Friday, December 25, 2020

A Christmas that changed me (after The Guardian)

The Guardian newspaper is running a superb series about "A Christmas that changed me" as written by people who had epiphanies at Christmas. Well, though the newspaper never invited me to write one (cough, ahem) I do have one such recollection.

It was 1983, so I was 9, and I remember distinctly it was a weekday so it must have been December 23rd. Believing in Santa was never a huge thing at our house. So basically we knew it was parents who got the gifts. I had seen a GI Joe at my (older) cousin. And really, really, wanted one. The one store who would sell them was Toyland barely a few minutes from our house (but of course, as children, our notion of distance was blurred so going anywhere especially on foot, was - rather far).

Naturally, as a kid I did not know that my father came early on a Friday (government employees tend to end their work at 11 A.M. on Fridays because their Moslem counterparts are supposed to have time to go pray at Mosques). And so indeed my father came early, and I was already on my Christmas break from school. And my mother announced that I was to go with father pick a gift.

Naturally, I wanted the Toyland GI Joe. And so we went. It was at 50 Liras. I am not sure how expensive it was at the time (as compared to my father's salary). But it seems it was so because he dissuaded me from getting it. Surely as a child, it was a bit of a blow. But we did go to another store - called Snoopy - which was right next to the Gitawi public park (don't be fooled by the name just a few benches and a slide) and we got a BMW (battery operated) at 25 Liras. Half the GI Joe price and my father thought it was a convenient one to pay.

I kept that toy till I moved from Beirut in 2010. You might ask how this Christmas changed me? Well, to begin with knowing I could not get what I wanted was a first lesson. Knowing my father thought the BMW was better priced was another (that I would excel later at economics could have stemmed from there). Weirdly, even as a child, I recognized spending time with my father was special. Because these were rare occurrences. 

My father expressed his affection in a rather traditional way. Not in a physical affection kind of behavior. More like - "All right, I am the father, I provide to the household, you are getting a good education, you have a roof above your head, and things to eat, this is the love I can give". And if I remember the BMW car (whose box you will see on this post), and if I remember the GI Joe toy, even at that age I was aware that I got to spend time with my father, alone and without my brothers - was something so uncommon.

I am not making some grand statement here, or some revealing some deep psychological fact, but as you grow old, your relationship to your parents changes, and it is you who becomes the person in charge. And I always remember the last thing my father said to me when I asked him - on morning of the day he passed away - "do you want me to go teach at university today?" (he was obviously unwell since the day before) and he replied: "rou7, Allah yorda 3aleik" (Go, may God be pleased with you) a local expression to bestow gratitude on someone.

Interestingly, I never got a GI Joe. Nor was I interested in getting one later. But that Christmas did change me.