What is your gift to your father on “Father’s Day”?

Normally, I wouldn’t care much for such international days, made widely popular for commercial motives. But my gift doesn’t have to be bought and cannot be bought. I would like to give him a story as my gift!

I doubt and I love but I never doubt love. I sit calmly and reminisce loudly that my father was the first to believe in me.

My First Immigration to the North

When I was in the third-grade of elementary school, I had a fight with my brother during which I was accused of lying, while being confident of myself telling the truth. I didn’t like being accused of lying, for I never lied when it was unnecessary.

The necessity for lying was unambiguously defined by me as every child’s desire to escape punishment as a result of recognized wrongdoing. When there was no punishment, I did not have to lie. By the same rock-strong childish logic, no fear of punishment reversely meant to me, that I was probably telling the truth.

Why fear of punishment, for telling the truth?

So, I revolted against the “magnificent injustice” inflicted upon me by my brother, by collecting all shoes in the house (yes, shoes!), including those of my mother, father and brothers and putting them in a plastic bag. I decided that I was time for me leave my parental home for good, now I have packed my bags!

I sneaked out of the house, when nobody was watching & found myself a shelter that looked like a grotto in the mountain above our small house, in the mountainous area we lived in back then in our new country of immigration. I stayed there for about 3 hours. I really don’t re-call what I was thinking or whether I felt fearful, hurt or angry, I just did what I felt was my duty to do, which was to;

abandon those who do not believe me.

But I was soon found by no other than my elder brother himself who always seemed to know exactly how I thought, when he wanted to. We walked and jumped down the small mountain together, to find my father standing there and suppressing a big laugh on his face. I don’t remember much of that scene, unfortunately, other than the sight and feel of his hands stroking my hair in a gesture well-known by me as one of affection and approval.

I did remember them all bursting out in laughter the moment they emptied my “escape luggage” to find out that it was all shoes (the truth) and nothing but all shoes (the whole truth)!

My father didn’t say much. He actually said it best when he said nothing at all (yes, like the famous song!). Until this day, it remains a mystery to all involved, including me, why I picked “shoes to run away with”, while none of them fitted me as such to facilitate the act of running away! It was less of a mystery that I chose a hiding-place absurdly close to home, so they could find me soon enough after I make a point, before it got too dark and my “heroic plans” would inevitably fail!

He Believed in Me by Believing Me

During the first two years of elementary school, I was a low-performing pupil by all standards of the high university-educated status of my parents. I hated school to the extent that I would make up excuses to stay home without a shred of guilt. I was especially talented at making up excuses (good & harmless lies) when we happened to have a cherished visit from one of our always nice family members who stayed over, for I was always a social-animal & a family man.

Family, to me, was the literal & literary synonym for safety, love, respect and appreciation.

But this attitude towards school changed fundamentally in my third grade school year. I had to change it when I was faced with the looming threat of being publicly humiliated in class by a vicious class-teacher who seemed to enjoy punishing those who didn’t do their homework, and (whisperingly) curse those who did do their homework and got away from what seemed like a sadistic punishment. He actually used to throw one specific child who never made his home work against the blackboard, almost everyday.

This happened when we moved to a new country with different customs, language and culture. I was afraid that my laxity would be the cause of my humiliation. So, I took a drastic measure that transformed my attitude towards education and school for the rest of my life.

I set out to become the best pupil in class; better to say “to be the one who can never be humiliated”. This was the first time I made acquaintance with my true learning abilities. If I were to have a strong voice and no fear of defying the inevitable punishment by this villain of a teacher, I must be well-prepared. So I did the following:

  1. I changed my handwriting into one resembling the fonts of the book-writings that we had to transcribe. I actually copied them. I did this at first by literally drawing up words, imitating their font-shape. My handwriting became outstandingly beautiful for a child of my age and was complimented by everyone, especially by mother & father.
  2. I always did my home work as soon as I came home. I would never fear going to school again. I would rather love going to school to reap the rewards of my hard work & enjoy recognition.
  3. I always prepared lessons of the following day, the night before. That’s how I was always ahead of others in class when questions were asked, to the observation & admiration of teachers for stirring up discussions and inspiring others who wanted to compete with me.

Self-actualization can come in small packages when our egos are “childishly big”.

But this drastic measure did not work at first. It actually back-fired & was answered with scrutiny and disbelief from my teacher, who probably felt that I was messing with his pre-determined plans for me.

The, back then, stupid teacher did not believe that the handwriting in my notebook was actually mine and accused me of having my parents doing it for me. That was an accusation of cheating. He summoned me to his wide desk, while turning over the pages of my notebook as to compare my previous homework to the recent one in a demonstrable way. He then looked at me & shared his doubts with me. I refuted them in outrage and proposed that I could demonstrate my new handwriting as I stood. He was convinced of my deceit and started raising his voice and then sent me back to my desk with the announcement that he would call for parents to come to school.

“This teacher was not well-prepared for me as he thought”, I thought. I knew the truth and that meant to me that he is the liar and I did not respect liars, nor did I condone injustice (as shown through My Determined First Immigration to the North). So, I refused going back to my desk and I said in an angry defying voice that I would “go to the Headmaster himself, if necessary”. Before he knew it, I dashed out of class and ran to the far office of the head-master, located in a deserted part of school.

The Headmaster in our small school, which was located in a small hill, at about 45 minutes walk distance from home, was an invisible mystery-man who would only show up during first 15 minutes of the school day when we, the submissive populace, would gather in the big playground to do morning exercises. He was feared by most pupils and I could not understand this, because I feared his mythical Deputy Headmaster more.

The latter was more active around school and was always greeted with fearful respect by teachers and pupils. He was abnormally fat and my elder brother once told me, in a serious tone of voice, that there was myth at school that he may just be hiding one of those traditional Arabic daggers somewhere inside one folding of his “thobe” (a wide white garment worn by Arab men sometimes). So, I skipped the scary Deputy Headmaster and went straight on to the “unknown and therefore safer” Headmaster.

I knocked at the door of the Headmaster’s office and when I heard no sound, I opened the door to find him sitting behind a gigantic desk at the end of a long fancy room, dark but beautifully decorated with leather chairs on the side. He didn’t even hear me walking towards him, which happened in quick midget steps. I greeted him, upon which he looked up with surprise and greeted me back with a shadow of a smile. I saw nothing on his face that was scary, and the only fear I had was that my voice, that was half-crying out of rage & half-angry out of injustice, would not reach him behind such a wide-desk. So, I took a small turn and came to stand in front of him behind his desk. Then I started telling my story, in quick disgruntled words that I myself could not put together when heard.

Half-way my chaotic storytelling, we both saw the door open again and my class-teacher was standing there asking for permission to come in. The head-master interrupted him & asked him to give us a minute first. This gave me courage to proceed in a more confident fashion. I insisted on calling in my parents to attest to my truthfulness.

After all, my parents knew, as no one else, how truthful I was.

The Head-master listened to me carefully and said that it would all be fine and that I should go home now. I came home and told my story, and both of my parents comforted me that everything would be fine too. Wow! Courage is sweet! My mother who was a teacher herself back then, soon took on the angry role with the treatment I received and wanted to go to the school herself to teach that teacher a lesson.

My father was calm and said that if I were right then I had no reason to be afraid or angry. By local culture of the new country, my father was the one who was supposed to show up at school as the man, and so he did. I was to stay home for one or two days, until the issue is resolved, to my thrill with the great attention & commotion my action seems to have instigated.

“What you know! Fighting for justice earned me one day of deserved vacation! That must be a good thing, mustn’t it?!”

I still remember the moment my father came back from school until this day, and how his face looked like. Summarised in one word, it was “pride”. I saw pride in his face. And without sharing too many details, which was never his area of excellence, he spoke in a loud proud voice, as if he was addressing an imaginary crowd, and told me this:

“I learned that the Headmaster was pleasantly surprised by a pupil visiting his office alone and without being summoned for wrongdoing. He said that no pupil before you ever dared to come to his office, let alone ignoring the distance created by the wide desk, to come and speak to him on one level. He said to me “your son has no fear of authority & has a very strong sense of justice””.

My father told me this with a wide smile on his face and the same recognizable hair stroking. The next day I went to school confidently and triumphantly. The teacher welcomed me in, in a friendly way and said nothing.

Three weeks later, the monthly results were to be announced publicly in class showing the classification of pupils in terms of performance. My last performance had me ending somewhere between 18th and 21st in a class of about 30 pupils. Now, the teacher announced the names of the first pupil in class, then the second and when he was to announce the third name, he took a pause and asked me to come to the front to stand in front of class.

I knew what “coming to the front” meant to this guy; punishment & public humiliation. Then again, I knew that I was doing much better in class for a while and a smile on his faced consoled my fears. The following action marked my first acquaintance with “reward & recognition” at school. The teacher subsequently asked all pupils in class to stand up for me. When they all stood up, he announced the following:

“You know that Khatim is new here. He’s new to the class, to the school and to the whole country. I wrongfully accused Khatim of having his homework done by his parents, while he actually did it himself. I think you should all ask Khatim how to write Arabic in a nice handwriting. He is among the 3 best pupils in this class, now. Now, clap for him”. And they clapped.

I was literally overwhelmed with so much attention at once. That young class-teacher, in his early 30s, grew later to become one of my most remembered teachers and I enjoyed an indescribably wonderful school-year that was to become the first in many school-years to come. Even my elder brother who was easily topping both classes of the fifth-grade at that time, became closer to me when he heard of the story.

Such a thing stays with you life-long. The days, weeks, months and years after this incident saw me following through with this very habit that got me my father’s pride, my mother’s protectiveness, my brother’s closeness, my headmaster’s compliment and my teacher’s and fellow classmates’ respect.

And the most memorable scene of this true story is the scene where the pride of my father effortlessly found its way to his face and to his hands through his familiar hair-stroking of approval that left a non-fading, non-ageing stamp on my short Negroid hair, until this day.

My father believed in me, through believing me. That was his precious non-repayable gift to me that guided me throughout my childhood, adolescence and adulthood. And I just thought, if he does not know this yet, he now should.

Dear Father, I love you and I thank you.