In the US, my father worked extremely hard, six days a week as a sole proprietor and every Sunday as our personal gardener, lawn mower and handy man. My mother was an amazing cook and did catering on the side for extra cash (because my father didn’t seem to give her a decent “allowance”). Needless to say, she made sure there was a always a steaming plate of rice on the table with whatever delicious Persian stew she had spent all day making. I’m guessing this contribution to her household was a direct result of her upbringing and her lessons on how to be a good Persian housewife.
Although I’m only realizing this now, they were never particularly affectionate towards each other.
I sincerely loved my father. I looked up to him despite all the things my mom would say to me while he was at work. He taught me how to ride a bike, he taught me how to pick fruit off the trees in our front yard, how to take care of tools after you use them, how to enjoy a football game, and how to appreciate the centuries old martial arts displayed in the ridiculous Jean Claude Van Dam movies. Thinking about those things now brings a smile to my face.
Like most little kids, I thought my father knew everything. He would go into great detail about how electricity works, how you gain interest in your bank account, how birds migrate each winter, the difference between an automatic and stick shift car, and the importance of taking care of yourself. My mother did not teach me these things, particularly the latter point.
I didn’t think it was weird that my dad slept on the floor of my room every night, instead of sharing the bed with my mom. All I know is that I got used to the snoring, and in the morning when it was time for school, he would gently wake me up with this soft popping sound he made intermixed with what translated to, “wake up my little darling, it’s time to learn all you can in school.” As I write this, a flood of memories come back to me. Along with tears.
We had the big house in the family and almost every Sunday, everyone would come over. With so many siblings, their spouses and kids, plus tons of my father’s cousins and family friends from Iran, we had wonderful Sundays. I do remember those days and I miss them dearly.
When I was about seven years old, I remember my uncle and his wife coming over in the weekday evenings for a few weeks. Everyone had such a worried look on their face and I think they were refereeing my parents. But I was too young to understand what was really happening.
One day a couple of months later, my father came home early from work. My sisters were at work and only myself and my mother were home. They began to argue, although they never really raised their voices. I was used to their fighting and even once, in an apartment years before, had to sit down with police officers to describe my understanding of their most recent argument. A neighbor must have called a domestic disturbance into the police. I remember everyone, from my parents to the officers, chuckled when my response to “what do you think they were fighting about” was silence and then….”money.”
But this time was different. My father never came home early from work. He was the owner/operator and couldn’t really leave in the middle of the day. They were also standing next to their bedroom closet, trading word-daggers while he took clothes off the hanger and neatly folded them into the box. Even in his apparent anger, his attention to detail did not go unnoticed by the way he gingerly folded his clothes. I was in my usual position, ready to step in between them if their voices began to heighten. I think he left the house shortly after.
A few hours later, my middle sister came home. She was a teenager at the time and never really paid much attention to me. But on this day, she said, “hey let’s go for a drive. I’ll buy you some ice cream.” I knew deep down that something was wrong, but I was an overweight, dorky (albeit charming) child that couldn’t pass up ice cream and an opportunity to hang with my big sister. So I got into the car and we drove around for what felt like an hour or so. It was still daylight out and she forgot about the ice cream. I was just happy to be sitting shotgun in her car and listening to her music.Years later I learned that my father had called her at work and asked her to get me out of the house for a few hours.
We came home to the end of our normal lives as we knew them. My father was gone, but my mother was in her underwear, bra and slip, yelling and cursing and accusing my father of scraping her back with his car keys. I looked at her back and it was all scratched up and bleeding. She was my plump, loving mother and I felt angry at my father for doing that.
An hour or so later and a whirlwind of activity, my father had come back and this time there were police. I was sitting in the elevated living room where I could see his head and torso, arms behind his back, pacing back and forth on our front porch. Years later I realized that his hands were behind his back because he was handcuffed.
My mother, in her horrendously broken english, frantically explained to the police that he had beat her. I heard snippets from him about how she did it to herself after he left. I didn’t know who to believe but couldn’t help but side with my mother. After all, how could she do that to herself? Wire hanger? I just didn’t know. I guess I still don’t.
About a month after he left, my sister screamed when she went to take a shower and brown water came out. Slowly, our utilities were being shut off. Around the same time, my mom decided to take us all to the dentist (I had never remembered going to the dentist in the seven or eight years of my life) and a subsequent small shopping trip. It was then that we found that he had canceled her access to their accounts and credit cards. I didn’t really realize the significance of it at the time. But looking back, I think it was horrible of him to do that to his children, despite how he felt about his wife.
Somewhere during this time though, I remember declaring to my mother that I’d like to see my dad every other weekend. Her pain expressed itself in negative comments and curses towards my father.
In the following months, during a time that I now think was them trying to figure out custody, my father would visit me at school during lunch, each time bringing me neat books with fun pictures and educational tidbits. I loved the books and felt so special when he visited. I had no idea that my teachers knew my parents were divorcing. I didn’t really think of it that way. I just knew my dad was taking time out of his schedule to teach me the many wonderful things he used to late at night when I couldn’t sleep.
My father began living with his sister and her family at the time. My mother and sisters and I moved to an apartment in a not so great neighborhood nearby. We shared the two-bedroom apartment with my older sister’s friend and her brother. Six people in a two bedroom apartment meant my mother and I slept on the floor in the living room for almost a year.
Over the years, I grew more and more bitter towards my father. How could I not? I felt like a caged animal, and in my pre-teen years, I did not want to be sharing so close a space with my mother. And aside from that, he was always late picking me up, often several hours at a time. And he would never acknowledge it beyond starting our visit with, “I told you I would be here at 7.” What I really wanted to respond with was, “no dad, you told me you’d be here at 4. And why are you telling me that anyway? I didn’t even say anything about you being late.” I never did though. I just stayed silent. (More on the lies he spins and then believes later.)
He would also complain to my mother that I always looked horrible when he picked me up. He complained that my clothes were dirty, my shoes were falling apart and I had dandruff (the latter of which was a result of eczema, which has only recently been diagnosed decades later). I think my mom did the best she could with what she had, which was not much at all. My poor sisters were forced to find fulltime jobs and help support us, which is totally unfair for two young, bright individuals, and it was a role that I became all to familiar with later in my life. My mom, with her myriad of health issues, including a defective heart valve for which she had operated on in London, was unable to work. But instead of my father actually paying the unbelievably low alimony and child support that his lawyer was able to win for him, he would buy me nice dresses and shoes, and then make me change out of them and leave them at his place, sending me back home with my torn shoes and dirty jeans.
I guess to his credit, he NEVER spoke badly about my mother and still hasn’t till this day. My mother on the other hand, has displayed quite the opposite behavior.
I’ll probably use my next family-related post to document my mom during this time, to help me piece together the memories in a more orderly fashion!