to envision what an entire family looks like when it comes together for an afternoon in the park, for a dinner party, or for a holiday. It stands in stark contrast to my world, where my family is scattered throughout the planet, on four separate continents, separated by the realities of exile, time, politics, and economic inability to reunite.
My parents never intended to stay in America — they arrived in 1975 to get their graduate degrees and return home. For many reasons that did not happen.Twenty four years and a revolution later, I'd say we do our best given what we have. I do believe I have the most incredible parents in the world, not just as parents but as people. Throughout my life they have given me everything they were able to. They inspire and make me want more out of life in general, and our relationship has transcended from one of authority and acceptance into a partnership.
Me and my parents grew up together in the U.S. We are best friends because we both came of age here. My brother is my pride and joy, and my confidante. We are united, and the closest I come to believing and thanking a God is when I think about the extraordinary people I have the luck of calling my family.
At the same time, all of us are aware, silently, that there are many who are absent from our lives. And so I pretend, and let my imagination collect the images of other people´s intimacy. I watch American grandparents beam over their new grandchildren, aunts and uncles chide their nieces about colleges and boyfriends, and I watch cousins play chess and chase each other around while uncles get quietly drunk with nephews in a corner.
I use these images and then desperately try to substitute the faces of American strangers with Iranian ones — the grandfathers who I never got to meet, my Amu Hamid and my Ameh Nahid and Ameh Aghdas and Ameh Pari. I try to picture me laughing and talking about women with my arms around my cousins Babak, Arash and Miad — whose voices I hear once or twice a year — instead our awkward Noruz fiber optic family experiences.
I wish I could have seen my maamaan-bozorg one last time, or wrote her that letter I hesitated in my uncertain and infantile Farsi before she passed away a month ago. And I would have liked an evening with me, my father, and his father — the three of us having some drinks and some conversation, and experiencing one of the most powerful moments I can imagine a male ever having. I know I love all of them — and I long for the day to be with them and get to know them finally.
I look with awe and envy look at my American friends, who take their family and their time together for granted, unable to understand their indifference as I wonder if there ever will be a day when I have all my family together. And right when I begin to feel bad for myself, I look at my father, who has not seen most of his family for 25 years now, and wonder how the man marches on.
I look at both of my parents, who lost their fathers without saying goodbye, and my mother who just lost her mother, unable to go home and pay respects to a woman who she should have known better — but was unable due to circumstance. And then I burst with love and pride and respect for them — look how far they have come and how high the price of this American life has been for them. It has been high for all of my family.
And I am sure, one day when all my relatives finally gather around each other, we will talk about whether or not it has all been worth it.