Whereas most people I interviewed lived with their father and even their grandfather, Anya’s parents divorced when she was a baby. She told me her mom gave her everything she needed, so her experience was unique compared to most people I spoke with in the country. I learned not only about the gradual empowerment of women to take care of their families, but I also learned about the distance that forms between a father and his family. This distance can make the impact of a father irrelevant. This distance has been tough for her father to overcome as Anya is now graduated from university.
“My relationship with my dad is very open. We talk, like he just called a few hours ago. We’re Jordanian, but we’re originally from Palestine. My mom probably filled the gap after the divorce. She’s very independent, so I didn’t feel like we suffered from it. It wasn’t a big problem. I got raised by my mom, so the way we think and the way we do things is so different from my dad that even if I got advice from my dad I don’t feel like it’s relevant. He’s in my life, but
not in my life if you know what I mean. I don’t usually call him and ask for advice. I don’t call him looking for advice. I don’t call and ask, 'Dad, what do you think of my boyfriend?' He doesn’t know anything that is going on in my life, but it’s not like I don’t love him. I know he wants to support us and everything, but his support is irrelevant. I found the topic interesting because I grew up without my father. It’s like we’re both in different worlds.”
Anya invited me to have a seat in her beautiful living room for the interview. It was getting late in the evening, but Anya was generous enough to talk with me for the next hour and even ordered some shawarma take-out for us. Allie, my friend from Vanderbilt, introduced me to Rand, who is friends with Anya. She told me about her relationship with her father.
“As much as I love him, as much as he’s my father, there isn’t a bond between us. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know how to explain it, but it never affected me even when I was growing up. Me and my mom are best friends. Whatever happens my life she is the first one to know. I remember in school I used togo sleep in his house, but I don’t remember much. I don’t remember anything anyway. My memory is shit. He was there at my graduation. If I got married, I know he would be there. He’s there at the big events. He’s
trying to be supportive. When I was younger, he wanted to see us every Friday, but when I’m there, there is nothing to talk about. What do I talk about? I don’t know what to say. I don’t even feel the urge to want to go talk to him. I feel guilty, but at the end of the day I pick up the phone and I don’t have anything to say. At the end of the day, we are so different. It is because my mom provided everything. I feel like he’s an uncle or a family member, but I don’t feel like he’s a dad figure. He didn’t raise me so I do what I want.”
After she explained what the situation is like today, I asked Anya what she would tell her dad if she could go back and talk to him before he had kids. Anya said the same thing that Jo said in Jamaica: don’t have kids if you’re not ready to take care of them. Our conversation spoke to how much cannot be recovered in a relationship with your father when time is lost.
My conversation with Mohammad spoke to the impact a hard-working father can have on the consciousness of his son:
“You appreciate the sacrifice your father did for you, and you remember that forever. It makes you exert all possible efforts to improve your situation on the one hand and your family’s situation on the other hand,” said Mohammad.
Rand also introduced me to her friend Moustafa. When Moustafa found out I was studying fatherhood, he introduced me to his grandfather, Mohammad,. Mohammad lives in Amman on the highest hill in the city. He got his PhD at Brown on a Fulbright scholarship in 1973, and he still works in higher education. He explained over tea how his father impacted him:
“There are some for bearing families, authoritarian families, too strict families that do not necessarily positively influence the growth and development of their children. There are families on the other hand who are so lenient towards their children, and this is not good either. The children will probably be spoiled. They might break during the first difficulty they have, while they should be taught to brave difficulties, to brave the wind, to brave the storms, hurricanes, and probably tornados. Because life is a mixture of breeze,
wind, hurricane, and even tornados. When we talk about the father in particular, it depends on what sort of father you are talking about. There are fathers who are busy all the time, and the bringing up and discipline of the children is carried out by the mother so the mother takes the role of the father, while the father of course must do other things. He has to provide financial support for their children, but being a role model for the children is sometimes difficult.”
Moustafa came in the living room with a tray of mint tea. We took a break from the interview to sip from our mugs and eat some cookies from Kuwait. When we continued, Muhammad told me about what his father did to create opportunities for him.
“So, the role of the father is extremely important. He does not have to be at home all the time, but he should give enough time for his children to discuss and to argue and to talk about events. The father must ponder, ‘What have I done? Have I done a good job? Have I done something with value?’ If the children observe this and know this is what the father does every day, this means they are learning how to be dedicated to their work, how to account for themselves. It is some sort of internal discussion with your own brain. You see at my time, in my village, there weren’t many things around to help you. But when you see your father working day and night as a farmer, plowing the soil, picking the olives, tending the sheep or the cattle, you notice that he is working so hard to provide for you. I remember when I first went to the teacher training college on the West Bank in
Hebron. There was a school and a nursery. It was a boarding school. You stayed there overnight, sleep, eat, and everything. That was in 1957 after I matriculated from high school, and I remember my father giving me maybe £15 at the time. I remember I thought he didn’t give me enough and then he gave me more. Now I think of the difficulties he went through, the hard work he exerted, to save this money at that time. At that time, a private soldier in the army would get 5 dinars a month. You appreciate the sacrifice your father did for you, and you remember that forever. It makes you exert all possible efforts to improve your situation on the one hand and your family’s situation on the other hand. You remember when it was raining hard, and your father carries you from your house to the school. How can you forget that?”
My discussion with Mohammad led us to this quote fromWilliam Wordsworth, “The child is the father of the man.” Mohammad said it means that your childhood determines your future. In his case, his father was an example and an inspiration for understanding his circumstance and impacting his future and those around him. He takes his family quite seriously, as did many fathers I learned about in Jordan. There was a strong trend in my experience in Amman for fathers to remain involved in the lives of their children through marriage and even adulthood. Mohammad lived in the same building as Moustafa, his grandson, and his family for years. It is customary for children to live with their parents until marriage and common for extended family to live together even as the next generation of grandchildren come into their lives. This is because family is extremely important in this culture, and by association, fatherhood. If childhood shapes your future, then the families in Jordan have decided to actively shape their child’s future for the better.
When I arrived in Jordan, I quickly realized how little I knew about the Middle East, Arabs, or Islam. I hope anyone else who feels a certain distance between themselves and an understanding of the details of these intersecting cultures notice many similarities and appreciate some differences in these interviews. One of my goals as a dad is to assure that my kids have an open mind; this is something my mom taught me. It is the reason I enjoyed listening to Rand explain the marriage traditions in Jordan and learning what “hani”means in Arabic and hearing music play from a mosque when it is time to pray. These details made Jordan special to me, and so did the lessons from these interviews. While Anya does not feel at a loss for not having a connection with her father, she does see that a father creates something that is irreplaceable for his child when he decides to take responsibility for their relationship. This something between Mohammad and his father inspired him to make every effort possible to improve his circumstances. The lessons learned from the poetic phrasing of Mohammad and the frank prose of Anya reminded me of certain values in fatherhood shared across cultures.
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