The one man in my life growing up who taught me to be the kind of Iranian man that I hope my future sons will be, if I have any, was not my father, but my grandfather. While I love and respect my father dearly for all he has taught me and given me in life, he was not able to teach me anything about my Iranian culture and heritage because he is English. What I’ve learned about the heritage and language I got from my mother came from her, my baba borzorg and my other relatives still living in Iran. What I learned growing up about being the kind of Iranian man I would like to become came from my grandfather alone.
He was a good and decent man who loved his country deeply although at times he felt great sadness for what he regarded as shameful government acts against the people. By the time the revolution came, he was not a young man anymore, but one who was within a few years of retirement. My baba borzorg was a joy to be around. He had a wonderful sense of humor, a chest full of pride for his culture and his people, a loving heart full of compassion for his family and friends and remarkable and always humble instead of boastful about his own accomplishments in life.
Growing up in home with parents from two different countries, I learned at an early age to speak both languages, but by the age of seven or eight, I could only read English. That summer, my mother took me to spend the summer with my baba borzorg in Tehran. When I told him that I couldn’t read Farsi, his only reply was that we’d better do something about that! For the next three months, he spent several hours every day teaching me how to read. He was always kind, gentle and patient with me and never lost his temper when I made stupid mistakes. By the end of the summer, when my mother returned to take me home, I could not only read, I could read at my age level. What my baba borzorg gave me that summer is a gift that I will always treasure for the rest of my life.
A month ago, my mother recieved a call from her older brother in Tehran telling her that her baba was very sick and not expected to live much longer. He told her that if she wanted to be able to spend some time with her father that she had better get on a plance right away. That morning she told me to come to the Iranian Embassy with her so that she could get me a visa as we had done many times before when I would travel to Iran. When we got to the embassy, my mother explained that her father was very ill and that we wanted to be able to spend with him what time he had left. The consular officer told her that she was free to go since she was an Iranian, but that I had to be invited through official channels by an Iranian citizen if I wanted a visa.
My mother was not amused. She pulled out her shahnosnameh and showed it to the gentleman. It clearly showed her marriage to my father and my birth recorded in it. He said that what was in her shahnosnameh didn’t matter; my father was a foreigner, so according to the law of Iran, I was a foreigner. When I heard him say that, I couldn’t beleive my ears. How many foreigners, I thought, could speak to him in Persian? How many foreigners celebrated Norooz, and how many foreigners had a millenia of ancestors buried in Iran?
Pleading with the man, my mother told him that I had never needed to be invited before. He explained that on my past trips, I had been under 18 years of age, but now that I was 18, I was considered an adult, non-Iranian, so the fact that I was the child of an Iranian woman no longer mattered. I had to apply for a visa just like any other foreigner who wanted to visit Iran. I could eitehr be invited officially through the Foreign Ministry or I could join an organized tour, but I could not get a visa easily anymore as her child.
My mother tried reasoning with the man. She told him non-Iranians were Chinese people or Americans or Mexicans, but not Iranians, like her own child. With a stony face and an unapologetic tone, he told her that in my case it would appear that their are Iranian Non-Iranians. He told her that there was nothing he could do. When she offered to invite me herself since she is an Iranian citizen, he told her that she would have to do it from the Foreign Ministry Office in Tehran. Pleading she told him that my baba borzorg would be dead before I could get there if she had to apply for my visa there.
Well, to make a long story short, my maman travelled alone to Iran and spent several precious days with her baba before he passed away. As I had asked her to do, she told him how much I loved him and how I wished I could be there. She later told me that he understood my absence, but that he could not understand how the givernment could consider me to be a non-Iranian since I had his blood pumping through my veins. When he died, he was surround by his all his children and grandchildren, except for me. He took the love of his entire family with him when he left this world.
My grandfather was a remarkable man. He was a proud Iranian man. I am glad that he was my baba borzorg. He taught me to always hold my head high when thinking of Iran which I will always do.
The government of Iran can continue to consider me and others like me to be non-Iranians, but as long as my baba borzorg’s blood continues to pump through my veins, I will be an Iranian non-Iranian, and they can’t do a damn thing about that!