Father's Day is an interesting time for those of us who no longer have their father's around. Mine passed away 5 years ago, after a rather unpleasant battle with depression and then cancer. The yearly Father's day "event" is no longer an entirely sad affair for me but rather a time to reflect on my dad's life, the impact it had on me and some of the new insights that have bubbled up in the time since his death.
For context, my parents were academics, Professors at two london universities. Mother studied gender, development and Latin America and dad International Relations and the Middle East at LSE. Whilst I had no real appreciation for this at the time, i can safely say now that i grew up in a pretty amazing home. Our house was revolving door of international students, intellectuals, politicians, authors and activists. I would often come home to a heated debate in Arabic or French (my dad died shortly after learning Catalan, remarkably his 10th language) or a film crew recording dad for the evening news.
My childhood was culturally rich but i still had all of the usual kind kid-stuff about comparing my family to everyone else's. My school was pretty materialistic and not understanding the extraordinary home life i had, i would compare my family to everyone else's with the lens of my peers at school. Giving my parents a hard time about what "everyone" else was getting for Christmas or going on Holiday or what car they drove. Mum would always say... "who is this everyone?", she was right of course.
This is all a long way of saying how grateful i am to my wonderful parents, and as it's father's day, my dad for my diverse, challenging and intellectually nourishing home life. Whilst i may not have appreciated it at the time, i do now.
My dad was extremely pragmatic when it came to some of the political hot potatoes of the time. When heritage and religion are involved arguments become black and white very quickly. But dad had a great understanding of the nuances of conflict and a deep cultural understanding of the people involved. He wasn't an armchair commentator but rather someone that had spent time with the people of the middle east, in villages, trekking through mountains in Afghanistan, Israel and Yeman. That sort of deep understanding, the opposite of so much of the Fox News style Marvel action rhetoric, I think is the key to solving so many difficult situation. If you want people to listen to you, it helps massively if they think you understand them.
Once we were at the Egyption Embassy, there was a room full of people from all over the middle east and my dad got up to give the opening talk. He spoke about how greetings were different from tribe to tribe, country to country and how the wrong greeting could be misinterpreted in the wrong context. As he went through 15 separate variations of a simple Hello, the room, bit by bit, came to life until everyone had a huge smile on their face. Bit of a party trick, but it did the job.
Some very moving tributes to dad can be found here.