Month: July 2013

I am My Father’s Son

I’ve meant to write this blog post for a time now; I’ve been sitting on it, as it were, but I’m only writing it now for a few reasons, prominent and important among them is that because I’ve been writing other things, and updating my blog has always—regretfully, necessarily—yield first place on the importance scale to my serious personal projects, and if there’s a species of writer-discipline that allows for both simultaneously, I either lack it or haven’t developed it yet. Also, I think I’ve been letting the idea take its course, and I’ve started to do this lately. An idea given time to mature allows itself to be written more readily, and with less friction on the way out; this of course provides fertile ground for excuse-making and putting off writing, so employing the justification should be done with caution. Like with many other things, self-knowledge is important to this approach.

Besides, the preponderant trend of these recent blog posts is that they contain a realization, and the self-important implications of this mercifully disregarded, those minor epiphanies usually find their way into my diary, where they’re worded laconically, and often in immediate euphoria, as they are experienced or shortly after, and usually before bed (also an effective way to delay sleeping by a good two hours). The alternative, then, is to write them here, at length and until it seems like nothing more can be written about them; of course, often, much more can be, but a line is drawn somewhere around the junction of mental fatigue and apparent subject exhaustion.

I really am my father’s son. When I was younger I was too arrogant, too foolish, or maybe just too young to see it, and when I did it was nominally, inconsiderably and certainly with no imparted importance, in the way that minor details are realized ephemerally, more as a trifle for amusement than anything else. Or maybe as a child there wasn’t as much that is apparent that linked me to my dad, and as I grew older this quota grew larger, which would make sense: I was floundering in maturation’s way, and whatever amount of it I can rightfully claim now—which, relatively, cannot be much—must have added to the similarity enough for it to be noticeable. He hasn’t just taught me many things, no, of that were the case then he would be like anyone else. I think he’s contributed to my character and outlook more than he suspects, because on some level he must be conscious of his influence on me, but I don’t think he realizes where his effect ends. And can he? Some things, a lot of things, only you know about yourself.

To understand what made this revelation, you must learn something about me. On the phone, to those who know me, I betray my identity with my first word—a “Hello,” slightly more eager than is warranted by a phone call in the first syllable, characteristically elongated in the second, especially in the ‘o’, and authoritative, as if more an announcement than a response to ringtone, and with a downward bend at the very end, a kind of vocal denouement. The hello has been remarked on a lot, enough times for me to notice through repetition that it as distinctly mine (thankfully I wasn’t narcissistic enough to notice it myself) and until I learnt to mask it well enough, had spoiled many potentially outstanding performances of the prank call variety (of which I’m very fond, along with voice-acting). My hello, however, is not mine. In the slap-to-the-face, wide-eyed way it happens, I realized that the long remarked-upon idiosyncrasy wasn’t mine, that it was how he answered the phone, and that after watching in his element, I must have started imitating him. I had known it all along but only then had I noticed. Does he know it himself? Did he notice his own pronunciation pilfered sometime, smiled to himself knowingly, and said nothing of it? Maybe not—there are better things to scrutinize. That was the seed though: if I borrowed this, what else have I assimilated from him? This is not to say that before this, I hadn’t realized he’d had an influence on me; I had, but something that I had proudly considered was the organic product of my individuation was not. The discrepancy begged indulgence.

Monitoring him taught me what the Baader-Meinhoff was years before I ever knew it had a name, let alone was a phenomenon. In speaking to his colleagues he would use words that, at seven or eight years old, were the acme of esotericism, but that were really nothing more than the constituents of everyday conversation—things like complex’s ilk, interesting and unrealistic. I would learn the words, from school or TV or wherever else, and then notice them exclusively in his speech, for the moment disregarding the rest of my eavesdropped loot. I would think to myself that this was knowledge deftly applied, and it validated the statement I incredulously heard over and again: “You will use what you learn at school in life”—and disregarding my many reservations about the assertion, and my highbrow criticisms of the modern, disastrously conformist schooling system, this was a valuable lesson: knowledge matters, and if I would attribute my hunger for it to reasons, this must be one. He showed me this practically, and there’s seldom a way to teach a lesson better than direct experience.

When I tell people that I’m a journalism major, they uniformly reply with something of the “Ah! Like father like son!“ persuasion—a few months ago, chatting with the editor of Al-Ettihad, it was summarily exposed, as if on queue, that the aspiring journalist’s father is a journalist too, and he asked me whose son I am, and when I told him, he smiled and joked aloud, demagogically, that I “even look like him”and perhaps because I don’t want my choice relegated to mere imitation, I quickly refute the accusation, and say that it is my own choice, and if it seems necessary I add that it is the study that will best serve my literary ambitions, and that it is what I love. But for every “thaak al-shiblu min thaak al-asad” there’s an undeniable recognition that my father’s being a journalist must have played a role, and that if he hadn’t pushed me to value eloquence and erudition, and stressed the incomparability of the importance of reading, and if he hadn’t had the good grace and courage to believe that I will make the right decision when the time came to pick, things would have likely been different for me. If I hadn’t watched him at the dinner table (cleared of most things so that he had work space), at four and five years old and before computers acquired the lion’s share of all written work, working pen in hand on translating from English to Arabic or the other way around, or piecing together his newest report for the paper; if I hadn’t so generously, so usefully been shown these intimate voyeurisms of The Writer at Work, would I have appreciated the practice as much? Would watching the film dramatisations of the same thing have had the same effect? Certainly not, but that’s not to say I would not have still come to write, but it would not have been by the same devices.

He taught me that miracles effectively only belong in fables, and that if things seem too good to be true, you’re safer thinking they are than singing the praise of absolute serendipity, and that the only reliable, controllable variable in every success is consistent, impassioned hard work; the more the better, and everyone has something to teach me, something which I sometimes arrogantly dismiss. This, and that whatever circumstance has meted for me is exactly what should have been, because it is the only thing that could have happened and the only thing that makes sense is to utilize it instead of whining litanies of misfortune—sounds like something out of a self-help book, but then it does for a reason, and hey, it works.

By emphasizing it, he taught me that there are more important things in life than the materialistic, a belief which I’ve adopted vehemently. By being principled when it was paramount, he taught me that principles untested and undefended were never principles to begin with, and that there will come a time when I do something I later regret, and for whose unprincipled offense I will bludgeon myself; by being himself, he taught me that we are but erring, incongruent humans, and that perfection is a facile abstraction, and that no one can make pretensions to absolute consistency. Mistakes happen, and invaluable lessons are learnt if I’m alert enough, and scrupulous enough to admit fallibility to start. The key is in fixing the mistake after it’s been made. By being right when I violently opposed, correct when I decried and disapproved, he taught me that there’s naiveté in being young, and that some things can only be learned through experience—“You cannot create experience. You must undergo it,” was how Camus put the existential imperative.

And far be it from me to commit the sacrilege of disregarding the devil’s forte and eternal residence, the aesthetics: those who’ve seen him remark on the likeness of our faces, and once I got through an entire phone call with my mother without her knowing she was speaking to her son, not her husband. When I sleep, I cover my eyes with the inside of my arm like he does, shielding my eyes from the light if there’s any in the room, and out of comfortable, potent habit if there isn’t.

This is in no way exhaustive, and there must be more that I haven’t listed, but I will have to hope these suffice for my purposes. It would be outrageous to think this means I’m exactly like him, and unsurprisingly our differences in opinion, stance, and belief are more flagrant—it’s easier to notice the disparate than the regular and unvarying—and that is necessary, and I know he would not have it differently: he would be proud to see me become my own person. Build my own high walls, so to speak. No less, this marks the demolishing of another delusion of my youth: my complete, perfect uniqueness, unaffected by the people around me. It seems so obvious once you know.