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Times have changed
They certainly have

September 24, 2003
The Iranian

When I observe men and women in my community and watch their interactions with their parents who are either visiting from Iran or live here, I can tell a lot about them and why they react a certain way.

But what I want to share is about my upbringing and my method of parenting in the West and see how amazingly different our worlds are.

In our house when it came to my mother, I could do no wrong. She married at age 13 and had her first child when she was 15. The child died. She gave birth to 3 other children who lived up to infancy and all of a sudden they would contract a fever and die.

As a teen-ager, my mother had not been allowed to leave her parents' house or go to school because she had was so beautiful that her father feared she would learn to write "love letters" to the boys in the outside world.

Her father had been the village spiritual leader. Why do I call him that and not a mullah? By everyone's account and my own observation (he died when I attended college) he was a dervish, someone who followed the path of Sufis. His sermons (I attended one of them at the village mosque when I was a freshman in college) were about being enlightened and giving up greed, instead of the usual "roze khooni" in which the story of Karbala is re-told over and over again about Imam Hossein, the grandson of the prophet.

My grandfather did not have a close relationship with my mother and her two brothers. My grandmother was a midwife and often gone during the day to deliver babies. So my mother had been, in a way, a prisoner in her own house. She had been so ignorant about men that for the first weeks of her marriage, she would run away everyday when my father was gone and he would go and bring her back in the evenings.

Well, lucky for me because I could get away with murder. I was the little angel. I knew about my other siblings' misfortune and quickly realized that anytime I did something bad or beat up a kid, I could run around, sweat a little, and then pretend I was dying, so in the rush of getting me to the doctor everyone would forget about my misdeeds!

My father, being 10 years older than my mother, was the voice of reason. He explained everything and often told my mother that I should be disciplined sometimes. But of course my mother could not hurt a fly.

My father punished me once and I vividly remember the incident. I was three-years old and as usual my mother had dressed me in a beautiful dress with ruffles and white lace. She was pregnant and due to give birth to my brother (she had several "seyeds" who are known as decedents of the prophet on her charity roll, as I later called them, and one of them had told us the child will be a boy and should be named Hassan, which is exactly what my parents did).

Well, on this day I decided to play a builder and found a dirt pile and mixed water and dirt to make mud. I managed to get my dress and myself really filthy. My father came home for lunch and for the first time lost his temper. He grabbed me and picked me up. He then threw me a few feet away and went inside.

Up to this point of my life I knew that I could always disarm people with my big smile, which showed my dimple, and with my theatrical gestures, which everyone found irresistible. But this time it had not worked, so I was to learn another strategy which would come handy all my life.

My mother took me in and gave me a bath and cleaned me up. I sat on the floor to eat. I guess my dad had realized I was only three so he tried as usual to get my attention by calling me "beautiful lady" but I was mad and ignored him. I wanted to see how he would react, so I avoided his eyes and did not answer him.

Then I heard my mother whisper, which I would always remember. She said, "she is your child -- stubborn and defiant, so what do you expect?" I knew what defiant meant because everyone called me "sarkesh", which means rebel, but I did not know "kaleh shagh" meant stubborn.

I played inside for the rest of the afternoon and then it was dark when my dad came in with a pretty tin can filled with assorted candies and a huge white and fluffy stuffed dog. Well, I had just learned a new lesson. If I ignored the person and did not smile then I would get a present! Of course, he told me it was for my own good and dirt is filled with germs and could make me sick.

I felt very normal because my dad never put a limit on any of us by saying "she is a girl." There were some rules, but I could get along. The rule I loved most and stuck with was that if you do something wrong and admit it, you will pay the consequence once, but if you tell a lie then you have to live in anxiety of being caught and the consequence may be monumental. The other rule was to ignore what people think is best for you.

When I was fifteen I tweezed my eyebrows. All my neighbors were horrified because a girl was supposed to tweeze her eyebrows and wear make up only for her husband after she got married! I loved my father's reaction. He would smile and say, "Mrs. So-and-so, please don't send your son to ask for my daughter's hand in marriage!" My dad was so cool. I loved his sarcastic answer. I guess my sarcastic twin in me is because of his genes!

I used to wrestle and box with my brothers with my dad as my coach. He believed we needed to learn to defend ourselves. Of course when I grew up I learned about domestic violence and read in the paper about Iranian women being killed because they delivered too many girls. I witnessed one of my neighbors getting drunk and wanting to kill his wife and children. My dad was the only one who dared to go and grab the knife from his hand and shove him into the shower. I vowed to never be with an alcoholic man.

My dad often talked about the value of being independent and financially self-sufficient so if one got married, it was because she loved the man and not because she needed him. He always signed a permission for me to participate in all the competitions. I vividly remember my uncle raising concern that a girl should not be "jumping" because she would come down with such a force -- bottoms down -- that she could injure her hymen and lose her virginity!

My dad assured my older uncle that the chances of that were very slim and he was sure the type of man I married would be more concerned about what I had to offer intellectually and emotionally and not a few drops of blood. I was astonished and my admiration grew many folds.

The only time I lied to my father was when I was 16 and to this day I remember the humiliation of the lesson I learned, which would cause me to never lie again. My two best friends, Farideh, Shahla, and I had skipped a school function to go for a ride in Khosrow's red Mercedes. He was Farideh's boyfriend and my boyfriend Mahmoud and his brother Farid had come for a ride.

The two brothers were from an illiterate father who had amassed a fortune by renting little boats that had turned into a lucrative shipping business, and he had married several wives. The older sons had been educated in London and were now running the business. I had been a friend with their sisters and Farid who was very quiet and sweet (at the time I used to call those types boring).

Because the men and woman's quarters were separate I had never run into Mahmud and did not know he existed. One afternoon when I was practicing for an upcoming stage act I went to the office to call my dad and saw pictures of some of the boys on the wall and this one caught my attention and I found out that he was my friend's brother and then met him at a party. The three of us girls had gone out to Ladan café in Abadan with the three of them once and had a blast making fun of Farid's quiet and serene nature.

The day in question was our second outing. We decided to be brave and go to Nakhlak, a disco in Abadan. Well, little did we know that Roohi, the short, ugly girl in our neighborhood was there with some of her friends. I have never forgotten the triumphant look on her face. She had used the club's phone to call her mother who quickly reported she had seen us at the disco.

When we were dropped off a few blocks away, I could sense disaster in the air. Shahla's mom was loud and started to scream but Farideh's mom asked her to remain calm and hear our explanation.

There were rumors that Farideh's mom wore long sleeves even in the summer because as an former-prostitute her arms were covered with tattoos and Rahim the blond, blue-eyed driver had actually been her pimp. I liked her because she was fun and we often had parties at her house and could dance and mingle with boys. She would sit at the door!

My father stepped in and said "Mrs. Sadati, the girls did not lie. I went to the function and wanted to bring them home. They were busy helping clean up and I asked my friend's son who was there with his dad to bring then home." Then he looked in my direction and said in a calm manner, "Did Khosrow bring you back?"

I wanted to die. My poor father had lied to save us from embarrassment. I promised myself that I would never lie to my dad and have kept my promise to this day. My dad never discussed the matter because he knew how ashamed I was. This was a valuable lesson.

Then there was the incident with my teacher Mr. Gheysari. Years later in America remembering his poem -- "Good kids of the South do not become drug addicts and they do not become brides of foreigners" -- would make me feel guilty because I had betrayed my heritage by marrying an American in 1980.

On day I had an argument with Mr. Gheysari. He said, "If you were a boy, I would kick you." I stood up and said, "Go ahead because I will kick you so hard you will never walk." He stormed out of class and I was suspended for three days. I refused to apologize and a mutual agreement was reached. Mr. Gheysari said he was the adult and he should not have lost his temper which I answered, well, I should not have made fun of him in front of the class.

My father had stood by me once again. Years later he told me that he had threatened to take me out of the school and send me to a private school in Tehran. He had reminded them that I was their star student in every category and that many students were orderly because I was one of the student "police" and classmates loved me.

The only other time my dad showed his appreciation and trust in me, was when he bought me a car and rented an apartment so I would not have to stay at the dorm. My uncle rushed to Khorramshahr to tell my father that it was a terrible idea for a single girl far away from her parents to have her own apartment and car. She would give boys rides in her car and may bring boys to her apartment, he protested.

My dad asked me to sit in on that conversation. I was so grateful when he told my uncle "If I have failed in raising her then it does not matter whether she has her own car and apartment or not because if I force her to stay at the dorm, she will go to the boys' apartment and will ride in their cars."

I only allowed one boy and his sister to come and visit me at my place when I was sick and never crossed the line by bringing a boy to my apartment, although the opportunities were numerous. Only my male friends and one boyfriend rode in my car and my dad knew about my boyfriend because he was 10 years older than I was.

I never had to have any other father-daughter talks even when I left the country. He trusted my judgments and often told me he was proud of me for taking advantage of every opportunity to broaden my knowledge, be independent and help empower women. To this day our phone conversations are about what I have learned and what I am doing to help humanity. This brings me to explore my relationship with my son who was born in the US and how different our worlds are.

When I found out I was pregnant I knew one thing for sure: that my child would not be as unruly as I was and I would make sure he had limits. I had to leave him with various sitters since after he was only five weeks old. But I would never make that an excuse for spoiling him. I never talked to him like a child or treated him as one. I spoke to him very clearly and would not let him get away with any mishap. I became be the opposite of my parents.

I read Iranian folktales and played classical Iranian music for him to help him go to sleep. I only spoke to him in Farsi and because he was very energetic and active, I channeled his energy into swimming and sports. I spoke to him about drugs when he was five, and about sex and related diseases when he was seven.

He was in kindergarten in San Francisco when I got a call from a teacher that he talked too much. Well, I told her to make him responsible and stay in touch with me. Then, I took some of his favorite toys. At the same time I made sure I put a star on the wall when he was good.

His tears never melted my heart, even when twice as a two-year-old, he threw a tantrum and dropped himself on the floor in the supermarket. Everyone was watching and making comments about how beautiful the child was and what a shame that his mother was so cruel.

I said, "Are you done crying yet?" When he saw my face he raised his voice. Then I took a magazine and said, "Oh, we are not done crying. Then I will read. Let me know when you are done." There have not been any temper tantrums since.

Of course I emphasized to my son that I had been a model child and student and expected the same from my child. It would not have served any good purpose for him to find out that I had been kicked out of a private school at age five for beating up kids and pushing them off swings.

My secret was nearly revealed last year at an Iranian festival. I was dressed in a traditional dress and was stopped by some people who wanted some information. I was talking really fast when I heard a woman's voice saying "hanooz ham hamoontor ballaast" (she's still just as mischievous.)

I turned my head and it was Mrs. Kalantar, the owner of the school I had been kicked out of (she is also the mother of someone who is now one of my best friends). My son asked me what she meant, and a few times has asked, "How come your friends from Iran say you were very 'sheytoon' (little devil) mommy?" I just brush it off.

I have not told him about how I always pulled pranks, from putting gum on my teacher's chair to nails on the wall, to accidentally pushing the bench so the screeching metal sound would make Mr. Ayyazi, my Arabic teacher, a raving maniac.

My kid has been an exceptional student academically but the teachers' only complaint was his talking and making others laugh!

I chuckled as I recalled my ninth grade teacher who looked like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein with his disheveled hair and glasses. One day the weather was really bad and the howling winds were very scary. Being in charge of the class -- a mobser responsible for classmatess behavior -- I asked everyone to remain quiet and closed the door.

I went to the office and accompanied my teacher back to the class pretending to have some question. I told him to wait behind the door for a few seconds to overhear the troublemakers. The poor man fell for my idea. I placed my finger on my nose then stepped clear of the door to the right side of the wall. As the next howling wind blew, I gently twisted the knob and the wind below the door open and the site of him made the whole class scream in horror.

I made sure I came down hard on my child so that he knew the classroom was a place to learn and not to play and have fun! I always explained everything to him as though I was talking to an adult.

I also spanked him a few times -- really hard. Once he told me that I could not do that because this was America and he could call the authorities. I gave him the number for the Child Protection Agency and asked if he wanted me to call them. I said, "Go ahead let them take you to foster parents so I will have the house to myself and do whatever I want." That was the last time I had to spank him.

I had however, just like my dad, mentioned that he should not fear me and tell me when he had done something wrong. When he was 8 he told me that while in the locker-room after a shower one of his classmates had taken a blow dryer and blown hot air on their penises.

I had to control my laugh. I tried to sound normal: "Well, Aryan, that must have felt pretty silly didn't it?" He said, "Mommy, aren't you mad?" I said, "Why I should be mad at such a silly thing?" The minute we reached home he called the culprit and said, "I told you my mommy is cool and she said it was pretty silly for us to blow-dry our penises and I agree with her!"

I was so proud of him when he was 10-years old and my trusting him was put to the test. An Iranian couple had asked me several times to take my son to play with their two boys. The husband was a successful doctor and his wife a successful professional from my hometown.

One night we wanted to go to a big concert . I agreed to have my son stay with their sons (16 and 6 years old) and we went to the concert. When we got back at 2 in the morning, I woke up my son and I carried him to my car. Right then I felt something was troubling him even through he was sleepy.

He said, "Mommy, I have done something really bad."

I remained cool and said, "Well why don't you tell me; perhaps it isn't as bad as you think."

"Well, mommy I promised on my honor not to tell anyone. Arash told me he would never be my friend if I did."

Having taught my kid to honor people's trust in him I was at a crossroad. So I said very calmly, "I promise not to tell Arash's parents so you can remain loyal to your promise."

"Well mommy, do you know about the box?"

My heart sank. Of course I knew about the box. This was the latest gadget many Iranians had bought and boasted about porno movies. I had been shown porn pictures as a teenager and found them offensive.

Although very open-minded, I believe a man or woman who has to watch those types of movies to get excited has something wrong with them. I am entitled to think that if you love and enjoy your partner then your imagination should be your guide, not some hard core stuff with exaggerated noise. I also think if you have any of this material you should be responsible enough to keep them away from your children.

I took a deep breath and tried to make it easier as I said, "Oh yes some people have told me about them."

"Well it was my fault mommy because Arash asked me if I wanted to see some naked people on the box and I said yes. There were men and women and their private parts were exposed."

I told my son I was really proud of him for being honest and would not take him there again. I did not mention anything about the incident to my friends. I figured it was just matter of time for them to realize what a dreadful mistake they had made for having such a gadget unattended.

Unlike my parents who did not lie to me, I did lie about my son's father. I told him that his father was in Iran being held by the government. When he was 10-years old I took his father to court for child support. Aryan had to take a blood test and it was then I told him I had lied about his father to prevent heartache.

My parents did not talk about drugs because my mother did not even know about drugs. But when my favorite uncle, who taught me about politics, classical Iranian music died, I learned that his prolonged addiction to opium had ravaged his body and I was mad. I vowed to never experiment and I held on to that promise -- although many of my friends had the coal burner and the gadget for smoking opium; I was often asked to try and I always said, "No thanks, I am naturally high."

Just like my parents, I never forced my beliefs and taste on my child. I always explained the reason for my actions and reiterated the value of honesty and integrity. I tried to be a good role model and show that I practiced what I preached when it came to morality.

I thought I was done explaining and was out of the woods. I was wrong!

Last year we had a discussion about my ability to cut people out my life and act as though they had never existed. Aryan told me that the first time really frightened him when he saw me being so stubborn and could just setting people aside from my life.

I had gone out with someone who had been my friend for ten years. She called me the next day and I was really weak due to the fact that I had been fasting. She asked if I had thrown my gum wrapper in her living room. I said absolutely not. She was indirectly accusing me of having written some spell and having placed it in her room. I was outraged.

Few people know that I study rituals and different religions because I have a fascination with the occult and supernatural. But everyone also knows that I never venture to the dark side because I consider myself highly spiritual. I just love knowing all these ancient rituals and only recommend the ones that are for good causes and fun.

This person had been going through some bad times the year before and I had given her some spells from one of my books written by a Muslim scholar once and I had given her simple rituals for cleansing and getting rid of bad energy.

I started to cry and scream. Why the hell would I want to put a spell on her? I screamed: "I am more educated that you are, make twice what you make, am physically in much better shape, and have the love and admiration of the community. So why would I put a spell on you? That is stupid."

She kept saying that she would pray that God punish anyone with bad thoughts. I hung up and sobbed. How could I have been so blind and not see this coming? My son had come to my bedroom frightened because I was shouting. I told him exactly what had happened.

"Mommy, just think she is tripping. Laugh because that is absurd. Everyone asks you to pray because you only want good things for people," he said. I wiped my tears and said that is a sign that I no longer need a friend that stupid.

After a few weeks he asked me if I had seen that person. I said yes, at a function I went and kissed her cheek as I do most members of the community. But I do not have any feelings and have closed that chapter on my life.

"Mommy," he said, "that really scares me. You can just cut people from your life after so many years. Come on don't be so hard headed."

I simply said that everyone comes to one's life for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime. This friendship was not meant for a lifetime and it is over for me.

I had thought that I had mastered the art of communication with my son and there won't be any more testing of my skills. Then one night he came and sat next to me and told me he wanted to talk to me. I thought it would be a no-brainer, whatever it was.

Then he said "Mommy, please put your book away and look at me as you talk." I was puzzled but remained calm.

"Mommy, did you ever spend Valentine's Day with my dad?"

I have known that when he says the word "my" he is referring to his biological father whom he has seen only twice. Dad meant my ex-husband whom he has been calling that since he was five, when we met him in San Francisco.

I played dumb and said, "Don't you remember I married him on Valentine's Day and I was crying the night before because I really did not think that was the right thing to do?"

"I remember, mommy, and I know you married him because he loved me and I loved him. I am talking about my real dad."

I had to go back in time to 1985. I said nonchalantly, "Well, yes and no."

"Come on, mommy, explain what you mean."

"Well, actually, February 13th he had spend the night at my place. I hated his place because he had a roommate and his Iranian friends would just show up without notice. Worst of all, his entire apartment was too warm for me. I liked my place because it was cooler and more private.When I woke up, as I was getting ready to go to work I was waiting for him to drop a hint and he did not. He was shaving in my other bathroom and I was singing, as I was getting ready. I was humming that song that says, 'dawn has arrived and it is time to go. Whatever was is over and this is not a place for me to stay. I am leaving you but you destroyed my life'.

"As he was shaving he stuck his head out and said, are you leaving me? You have been humming that song since last night. I gave him a glass of orange juice and then left as I asked him to lock the door behind him.

"At the time my office was on the beach and Mavash had her shop on a shopping strip a few minutes away. I called her and told her to wait until 4:00 pm and if your father did not call me we would go out to Yesterdays and will have a blast talking Farsi and telling guys we did not speak English."

"When 4:00 rolled around, and I did not get the call, then I phoned Mavash and I left the branch a few minutes before 5:00. We went to her place and she warmed up some Iranian food then we went to Yesterdays at about 7:30. We had so much fun and then we ran into Abraham. Your father's best friend and the king of one-night stands. He was tall and very ugly and skinny. But he dressed well, drove a BMW and spent money and was quite charming so many women like him.

"He was drunk but still recognized me and he said, 'I thought you are with Masoud?' 'Why?' I asked. 'I called Masoud', he said, 'but I was told he had made plans for dinner with you'. I was baffled and after a while I left. I got home about 10:30 and as usual went to my balcony to check on my plants. There was a vase with two-dozen sweetheart roses and a simple card. I called him and he said he had waited to surprise me because he had assumed I would go home. I did not feel like driving back south and simply thanked him and said I would talk to him later."

"I knew that things were not working and we were truly incompatible. We had nothing in common other than the fact that were both Iranian and initially he had appealed to me because he was tall and handsome and from Abadan."

"How was he mommy?"

"Well, he was quiet, not intellectual at all and into himself."

"No mommy, I mean as a man?"

I bit my lips not to laugh because nothing in my life had prepared me for this conversation. I am 48-years old and for all the money in the world I would not ask that kind of question of my parents although I had a very open relationship with them.

"Well, he did not care for my friends and the fact that I was never home. He hated Jazz, classical music, books, theater, and social gatherings."

"Mommy, listen I know all that."

I looked into his eyes. The look was the sarcastic and mischievous look of my own eyes looking back at me in a mirror.

"Mommy, I am talking about what your favorite cartoon refers to as 'who who deelie' as in a man that has intimate relationship."

I protested. "Come on Aryan, it was 19 years ago, and I was young and inexperienced. I hardly remember anything."

"Mommy, you have an amazing memory so you must remember."

"Okay," I said, "What do you want to know exactly because I want to end this conversation."

"Did he measure up?"

"What!? Aryan, that is not the kind of question a son would asks his mom."

"Come on mommy, you and I are pals. I need to know."

"Aryan, honestly, I was naive and young. I was embarrassed and did not think that way. However, medical books and articles say that the average man is about six inches when he is... you know!"

"Mommy, you mean when he has an erection!"

A sigh of relief.

"Mommy, I know I am above average."

I bit my lips hard not to burst into laughter.

"Mommy, do you remember when I was curious about condoms and you brought me some so I could see what they looked like and felt like?"

I vividly remembered. I had gladly done so because I wanted him to ask questions about sex while he is under my roof.

"Well, I took the ruler and measured myself. I was over nearly 9 inches."

I wanted to roar but felt so uncomfortable and remained calm.

"Well, as you become an adult, you will learn that a lot of other factors matter."

"Yes mommy I know. Kindness, tenderness, and caring. I hear you giving advice all the time. I also know you do not follow your own advice! Get real, mommy, size matters. If a man has a small penis women would complain about it."

I looked at him and said, "What makes you such an expert?"

"Oh, we know all about the jokes women make about men with 'pinkies' and other names referring to their size."

I wanted to put an end to this conversation but wanted to make sure his curiosity was satisfied.

"Okay, can I go back to reading my book?"

"Mommy, you have not answered my question about what I asked."

He just sarcastically turned his head and waited.

I realized that I needed to be frank and not play games.

"Well, he was considerate and yes, he was above average, but I really did not think that mattered."

Well, I was telling a white lie again because I had experienced pain most of the time, but I kept my thought to myself.

"Well, mommy I got his height and good looks so I am glad I got my manhood from him too! Mommy, you need to lighten up. I am a man now. It is okay to have these kinds of conversations. I know in Iran parents did not talk about these things which explains why you are so uncomfortable even though you are very open about discussing everything else. Nudity and sex are part of life, mommy, and like everything else you should not be embarrassed to talk about them. Thanks mommy for the chat!"

As he walked away I breathed deeply and wondered what if my mother had talked about my dad and how he was in the bedroom? Would things have been easier for me in dealing with men intimately?

How amazing life is. A sixteen-year-old who has never been with another being intimately gives his mother advice on sex and relationships! How times have changed.

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By Azam Nemati




Women Without Men
A Novella
By Shahrnush Parsipur
Translated by Kamran Talattof

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