God bless the typical Iranian fathers for they are far better than they seem, far less appreciated than they deserve, and are changing so fast that they could qualify as an endangered species.

In Iran, we didn’t have a Father’s Day because back then, every day seemed to belong to him. In our family, my father was God and my brothers the saints, sent down to save the rest of us. We obeyed, showed respect and showered him with love all the time, but celebrate him one day a year? You must be kidding.

I worshipped my father and he, despite succumbing to the Islamic rule of two-girls equal one-boy, believed in the women of future, especially his own daughters. Back in the 1950s, he sent my oldest sister to the best school in England, and she was only seventeen. Of course he also hired the strictest old Englishman as her guardian, because open-minded or not, he was an Iranian father – a Khan no less!

Back then, a father’s responsibility could be clearly defined in two words: provide, and rule. It was years later when I learned that the same criteria would apply to a dictatorship and that my obedience was not unlike that of any suppressed nation. Perhaps what made the difference was the unconditional love that enveloped us, a love that I never doubted, not even in the traditional absence of verbal expressions.

The suppression ended with “Women’s liberation”, which in turn brought girls higher education, men’s jobs and a demand for equal rights. The unhealthy pattern of “keeping your cheeks red with a slap” changed. Now women seemed happier, but the change left many men in a limbo. While they had no choice but to adapt to gender equality most of them had a hard time letting go of their authoritative image.

The real problem started when women began to demand “understanding.” I don’t know about other nationalities, but this came as a huge shock to most Iranian men. Their initial reaction was to make jokes about it. When little girls demanded the same from their fathers, the poor guys were so shocked it was as if they’d been asked to sew a skirt! Their fathers and grandfathers had “provided” and “ruled”, but understand? That was a mother’s job, wasn’t it? The men who were more sensitive listened and tried, but could they continue to rule? And when women spoke of “democracy”, many men ran to the nearest bookstore to buy a new dictionary.

Being more sensitive, most women know their men’s dilemma. A majority of these men are working hard at being good providers without getting half the respect their fathers enjoyed. As for an obedient family, they’re smart enough to forget about it. Besides, the old standards of discipline are no longer politically correct. If they use physical punishment, Family Services will come after them, to cut the kids allowance may encourage illegal earnings, and as for scolding, today’s smart kids will make sure that every word they utter comes back to haunt them over the Internet.

Living in the West, where men have their fair share of household chores, Iranian men do make an effort to change, even if this means helping with the dishes. Occasionally, they may also fix an appliance. But as they become aware of their “feminine side”, they also begin to wonder if women understand them, if they can imagine how stressful their works are and if they could show some appreciation. Women love Father’s Day because it gives us a chance to say yes to all of the above.

So if your kids don’t listen to you – especially if they seem to be more and more like their mother, if too much is expected of you, and if your mom continues to hint that you could have done a lot better, chances are you’re an Iranian man born in the 1950s – give or take a few. I’m not a fortuneteller, but after two brothers and thirty-six years of an Iranian husband, it’s an easy guess.

Should you be the child of such a man and live in a country where fathers end up with a single day of appreciation, be sure to buy that tie they won’t wear, that razor they don’t need, or any wrong brand of after shave. The gift you buy is immaterial and it’s their own money anyway. But be sure to keep them company and build memories. Iranian fathers may not understand their children quite as they should, but they sure deserve to know how deeply they are loved.

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies.

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