My dearest Silvia,
As with many middle aged men, I look back on my life trying to take stock of what I have done, accomplished, succeeded at, and failed at. I guess I do this because I have reached an age where my mortality is more than some distant, fleeting thought. Like many men I have regrets. I have regrets for things that I've done, things that I haven't done, but should have, and things that no matter what I do, I can never, never undo.
People say that it does no good to cry over split milk, but they are wrong. For if one has regrets over things one has done or not done, one must never stop trying to make amends. My dear daughter, with some things we do in life it is not enough to say I thought that I was doing the right thing at the time; it is not enough to give mere private apologies for some things. Some things demand an amends be made openly, publicly and earnestly before an man can look himself in the mirror again. I need to be able to look myself in the mirror again. I need for you to know that your father needs your forgiveness.
I owe you, my sweet baby daughter, an apology for what I took from you long ago. Likewise, I owe your mother an apology for the tremendous heartache that I have inflicted on her our entire life together because of what I took from you back then, against her wishes. Finally, I owe the entire Iranian community an apology for a decision that they never knew I made, but that has deprived them of the opportunity and chance to know you as one of them. The weight of the guilt that I feel for my past ignorance bears down on me heavily day after day and now I simply want to find a way to stop feeling so bad. I hope this is it.
If being a man means anything to me, it means saying I'm sorry when I have done wrong. So to you my sweet child, to your mother who loves you dearly and to the Iranian community world wide I say I AM SORRY.
What is it that I have done that fills me with such sadness? People say a parent should never steal from his or her child. But, this I did. I stole from you, something that I do not have the ability to pay back, your Iranian identity. I stole from your mother the happiness that an Iranian mother feels in raising her children to be proud of the language and heritage which belongs to them. I stole from every Iranian that might ever come in contact with you, the pleasure of knowing you as one of their own. I denied you the right to be who God intended you to be, a beautiful, intelligent and talented person of mixed cultural heritage. When you were a baby you spoke Farsi in our home. I remember you looking up with your lovely innocent face with you big brown eyes, asking Mom “kafsh koo?” You spoke Farsi like any other child. I know you can't remember it now, but I can remember for both of us.
I demanded that your mother stop speaking to you in Farsi. It cut her deeply. She has never healed from this pain that I inflicted upon you and her. She obeyed me because of two things. First, in those days, Iranians were facing extreme discrimination in America. They were the victims of violence and they suffered living in a country where people called them all manner of vile names. I was a very young man then. I loved you and your mother dearly, but I feared greatly that I might not always be around to protect you if someone violent, someone hell-bent on taking revenge on an I-RAY-NEE-AN might confront your mother outside our home. I was afraid that if you were heard speaking Farsi and if any dangerous rednecks recognized the language that you or Mom could be hurt. I made that decision with the best of intentions, but I did so full of ignorance about the harm that I would be inflicting upon you as its consequence.
You know, whatever is good in you, came from your mother. Your kindness, sweet demeanor, your beautiful looks and especially your intelligence. She begged me when you were only two years old, to change my mind, but I stubbornly refused. She begged her father to speak to me in hopes that he could change my mind. He also refused, but do not blame him because the decision was all mine. I know now that he wishes he had talked to me, but at that time he did not. Why, I don't know. Grandpa told his only daughter to listen to me. He told her that she must do what I decided. For a long time, I have wished he would have talked some sense into me then., but who knows if I would have listened. I was young, stupid and ignorant. You fully know that how I regretted my decision by the time you were in 4th or 5th grade. By then, however, you said that you had no interest in Farsi. I should have insisted on you learning it.
I know it hurts you deeply that your brother, who joined our family only when you were already a teenager, can now speak, read and write Farsi fluently. He can do this because Mom has given him, not just his share, but also yours of the love Iranian mother's have for their children. He has brought Mom much joy in his learning of Farsi, in singing Iran's traditional songs, in watching Iranian TV with her, and many other things that you do not and cannot do. I insisted that you must be an American girl and that is what you are. But, my precious daughter, I was wrong and Mom has never stopped hurting over this. Nothing would give her more joy than to see you become passionate to learn Farsi and what it means to be able to count yourself as an Iranian.
Two separate things in the past two days have forced me to confront myself about this terrible injustice that I inflicted upon you as a baby. The first is something I read yesterday in The Iranian from a child to the web magazine's advice columnist. In that letter the child asked about why some Iranians refuse to accept him because he is, like you and your brother, half-Iranian. He recounted how a lady sent him a letter blaming him for not being a complete Iranian. She wrote to him in a very hurtful way because she didn't approve of him.
As I read this young boy's letter, my heart grew heavy with regret. It is not your fault that you cannot speak your mother's language. It is not your fault that you know little of her country's rich and ancient culture. It is not your fault if there are some in the Iranian community that might look down on you because you only speak English. It is my fault and my fault alone. What I have done to you in denying you half of what you are is a sin that God will surely hold me accountable for.
I said before that there were two things that forced me to confront myself about my theft of your identity. Today, you called us when you returned home from your trip to California for the young women's conference at UCLA. Your mother cried as you told her that when you walked into the Persian restaurant that the waiter approached with a smile a warm greeting in Farsi. She cried when you told that the some of the other young women at the conference who are also Iranian came to you and asked you if you were one too. Your mother cried tears of joy because she knows that what I tried to extinguish in you nineteen years ago, her people… your people… still see clearly in your face and eyes. What I took from your mouth, I could not take from you face. I thank God for that. I am sorry my dear child that I only let you know about my half. As I have grown older, I have learned over the years to appreciate your mother's wisdom and sincerity. I only wish I appreciated it when I was a much younger man.
I owe your mother, who has put up with and tolerated an old fool like me for the better part of a quarter of a century, a deep apology. I want her to know that I'm am more sorry for this single foolish decision than anything else that I've done during our years together. She has ridden life's roller coaster with me during both good times and bad, and I am grateful for that. I have not been the easiest man for her to live with, I am regret that. I ask her to forgive me for being so damn stubborn and hard headed in my youth. I know that depriving you of Farsi has hurt her more than anything else I've done in our marriage and I want her to know I'd turn back time, if I could.
To the dear and widespread Iranian nation both inside and outside of Iran, I ask you, in this open letter, for your pardon as well. While your community would certainly go on and thrive never knowing my child, I can assure you that you have been collectively harmed by the insensitive decision of an ignorant young man nearly twenty years ago. I took from you the opportunity to welcome my child as one of your own. She is such a giving and loving person. She surely would have enriched your community had I not stolen from her the ability to be part of you.
Also, I have taken your right as a community to pass on all your wonderful historical, artistic and cultural gifts to this lovely young woman. For it is surely your right to give such gifts freely to any young person who shares your heritage. This right does not require the assent of a parent to be given. Your blood is her blood and that fact alone establishes your right to bequeath your love and pride to her. By denying a precious little girl Farsi long ago, I took from you this right which I was not mine to interfere with. I am sorry.
My daughter, I have injured many with my shortsighted and unfortunate decision during your childhood. However, I believe that it is not too late to reclaim what is rightfully yours. Despite the devastating effects on you of this decision, which I made alone, it is not too late. Iranian people are a good, decent and loving people… most of them anyway. If you will only show them that you are willing to meet them half-way, they will reach out to you, nurture you and help to learn those things which I took away. I would give them back if I could, but I can't.
If you will stop blaming yourself for your inability it speak Farsi, and understand once and for all that it is not your fault, but mine, you will have in your hands for the first time the power and opportunity to begin to reverse the damage I have done.
If you will only do one thing for me, I swear before God that I will never ask you to do anything else for me again. You, yourself said today on the phone, how wonderful it was to be recognized for the first time in you life by Iranians as a fellow Iranian. I am asking you now to take a year off from school and go study Farsi in Iran. Your mother has already checked into a number of good university programs there designed for people like you. You grandparents have said that you may live with them and they will help you in your studies each and everyday. I will spend as much of my money as it takes to return to you what I took away, but I can't do it alone, you have got to want this too.
In a few more weeks when the excitement of your trip to California is over, you will begin to forget how special you felt being accepted by your fellow Iranians. You will fall back into your old routines and forget this very special awakening that you've experienced. I denied you half of you heritage. You are an adult now and it is your right to reclaim that which rightfully belongs to you. You are my only daughter and the love I have for you is boundless. I only want you now to make the right decision, for if you don't the day will come when you will feel the deep regret that I carry with me. If you will do this, I will support you, your mother will support and I'm sure that your fellow Iranians will welcome you back into the fold with love and open arms.
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