BY ALEX SARDAR
About a decade ago, on a Christmas eve when I shared a particularly difficult truism about my life with my dad—one that he already knew, it turned out—he told me that he may not understand what I was telling him, but his love for me remained unchallenged and his resolve to protect me was stronger than ever. I always knew my dad to be an extraordinary person—a gentle giant in spirit and deed, but I think that night was the first time I ever truly realized, palpably felt the depth of my dad’s, and by extension most parents’ will to accept chaos that comes with the unexplainable logic of loving their kids.
I’m not a parent, and the closest I’ve come to that nexus of love and loss, has been the years I spent with my Airedale Terrier Jessie. A little different, some argue and for the sake of argument, I accept. I also freely admit that I’ve had moments of awe in the last several years watching my peers, my best friends become moms and dads and foster life and for the most part good human beings. It is truly an awesome responsibility—that of being a parent, a good parent—and as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to understand that raising children is the manifestation of every cliché adage of sacrifice, selflessness, and surrender, except that the act itself is anything but cliché. And when people do it willingly and well, not for the sake of social conformity or as a result of biological mishap but by choice, it’s as close to magic as you come.
I haven’t been contemplative about my dad for nothing. He had a significant birthday this week and we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States this Sunday, but that wasn’t the reason.
My sister and I had been dancing around an issue, more specifically a discussion, that we felt was necessary to be had with our parents. But it was our dad’s reaction that worried us most. Our mom has always been much more adaptable, whereas we know our dad to be less comfortable with change. So, for some months we had been planning to have a discussion about cemetery plots, life insurance, retirement plans, medical releases and other distasteful topics that more and more baby boomer children are having with their parents. The talk went well. No one got offended, and we made a to do list and then went out to lunch to mark my last day of the visit with my family, and it all was just very regular. Throughout it all, however, there was an uncomfortable truth that wasn’t spoken—my dad, the one we collapse on anytime we need to be picked up, was passing on the torch of parenthood to us—to my sister and me—two people who couldn’t be further from parenthood—or the preparedness for it, at least. But my dad—he was just fine with doing this, and doing it with grace and incredible humility; almost telling us that he’d been waiting for us to have this discussion, the one where we ask him to humbly allow us to take care of him or at least plan to do it eventually and soon.
So, on my trip back to Armenia, I thought about what it took for my dad to actually be comfortable with our talk and plan. And I started realizing that at the core of my father’s triumph as a person was his ability to retain his humility—which I suppose makes the difference between a child with hubris vs. an adult with confidence.
When I was 5, my dad caught me lying about something trivial—and as I wove a web of lies just to come out right, his slap jolted me back into reality. I didn’t learn my lesson about lying from that incident—I went into politics, after all. But after slapping me, my dad sat me down a few hours later and apologized to me and explained why he felt he had done that and what I should do to avoid feeling the sting of his fingers across my face again.
I don’t remember my dad slapping me again, but he certainly had to teach me the lesson again much later in life. My parents visited me during the first summer of my stay in Armenia. During a hot, smog laced August lunch hour in downtown Yerevan, when as Diasporans we could have been eating the dust of construction in the city, but pretended to enjoy it, because it was Armenian dust, I explained to my dad that this move had been a big mistake. I didn’t like this country, I didn’t like the way people talked to me, and that I was going to regress professionally, because this place could not possibly appreciate what I had to offer.
At 27, in addition to being a post-angst Generation X-er, for whom Kurt Cobain had served as a therapist, and Bill Clinton as a public ideal (he was the first president I voted for), to say that I was suffering from an acute case of self-absorption, with a healthy dose of white man’s syndrome, would be a gross understatement. After listening to my soliloquy, in what can only be described as the slap of words across my face, he said to me to stop running away from myself; he instructed me, in the most loving way he could muster, to find it in me to understand why I didn’t have the humility to realize that maybe, just maybe it wasn’t so much that “this country” needed me here, but that I was the one in need, in need of grounding, perspective, and the truth.
That conversation hurt, but it also taught.
With June almost half way over and friends, family, and tourists on their way to Armenia during this week when my dad has big celebrations, I miss him. But I miss his words and wisdom more. You see, the conventional conversation that will take place around the myriad café tables and lounges in Yerevan this summer will inevitably revolve around the topic of how Diasporans can help Armenia and how Armenia should pursue international goals, and the responses from people in Armenia will be just as simple, like make more donations or lay off the genocide issue.
And were this upcoming September 22 not the first day of the twentieth year of independence for this republic, I might actually tell the Diasporans that this country didn’t know how to appreciate them, and I would tell my friends in Armenia, that the Diasporans have good but misplaced intentions.
But, alas, I’ve learned my lesson.
Here’s to my dad who taught me that a great man is only as great as his ability to allow his child to strive for the same; and that a child worthy of that legacy is only so, if he’s humble enough to know that he’ll need to earn it, and not inherit it.