BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
How do you describe the totality of a painting when your nose is pressed close to a small corner of it? That is the dilemma I face about the idea of writing about my father. It’s nearly impossible to move beyond the emotions when trying to use words to describe the things that make him special. Finally, in the quiet space between lights out and the blissful unconsciousness of sleep that they finally string themselves together.
The man who became my father had an entire existence before mine came into being. Learning about the details of that time and the circumstances of his youth have helped complete the image somewhat of the man he was, even the child he used to be before, before transforming into the father he became. In my ignorance of youth, he was nothing more than my father, his humbleness masking the quiet duty he fulfilled to his family, society and community.
On the surface, he is an ordinary man who lived and thrived under extraordinary circumstances: child of a Genocide survivor, oldest son who quit school to take over his father’s business after an unexpected illness, successful businessman at 35 who interrupted the trajectory of his career to ensure his family’s safety and became an immigrant not once but twice, starting over again and again.
How do I begin to describe the man who shaped me into the person I have become? It’s impossible to describe the painting in detail and simply making a laundry list of attributes dos not give the richness of the person that he is.
Perhaps it’s his sense of humor that is part witty sarcasm, part gift of mimicry? I’d first seen it in my brother’s unexpected ability to recreate others’ mannerisms in a humorous manner and wondered about my own deadpan ironic utterances, not realizing their origins in my father. It’s the sort of fleeting humor that reveals itself without warning in a personal conversation and best understood by someone who shares in life’s mundane moments.
Perhaps a few anecdotes from the days before he became my father would reveal the basis of the man he is today. Stories of his younger self told to me by others, which he doesn’t even know I posses, have helped flesh out to me the stick figure known simply as ‘my father.’ Maybe it would do the same to you if I told of his childhood ability to take apart and reassemble the family’s radio. Or his devastation at the passing of his father during his youth, his idol even today, whose death meant that he was now responsible for the large family.
Perhaps it’s his talent: first manifested in the world of business and the narrow field of its products. It’s now finding its fuller expression in sculpting, after a series of classes, using the medium that was the foundation of his entrepreneurial endeavors thus bringing his prior knowledge into the education process of his present. Or maybe, finally having the opportunity to find an artistic medium to express his talent, another doorway has opened in his mind that sheds a different colored light on his sense of being.
Perhaps describing his vanity, or lack of it, would help explain the man who, after finally growing his first grey hair after the age of 50, was offended when accused of dying his hair to appear younger. Maybe it’s his love of shoes and his willingness to dress for any occasion and finally buying a pair of blue jeans upon his supposed retirement.
Perhaps knowing about his passion for education would explain him to you. The man who encouraged education above all other activities claiming ‘you have the rest of your life to do everything else,’ never had the luxury to indulge in it himself and yet he became more knowledgeable than the experts in fields such as law or accounting. Maybe he missed his calling by entering the world of trade even though it was never a choice. Being an archeologist or, even better, an historian would have better suited his thirst for knowledge. His intimate knowledge about all Armenians, from L.A. to Calcutta and the nooks and crannies in between, was gained not just by books but by actual exploration.
Perhaps his entire being can be attributed to his loyalty to anyone connected to him. Or maybe it’s his ability to express his love, in whatever form, to those he is intimately associated with despite the hardships and pain doled out by them or life in general.
Perhaps, at almost 69 years old, it’s his capacity to learn and grow to become a better person. Or maybe he understood the futility of holding on to the old ways of being; that today’s norms and standards are much different than the ones with which he was raised.
Perhaps it’s his wisdom and compassion, which have always been greater than his years, continue to guide him in his relations with others. Or, possibly, it’s the respect he has for those around him despite their shortcomings because he sees beyond the ego trappings with which we all wrap ourselves and not having that respect would be an inadvertent reflection on himself as a person.
Maybe it’s all these things individually and collectively that commands my respect and of others’.
When one day he says “I should have been an engineer so people would listen to my advice,” he displays his compassion, respect for education and his humility – all in his unique sense of humor mixed with a healthy dose of irony.
I’m sure there are those with their own perspective about my father that may not be as flattering as mine. This is my biased viewpoint of him. You may have your own descriptions of what makes your father unique to you. Each is special in his own way and you may have your own way of appreciating your father. In the end, this man is the best father I could have ever imagined and he is the best one for me just as yours is the best one for you.
Happy Father’s Day.