BY SEVANA PANOSIAN
“While the prudent stand and ponder, the fool has already crossed the river.”
It is with this quote from my father’s favorite book by the revolutionary Armenian writer Raffi, a quote that I attempt to summarize the life of the person who made the most positive and lasting impact on my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my father is being buried on Armenian independence day, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the book in my father’s nightstand until his death was Raffi’s “Khentuh.”
A little more than ten years ago, I noticed that my father would get bored in the evenings. We sat downstairs eating oranges and chatted so I jokingly asked him, “Bab, if you’re bored, why don’t you rejoin the ranks of the ARF, kna Tashnagtsagan yeghir, you can go to meetings at night with your friends.
His answer was “took ek eem Tashnagtutiunuh.”
These words are a testament to his unconditional love for our family. My and Ani’s strength, independent thinking, love of life, and love of all things Armenian come from a man whose biggest and most profound investment was the investment of love and guidance for his daughters. Ir “martinuh” ir zenkuh menk eyink.
His love and loyalty to my mother was evident to me and my sister throughout our lives. His adoration for my mother was profound and he loved my mother so much that like the King in Shakespeare’s Hamlet he would not “allow the winds of heaven to sit upon her face lightly.” His chivalrous protection of her was nothing short of the knights described in Arthurian legends.
His unconditional and profound love for me and my sister was evident through simple acts and pieces of advice he would share. He was immensely proud of Ani and always referred to her as “Aniss” His advice was simple – to find a profession that we love, surround yourself with your Armenian community, and be aware of our strengths and our weaknesses. I was thinking of memories of my dad’s selflessness and remembered a memory from almost 30 years ago when he was hit by a car in front of my friend Mia’s house. As I saw his body covered by bandages and as he was being placed on a stretcher he said, “Sevo jan bagh eh, jackedud hakir.” if something bothered me I would often vent to him, and he would say “sari bess yeghir, yerp klkhut choor tapen togh ichneh minchev vodkerut.” Translated “be like a mountain, when they pour water on your head let it flow down to your feet.”
He taught me to collect pens because they were our greatest weapons, to question authority, to always strengthen myself intellectually, to surround ourselves with good friends and to always be close to my sister, his beloved baby who carries the torch as a member of the ARF in Philadelphia. A few pockets of his life were shrouded in mystery and while he battled memory loss with dementia, I began to ask him about his stories. I asked him questions about his visits to Beirut to which he answered, ad paneri masin chenk khoser. He attempted to keep his promise to secrecy even during his battles with memory loss and it is with this anecdote that I will never, ever forget my father’s resilience, strength, and love for the Armenian cause.
His love for his pessas was often shown in ways that only Eric and Mark can understand. His inside jokes and nick names were one thing but the fact remains that he loved them as his sons. When he first met Eric he gave him a book called “Inch bidi kidna Yeridasart Tashnagtsaganuh” and whispered to me, “mekich es girkuh gartah lav glini” A few weeks ago when Eric and I went to visit him, Eric bent down to tuck him in bed and my dad said “Eric, lav dghah es.” When we face timed with Mark and Ani, he would still joke around with Mark and through his humor, show his total love for the pessa who married his baby girl. He never had sons, but he considered them his sons.
His love for his nephew Galoust was sincere. The other night when Ani was putting together a collage, she noticed how much he loved my cousin. In their years in Kuwait, or their chats on the phone, or their short visits to LA, my dad adored Galoust as the one son he never had.
Finally, and probably most importantly, his earnest love for his grandchildren was a love that was shown in the small daily acts. The caregivers at his memory care facility said that he would kiss the photos of the grandkids every morning and say thank you to God. Whether it was carving pumpkins with a communist hat on his head, or helping Areni with Math and eating ice cream sandwiches, or teaching Sophene her Armenian reading and how to make a gourmet sandwich, or his theories about world history. As he battled dementia, he would watch Areni at swim practice and keep tallies of her laps – while she would swim, he would put his hands up and say “park kezi, park, park Asdoodzo.” He would take Sophene on her scooter and as she would ride on the reservoir in front of their home, he would watch with awe and then go for a ride himself. He talked of beautiful Noemie and always said she had the kindest soul and sweetest voice, and he always said that his namesake Armen, was his carbon copy who would one day make the family proud. The last time he spent with all four of the the kids he said “I don’t know what I did in my life to be so lucky.”
The answer to that is, he gave the community so much care and gave his family unconditional love. Pure and simple.
It is ironic that my father was a structural engineer because he was the structural strength of our family – he was, in essence, the foundation which took the most stress, the most pressure, and the most tension in our family and his emotional ductility bent with whatever force was placed against him.
He loved his friends – who also loved him – and until his dying days they visited him and read to him to make him feel like himself again. I will never forget the joy on his face when he would say “Enishten yev Yezniguh yegan” or when he pointed to a photo of Haig Mekhjian and gave a big smile. He was very respected as an engineer and mentor to so many, and I am receiving texts and emails to confirm what I already know – that my father was a great man.
As a boxer, my father always said that he was a good fighter because he knew how to exhaust his opponent by taking the most punches. Whether those punches were from the trials and tribulations of his life, or the daily battles to remember the words to his favorite song, ironically called “Unforgettable.” The brain trauma he sustained as the Homenetmen Champion and akhoyan of Iran was something that he was immensely proud of – his love of scouting was clear – he was the ultimate example of the scout described in the Armenian scoutagan kaylerk —-
Ov hay ari nakh partstratsir
Marmnov mdkov hsga tartsir
Jank jeekk tape too amen or
Kordzatreloo parik muh nor
translated simply means “Armenian youth, always raise yourself, with your body and mind always embolden yourself, toil through your daily life so you can serve and do good deeds for others.
My father lived, breathed, and manifested the words of that song until his dying day.
However, the punches he sustained as a boxer caused immense suffering at the end of his life. The punches of the last year and a half of his life were too much for this heroic man. Until his final breath, as I held his hand, he tried to dodge the right hooks and punches of dementia and pneumonia. Struggling to breathe, he was too weak to swallow his last communion – I pray that he knew how much we adored him. But it was too much. He was ready for his independence, and tonight, on the eve of Armenian Independence Day, I pray that our dear, loving, heroic, humble father is freed from of the shackles of of the intellectual and physical loss of dementia as he “crosses the river” to enter the gates of Heaven.