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  • Rashid

Ode to my father

Updated: Mar 31

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I had the best father in the world. Not many people of my generation in the post-Soviet states can say this. I am one of the few lucky ones. The transition period that spanned somewhere between 1985 to 1995 took its toll on many families. Divorces, DV, migration, substance abuse, crime, etc. When I went to first grade in 1993, out of 30 classmates, only 5-6 lived in full families.

In this tough period, dad kept committed to pulling the family through and to his work as a professor. He adored my mother, he spent meaningful time with me and he refused to leave for the "historical motherland" (initially perceived by me as a miscalculation, but given the current situation, I could not be more grateful for that decision). Today 23-12-23 marks two years since he passed away. On that day I received the most terrifying message from my mother. It contained just three words "kids, father died". I cried for two weeks straight, maybe more. Today rivers of tears are replaced with oceans of memories. I would like to share a few highlights. I realise that as the youngest child, I likely experienced a very different childhood than my four siblings. By the time my parents had me, they were established educators and mature people. As a father myself now, I realize what an act of heroism it was to raise five in a very rough political and socio-economic period. So, what did my father do to be remembered as a great one?

He let me explore

Growing up I had many interests and they were changing fast. One week I could dream of being a guitarist, the next I wanted to be a tennis player. Dad supported these passions. Despite the lack of money, he supported my passions for guitar, violin, accordion, painting, tennis, magic tricks, etc. He bought a violin for me in instalments and made the case for it himself. He busted out some tools and spent his one day off in the week to put together a lovely case out of wood. He was very practical and always kept some spare pieces of wood and other materials in case they came handly like this.

Every passion was also accompanied by solid theoretical materials. I remember a book he bought from someone called "I will be a violin player" - it was in a terrible condition, with a torn cover. Dad fixed it and made a new book cover on which he drew my portrait holding a violin. I took classes for only two months. He NEVER judged me for this. He never said, "Come on, I made all these efforts and you drop the violin now". Not a word. The same went with other passions. Exploring is important. Because of these various passions, I was able to understand what I like and what I don't. It helped me never settle for work that I don't enjoy doing.

A photo of me playing violin. Taken by dad. He drew that book cover off of it.

A quick passion for hockey on asphalt was also supported, as dad made the hockey club himself.

He taught me art

Dad liked to make art. He rarely had time for it when I was growing up, but he would make sure to teach me the basics. We would sit down with different mediums: watercolour, gouache, pencils, oil, and collage, and explore the world around us. We painted simple still lifes of objects in the apartment and portraits of family members. He repeated the code - everything is about the lights and the shadows. Per usual, these lessons were accompanied by a row of books on art. I read not only about famous artists but also about the process of stretching and priming canvas. Following these techniques, I made my own canvases and painted on them. It felt like magic.

Another important art memory is the art of photography. Dad had a Soviet black and white camera and liked to take pictures with it. We would then develop them in the shower room. When you see the image appear on the photo paper it really blows your mind as a child.

He taught me how to cook

Dad was an excellent cook. He taught me several staple dishes and the culinary tricks behind them. Of course, we liked to cook plov together. It was to be cooked over fire. We experimented with adding different seasonal toppings and playing with the flavour of the oil (truly key to good plov). These experiences helped me tons in my life as I worked as a cook while studying in the US. I was always hired on the spot and could sustain myself. Now I rest when cooking for my family after long days of teaching and make sure to get my son involved.

He spent quality time with me

Somehow we had lots of cool different stuff at home - microscopes and telescopes. We would look at different things in great proximity, exploring what tomato or cucumber looks like under the microscope. Then we would look at the moon through a telescope and imagine that there are inhabitants running around there. Dad would put me to bed with a shadow show. He used a flashlight and his hands to tell the most incredible stories and expand my worldview and imagination.

He expressed his love

This list of great things my father did can go on and on. Yet the most important one was very simple. It does not require busting out tools and crafting violin cases out of wood. It does not take time. Does not require any finances. It is a simple expression of love. Three simple words that seem to be the hardest to pronounce in families all around. Dad never shied away from saying "I love you". And today, I want to say these words to him - I love you, dad.

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