My father was a confusing figure throughout my childhood. He was cultured, elegant, courteous, jovial, respectful and the most charming man I’ve ever met. Only my mother and I understood he had more force of will than anyone, nothing stopped his determination to have his way. His lapses into a different man were reserved for his family. Like his father, he was a brilliant salesman with high integrity who demanded excellence. I remember the reverential awe he had handling rare or ancient things. He loved the beautiful antiquities and jewelry he acquired and offered. Their customers in his homeland included movie stars, wealthy world travelers and kings. In many ways he was a remarkable man and I observed from a distance the man others knew. In looking back I wonder if he knew himself.
He met my mother through his little sister when he was 24, at 14 she was already a beauty. A tiny, quiet, graceful woman, she grew breathtakingly beautiful and my father adored beauty. True to his personal integrity he never touched a woman intimately until he married her when he was 34. He was in love with her beauty and spoke of it regularly until he died 58 years later. He didn’t know her favorite flowers were yellow roses and carnations, what type of jewelry she liked or which foods didn’t agree with her stomach or taste buds. He never knew how smart she was though she was responsible for their late in life huge success. I doubt he ever knew a single thought or desire she had. To him it was enough for her to be adored by him, given bouquets of red roses, expensive things she didn’t want and be offered spicy foods and other things he cooked regularly that she couldn't eat. She had a lot of health problems and some surgeries, I have no memories of him trying to take care of her, lessen her load or worrying about her recovery. When she spoke he never heard a word. She quit talking to him decades ago but he never even noticed. The thing she said to him most often the last 30 years was "yes, Robert, yes" or "I know, Robert, I know" he constantly told her he loved her. He was in love with a woman he never knew. She was married to a man she wanted only to avoid.
Unfortunately they were only able to have one child. Into each life some rain must fall and I turned out to be a girl. It was considered a miracle I was conceived and that my mother was able to have me, at that time they were told there would be no more and the doctor was right. I was a happy baby, very pretty and advanced if backward, at 8 months I talked before walking, at 9 months I walked. Every development, down to getting teeth, was out of order which made me confusing I'm sure, but a large extended family was proud of how advanced I was. Adults like to rate babies and kids against each other, little kids think everyone is like them.
My mother doesn’t speak of the past but growing up with a cook, maid and nanny living in, she expected her life would be like her mother’s. Things don’t go the way we hope or plan, they go the way they go. A series of national crises occurred with wars and rebellions. A fire during rioting devoured a hotel once filled with wealthy tourists in Cairo, it was the location of his father's main shop with the best inventory. Their lives all changed and my father was a man filled with ideas. Like many countries, Egypt does not allow people to take their money with them when they go. He chose to leave everything behind and risk poverty and begin again. He planned and hoped for a free and better life in the US, adults must also adapt or die. My father never spoke of the transition time except to tell me he spent a year alone, in New York I think, and would buy a bowl of rice for 5c for dinner, he saved every penny to bring us over. We came and lived in a 3 bedroom house with two of his also dominant brothers, my Swedish aunt and their baby. My aunt tells me my then single uncle would tell the women “can’t you stop those babies from crying” all the time.
Living in a little house with 4 dominant personalities and 2 babies had to be difficult for my quiet mother. But she survived and we moved to San Francisco and our own apartment. That presented my father with more freedom but new frustrations. They didn’t know a toddler would ask a million meaningless questions, sing and laugh anytime they wanted and needed to be told no repeatedly. That didn't change as I see my mother now frustrated and confused by my granddaughter’s normal behaviors. Gentle questioning in recent years rewarded me with bits about my father here and there over the years.
What I experienced in the first 5 years of my life was the father who once cherished me had mysteriously gone and in his place was a frustrated angry man who was pleased with everyone but me. Neither of my parents knew about cooking and cleaning. Parenting alone in a new world with a tot was a mystery to them and when they had their own place they were lost with me. Children who are too quick are an early handful as they want to know everything and learn quickly to get into everything. A baby that once sat with a toy is instead in every drawer, closet and container tossing everything out. I have no idea if that was understood in the 50's, women asked other woman, figured things out and endured.
Though I have very few, these are memories of when we first came to the US and I was small, back when my father adored me too. My Swedish aunt tells me before I learned English I used to sing and dance in front of a radio all the time and she learned some Arabic from me. My mother confirmed I was a happy child until about age 5. I remember my father putting me to bed on his nights off and making up child focused stories of world travel that mirrored his travel experiences when he went on buying or selling trips. He ended each one saying “touta touta, khelset el hadouta” it's something like “they lived happily ever after,” I’m not sure of exact words. I still remember the words of all the songs he sang as he danced me around the room with my legs dangling, telling me I was "Amar.” After he died I asked my mom what it meant, it’s Arabic for moon, and you say it to someone you think is as beautiful as the moon. I feel like crying to say I used to live for the nights he would be home. There was a time he was mad about me and then after a while he was just mad at me all the time. It was fading away before I entered kindergarten and I put those thoughts and needs aside and adapted to the way things became.
I loved my complex father, a vivid character who shone so brightly he seemed larger than life. He died this February and I don’t miss him, I feel no loss. I have only distant memories of wanting to be around him. I’ve had strange guilt in watching those I care for have loved ones or pets die. They grieve and I’m not grieving at all. Like a version of survivor guilt in a bizarre way I’m suddenly the lucky one and don’t know what to say. Everything about how I feel seems wrong. I secretly feel the desire to hole up and not speak again. I need to gain understanding if I'm to change and keep healing.
Once I adored my father and loved being near him, then for over 40 years I tried to avoid him. Now it’s a relief to finally have him gone and be happier without him. So detached had I become from a man I think probably loved me, I’ve found it impossible to write about him. I don't know if this is normal for those with attachment disorder or what to do, all I know is that my therapist told me recovery is very possible and I have to remain aware. I can no longer see a therapist and am determined not to backslide so I thought I would start writing about him anyway.