There’s this funny thing that I do.
I’ll be out for a run - and I’ll hit a wall. I’ll get tired, my breath heaving heavily, legs dragging under me, and i’ll want to stop. In that moment, I envision a big, white puffy cloud floating above my head. Perched up in the cloud sit a few folks dear to me who’ve passed on - Grandma and Grandpa Maher, my friends Ana and Zamia. They’re all leaning over, clapping their hands, chanting my name at the top of their lungs.
Told you it was funny.
Two weeks ago the crowd got a little bit bigger. Lord knows it got louder.
When I was a kid I despised that I looked so much like my dad. I inherited his thick, baby-faced smile, the deep half-moons under his eyes and his red cherub cheeks. I used to research facial exercises to try and make my round face slim down, but they didn’t work.
At 18, I traveled to Egypt to study Arabic at the American University of Cairo. My first day in the hostel, one of the Egyptian guards stopped me in the courtyard. He looked hard at me for a moment, and then asked
"Inta Masriyah?" Are you Egyptian?
"Ay-wa! Ana Masrayah wa Amrekiya." Yes, I’m Egyptian-American.
He smiled and motioned at my face. It was the first time in my life anyone had ever pinned me as Egyptian. I’ve never been so proud.
I still see him every time I look in the mirror, but my memories of him are slipping away. Sometimes I can’t tell which are real and which are just things my mom told me over dinner once.
These are the things I know about my father. He loved Dominican Cigars and Lipton Tea in the morning. He left Egypt just before the Six Day War. He saw my mom after a job interview at Doctor’s Hospital in Laredo and on their first date he told her was going to marry her. He used toothpicks religiously. He was 56 when I was born, and just shy of 82 when he died. He had a full life.
When it ended, I was relieved. Relieved that he was out of pain, and grateful that the emotional roller coaster of The Waiting Game was over. Then I froze.
Life comes at you. Whether you’re prepared for it or not, it keeps moving.
It’s so easy to be angry. My dad was not perfect by any means. He could scream till the house shook, and spent most of his hours in the lab or on the phone with his stock broker. He was old, there were no camping trips. But rummaging through old photos, memories i’d completely blocked out started flooding back. Flying kites at the beach, our Christmas skit in the living room, that ridiculous hat he wore on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t so bad.
I’m learning that extremes are easy; to hold yourself hard in place and point your finger. It’s the middle ground, the one that leaves you shifting in your seat, that softens you. That’s the one that makes it easier for me to look in the mirror and breath through the pain.
Ultimately I am grateful for everything he did and everything he didn’t.
Whether he knew it or not, these are things my father taught me:
- Late nights are the best time to share stories, preferably over a Dominican and Lipton Tea.
- Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you the freedom to do the things that you love.
- Money can also be a chain. Don’t allow it to keep you from people you love.
- Haggle at the Dollar Store, but invest every last penny in educating yourself.
- Travel until you can’t.
- No matter where I go or what I do, he will be there - somewhere - cheering me on.