Five years ago today, my father left this world. Five years ago today, I lost the most inspiring and influential force in my life. Five years ago today, just a month short of my wedding day, I lost my amazing dad.
Our relationship was complex. What parent-child relationship isn’t? But, who I am and what I believe in are so influenced by who my father was and what he taught me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for who my father was. And I am constantly amazed as I find more and more of my idiosyncrasies resembling those of my father’s.
I have so many fond memories of him. I am so thankful for the years we had together. And not a day goes by without reliving some fun, happy, heartbreaking or unforgettable moment or remembering one of his famous expressions or stories.
To put it simply, my dad was a true renaissance man. He was talented and creative and lived an amazing life. He was a writer, a musician, a filmmaker, an actor, a teacher, a journalist and so much more. But, while I’m proud of everything he accomplished, to me, he was just Dad.
As a kid, it was so fun to have a dad like mine. He did so many unusual things. And what I mean by that is I was the only kid I knew with such a worldly, unique and creative father. And I felt so special because of it. I had a dad who not only helped me with my math homework, as other children’s parents did, but he also spent hours teaching me about other wonderful things. Once, he spent an entire day teaching me about the principles of drawing. I still remember him talking to me about the idea of perspective in a painting. He and I spent so many hours having fun with simple arts and crafts supplies like construction paper, markers, and a glue stick. To this day, I cannot walk past a stationary or an arts supply store without going weak in knees. At my current ripe “old” age, all I need to be happy is a set of markers, some paper and glue, just like Dad. After the revolution, when everything went mute, cold and dark, my dad and I celebrated Christmas of 1980 by making ornaments out of cardboard, some glittery strings and a little glue. My memory of those ornaments is so vivid that I can still feel the texture of those magical cardboard stars and hearts he made me out of thin air. And, at a time of great fear, heartache and sadness, he made his 11-year-old daughter feel happy and special. Our little plastic Christmas tree was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
One of the greatest loves my dad shared with me was his love of movies. Having been a filmmaker, he knew so much about movies. I loved his stories about favorite Hollywood actors. Some of his favorites were Jeanette MacDonald, Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. And we both loved Bette Davis, who’s still my favorite. I remember watching Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Spellbound with him and getting hooked on Hitchcock for life. A love for classic Hollywood movies will forever be a lovely gift my father gave me. I think of Dad whenever I watch Fred and Ginger dance. After the revolution, the only movie shown on TV was the Song of Bernadette, a 1943 movie about a poor girl in France who has a vision of the Virgin Mary and dedicates her life to god by becoming a nun. After watching it, I became convinced that I too was going to have a vision and would become a nun. Dad didn’t make fun of me. I think he liked the fact that I hadn’t lost my ability to imagine after all that had happened.
For as long as I can remember, there was music in my life. And that was thanks to Dad. Once, he bought a stack of vinyl records from an American family who was leaving Iran. Among them were an Alvin and the Chipmunks record, as well as many classical music records. On weekends, we’d spend our time listening to them. One of our favorites, beside Alvin and the Chipmunks, was the Caucasian Sketches by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. I would dance around the living room, while he watched and swayed his head to the music. Today, I dissolve into tears whenever I listen to this music. Every note takes me back to when I was eight, to our old apartment on the 2nd floor, to that living room with the blue couch and to dancing with my whole heart and in utter happiness with my dad. Classical music played such a huge role in my childhood. I remember going to philharmonic concerts, ballets and operas with my parents. I remember being so young that they had to give me a pen and paper to draw in order to keep me busy and quiet. I used to draw to the tempo of the music. Dad took that as evidence of my musical talents and looked at me so approvingly, as if I were Picasso himself.
Later in life, when everything changed, Dad used to take comfort in playing the instruments he had spent years lovingly collecting. Not classical music, but traditional Persian interments. Whenever the pressures of life got to be too much, and let’s face it living in the post-revolutionary Iran was no walk in the park, he would sit on the couch and play his setar, and sometimes even sing along. I can still hear him hum tunes and sing old Persian songs.
But, before the darkness came, before sadness took over and before we lost everything to the revolution, Dad always took time to make me feel special. On weekends, we would dress up and go to upscale restaurants of Tehran for special meals. I was the only little girl I knew who dined out. I’d always have my favorites: shrimp cocktail and Café Glacé, which was the French version of an ice cream float. I still remember sitting in the beautiful dinning rooms of those restaurants mostly patronized by foreigners in fancy dresses, while servers fussed over me. I felt like a little princess. I felt magical. And it was all because of my dad.
After the revolution, there were no fancy dinners, there were no concerts, and there were no elaborate dresses. The whole country was in shock and everything was in flux. Those who could, left before the fall of the regime in 1979. We weren’t that fortunate. So, we became part of the shell-shocked masses, trying to digest what had happened to our country. Food was rationed, schools were segregated, and women’s rights were gone. There was nothing left of the life we once had. Despite the unbelievable fears and pressures my dad must have felt, he still tried to make magic for me. Once, I told him that I missed eating pizza. So, he took some sliced bread and topped it with diced tomatoes and feta cheese and toasted it for me. He told me to imagine it was like the pizzas we used to eat.
That was Dad. He made everything special.
My most cherished memories of him are from my early childhood and our last few years together. Whenever I feel sadness or fear, all I have to do to feel safe is remember sitting on my father’s lap, leaning against his chest and hearing his heart beating. This memory is so old that it is but a fog. And yet it never fails to give me peace and make me feel safe. And whenever I am in doubt as to who am, what I am made of and how strong I can be, I remember all the times my father told me: “you are the light of my and your mother’s life and I am so proud of you.” He would say this to me a lot when I went away to law school in 1997. I was so homesick and unsure that I could survive law school. He could tell I was feeling shaky from my voice whenever I called. So, at the end of every conversation he’d remind me: “you are the light of my life and I am proud of you.” I carry that with me, and I draw strength from it whenever I feel unequipped to face life.
But, among all the lessons, stories and memories my father left me with, there’s one that is most important and profound. Dad taught me to simply be myself and never try to become something I’m not in order to please anyone else. “Be true to yourself.” I now realize the power in that statement and strive to be myself with conviction and complete confidence. I do it for me and I do it to honor my amazing father.
All the big and small things he taught me, all the memories, they are what carry me through life and fill me with strength and hope. My dad might be gone, but he has never left my side, my thoughts or my heart. I carry him inside wherever I go.