Fathers From Around the World

When I was not yet three years old, John Richard and Grace Elizabeth Ingram adopted me from an orphanage in southwest London. When I was four, a stroke left Dad paralysed down his left side; he died when I was 18.

I can still hear the cranky squeaks of your wheelchair. And the clicking of the calipers attached to your legs below the knee. There was the incessant wheezing from the asthma that later attended the paralysis. Your body was your burden. Your light relief was watching the BBC news and “being tickled pink,” as you liked to say, by the old classic British comedies. Dad’s Army. The Good Life. Rising Damp. As a child I longed to pick you up and carry you on my back. Far and away from your wheelchair and back to the fleeting memory I had of you as my able-bodied dad. Now as an adult, I believe there are no accidents. You are still my role model and I have found my dream job serving persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Thank you, Dad!

Michele at Michele D’Acosta, Museum of Documentary and Fiction

—————————————————————————-

Charming, intelligent, belligerent and very Greek, my father is one of those people you meet and never forget.

When I was little, he would often regale my siblings and me with stories of his childhood in the mountains of Greece. His eyes would light up as he recalled the deep snow that carpeted the land each winter and how every night he used to lie listening to the wolves howling in the freezing cold. I could never quite believe this story. I had visited Greece only in the summer months when the cicadas hum through the trees and the cool Mediterranean offers the only welcome respite from the heat.

But my father assured me it was all true, and he would describe how during these snowfalls Yiayia (my Grandmother) would make Stifatho, steaming hot beef stew. If my father and his brother misbehaved, Papou would threaten to throw the bones from the stew out near the house so that the wolves would come prowling down from the mountain tops. This both terrified and fascinated my father, and he admits he sometimes wanted my Papou to carry out his threat so that he could steal a glimpse of these great creatures.

Whenever it snows now, my father can’t quite contain his excitement and we indulge his boyhood memories by asking him to tell us the story again. Stubborn, impatient and thoroughly Spartan he may be, but show my dad a snowflake and his heart melts.

Ekaterina at Ekaterina Botziou, It’s All Greek to Me!

——————————————————————————

Even as a kid I knew my father was more fun and affectionate than most Korean men. He differed in another way. Back then, expecting parents wanted a son. You couldn’t have too many boys, but my father never cared. He was one proud dad when I was born. Gifts poured in from the office. He threw a big party on my birthday the next year and danced with me in his arms.

We immigrated to America a few years later. When I was in fourth grade, Daddy joined the ranks of the best drivers in New York City. He became a taxi driver. A classmate from Pakistan approached me one day. “Your dad drives a cab. Mine does, too,” said Rukshinda in the glad relief of a confidante.

“No. No, he doesn’t,” I lied. She looked confused.

I hadn’t known I was ashamed of what my father did until I had to acknowledge it. I also wasn’t aware that he was held up at knifepoint doing it. One afternoon the passenger asked to go to 106th Street, close to Harlem. Before they got there, Daddy suddenly felt a blade digging into his neck. He rubbed his fingers to say money, then pointed to the pocket of his sweatpants. The guy dug in and bolted from the cab. Daddy had been sitting on the day’s earnings, the bills in his pocket just change.

I wish I could write in the sky that no job was beneath my father to keep his kids clothed, fed, and safe. I would tell the world a thousand times over that my daddy was a cab driver.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

——————————————————————————

I kissed your bones before I immersed them in the water with your ashes. As I watched the river carry them to the ocean, my tears ran, bringing back memories.

You would get into our bed Sunday mornings in England and tell us stories of wonder. This wakened our imagination and allowed us to seek magic in the world. You raised us with iron discipline, and I knew that the army did not impose this on you. It came from within, and I rebelled. You wanted me to follow your path into the army, and yet supported me in my own journey. As I grew older, we spoke of your childhood in undivided India, and I learned how your family lost everything when Pakistan was carved out of India. We managed to get a video of our ancestral home. We watched it together, knowing you would never see your childhood home again.

What I learned from you was to conduct myself with grace and dignity. I learned that people respect us for what we are, and not for the position we hold or the riches we gather. As I lit the fire that consumed your flesh, I looked upon the faces of the people who had gathered to pay their last respects, and I saw that this was true.

We often did not speak much, but we did not need to. We communicated. As I looked into your eyes in the hospital, I knew you were going to die, and I knew you knew it as well. I promised that everything would be okay, and I will keep this promise.

Rajiv at RajivChopra

 

 

Mothers From Around The World

Words go unsaid too many times but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice when you step to the shadows so I can have my day in the sun. You’ve saved portions of food so that I’d have enough to eat when I get home from work. You laboured over the stove when you were so ill it made my whines about my colds seem like tantrums. It is such a struggle in our third world culture to be a woman, wife and of all things, a mother. It is a job that gets the most rocks thrown at, the rocks I have thrown at you to feed my teenage angst. All the hurtful things I have said, you have never held them against me. I am where I am because you believed that being a woman is not a disability, that being Indian is not something to be ashamed of. You taught me the power of following your dreams, not with endless lectures, but by being an example. I have explored the world on the wings of your sacrifices and cheerleading.

You know that day they say will be ours, that everyone will have their day? I know that day will come only because you have built it patiently, rock by collected rock (you never seem to be able to get rid of anything I give you). They will one day look at me and say, look at that woman, doesn’t she look like her mother? It will be the proudest day of my life.

Cupitonians at This Labrynth I Roam

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My mother had a fine palate for music even as a girl. She didn’t grow up with much in Seoul but was cultured in the great Classical composers. So 25 years later when the world-famous Chung Trio was expected to play at Carnegie Hall, Mom didn’t think twice. It was a memory she couldn’t help see through for her kids. So what that she was an immigrant, didn’t know English? She reached deep into the pockets of her waitress apron, a matter of course that the most sophisticated halls of New York should open its doors to her family. She managed piano lessons for her girl. It would be inspirational for her daughter to see a Korean family perform on such an illustrious stage. Kyung Wha played violin and her sister cello, their brother on piano. But I was actually more impressed with the grandeur of the theatre than the performance when Mom kept asking how I liked it. She imagined I had more discernment in music than I did as a ten-year-old. Not many years later, I was listening to one of her favorite pieces, Gounod’s Ave Maria when Mom found me crying helplessly. I couldn’t explain the ache of all the memories, of having watched her work so hard, the feeling of her that welled up and over from the song I always associated with Umma. Twenty-five years later I would play it for my boy. My little musician doesn’t know that someday he will love it even more when it brings back his Umma.

Holistic Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

My parents were German emigrants to Australia. I remember lying in the middle of their bed in Sydney, my mother laughing as she tried to teach me to whistle, rain bucketing down outside. I still love hearing rain on a tin roof. After her passing, my father was my next mother. A practical industrial chemist, he made pea and pigs trotter soup in his lab. And brought the huge pot home in the trunk of his car. I still fear the smell of pea and ham soup! When my grandmother came from Germany, the soup got much better. She knitted itchy jumpers with love, and I translated English movie plots into German for her. My Australian stepmother cooks with love: bread, lemon cakes, butterscotch tarts, date cuddle cookies. Cabbage rolls and herring salad for my father – even pea soup. She understands the nostalgic potency of a mother’s cooking. My mother-in-law is quintessential Australia: roses in a crystal vase on a windowsill, chicken veggie soup, the darn lemon tree that’s been dying for ten years she refuses to give up on, the dreadful songs on country radio that were old twenty years ago, the smell of lamb roast wafting through her house. Mothers reach us through the senses into the sense of our soul.

Susan at Putting in a Good Word

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When I was a child Maman sewed most of my clothes. While she hemmed a new summer dress, I had to stand still.

“Parfait,” she declared with a final critical look.

Everything had to look perfect for Maman.

At lunchtime Maman used to dash to the garden, leaving the subtle mix of her eau de toilette and hairspray traceable when I came home from school. She returned with a bunch of fresh parsley she held like a bouquet of flowers. Those agile fingers chopped the herbs and sprinkled them on the tomato salad.

“Taste,” she would urge, pushing a plate in front of me. “Meilleur?”

Everything had to taste better for Maman.

I was so tired of parfait and meilleur that I couldn’t wait for wrong and worse.

It is said a daughter understands her mother when she becomes a mother herself. But it sometimes takes going far away to grasp the significance of rituals and customs mothers pass on. In California, the memory of Maman guided me while I clumsily pinned the hems of my girls’ prom dresses. Now my daughter is planting herbs – cilantro, her parsley.

Bonne Fête Maman!
Happy Mother’s Day!

Evelyne @ Evelyne Holingue

 

 

The Race: American in India, Part 7

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

When I was a kid I just called myself black as that was what society taught, that if you’re part black then you’re all black. My father is African American, my mother European American. I thought that makes me all American, but people always wanted to know more, esp as I grew older. So in my teens I started to answer that I was half black and half white. Only as an adult, when the biracial tab was added to questionnaires did I start to identify with that.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I grew up in Seattle, Washington (U.S.) where I experienced only subtle forms of racism. White kids if they liked me would say, “You’re not really black,” and black kids if they liked me would say, “You’re all black, man,” as if I didn’t know what I was; it tended to leave me feeling hurt and insecure. I moved to California when I was 19 where I started working and going to college. California was the first place I heard outright racist comments belted without shame.

Amritapuri Kitchen 9Because I’m mixed but have an Indian name and a beard, rather than thinking that I’m mixed people would just think that I was an immigrant. So at work I would often hear people talking about black coworkers, calling them lazy asses, and worse. And no matter how many times I would stand up and say that’s not right, people would quickly forget that I was black, having decided that I was something else, and repeat remarks they wouldn’t have otherwise said in front of me. I also received the comments people reserve for immigrants as some said to me, “You people come here and don’t even know the language!” Confused, I would answer, “What people? Me? But I’m from here!” “Sure you are, man,” they would laugh.

Now I live in India which is a different experience altogether. Here, everyone is shades of brown, and all are Indian so they reserve the color of black for really dark skinned, black people. So although I am as dark as many in India, because I am a foreigner and am not black by their standards, they call me white. I was raised as black and this goes against everything I grew up with. All this leaves me with the understanding that race is very much about what others perceive you as and has little to do with who or what you really are.

3) Why do you have an Indian name? What took you to India? Did you know any Indian (language)?

When I was 15 I met a saint from India, Amma, known as the Hugging Saint. The following year wanting to devote my life to her cause I asked her for a name and she gave me the name Sreejit. I immediately changed my legal name from Michael to Sreejit wanting to start my life anew with this idea of service to humanity that Amma espoused. Everyone started calling me Sreejit so I have lived many more years as Sreejit than Michael. I elaborate on the name change and my spiritual journey here. I have been traveling to India since 1992, working and living in Amma’s ashrams.

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

All of my schools were completely mixed with all races getting along fairly well during school hours. Seattle is a pretty laid back place compared to other cities, so it was only later that I really experienced the perils of diversity. Though among the older generations I heard very set opinions on the wrongs of race mixing, the kids my age were pretty decent.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. It could be a scene with strangers, the park, school, work. Could have been subtle feelings you recognized or a blatant attack of bigotry. If it was a season or chapter in your life, tell us the impact it had on your sense of self, confidence, or emotional development. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

As I said, there was never really a time when others were not trying to define for me what I was. And if they asked me, I often heard on the heels of my answer, “No you’re not, you’re really [fill in the blank]” when I started to say I’m half black half white. Then an old black person might get offended and say, “No, you’re just black man.” And when I would tell an older white person that I was mixed, “How awful that your parents could do that to you. You should speak out against such things.”

6) Why do you think those people imposed their own race on you? Why do you suppose they wanted to?

My generation is the one that was birthed by the hippies. Both my parents tried to make a more beautiful world than the one they grew up in. For that reason they didn’t talk much, when I was a child, about the horrors of racism, because they didn’t want me to grow up with the same prejudices that they grew up in. Whereas the generation before them was had very strong ideas on what is right and what is wrong with race mixing. There were still segregated eating areas when my parents were kids. Neither of my parents stayed in contact with their own fathers; my mother’s father disowned her for marrying a black man. So when I would talk with someone old enough to be my grandfather, as a kid I was coming in with a very free, there’s no right and wrong attitude, whereas they had a lifetime of education that told them it was better for everyone to stay in their place.

7)) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I can be shy if I don’t know somebody, but I tend to get along with everybody. I grew up in a very international neighborhood where we would have Chinese New Year’s celebrations; I later worked with mostly Latinos and lived with mostly Indians. I feel comfortable with pretty much everybody.

8) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

All relationships are meaningful to me. That doesn’t mean that I fully give of myself to anybody. Most call me a loner but I get along with pretty much everybody.

9) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of: writers, homeschoolers, mothers, hobbyist, artists, colleagues, church. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

I tend to enjoy being around people of similar interest: the artists, musicians, dancers, and writers. These are the things that bring joy to my life. Though I can’t dance I love to watch it. I love to play and listen to music, watch theatre, love to read and to write.

10) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

No

11) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I have always been “I am who I am”. Either you accept me or you don’t but I won’t change for your acceptance.

12) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

America has a very politically correct sense of handling situations, and even then people step on each other’s toes. But when you step out of America there is no such sense of pretending that you don’t notice the differences. Although people are becoming more accepting of others as our world is shrinking, I don’t see stereotypes and judgments fading anytime soon.

13) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

For many, race creates a sense of belonging, but I think the more the world begins to blend, the more the younger generations will be bound by things other than race, whether it be economics, interests, nationalities, locales, or religions. Still, the sense to divide and fit in seems to be a need that people look for and is sadly not fading anytime soon.

Sreejit in The Seeker’s Dungeon