#TBT: I Will Always Remember You Like This
I HAVE HAD A GREAT YEAR SO FAR, THANK GOD.
As I've mentioned before, 2017 was the hardest, most heartbreaking year of my entire life. 2018 has truly been the rainbow Following the storm, and all I can do is be grateful. It just keeps getting better and I know I won't be coming down anytime soon.
Before deciding to share my spoken word piece on Monday, I began to type out a sequel to my "Grief Lessons" post, detailing more lessons I've learned from dealing with loss. If I can help one other person make sense of or deal with their grief, it will be well worth it. I will never have all of the answers, but I think I ask all the right questions. anyway, I decided against that post for now because last week had the potential to be a pretty heavy week (Baba passed away one year ago). for self-care purposes, I focused instead on sharing something more cathartic as I approached the one-year anniversary of his transition.
I will eventually write another Grief Lessons post, including more lessons and perspective shifts after dealing with grief, but today, i WANT TO DO SOMETHING A BIT DIFFERENT THAN PLANNED. I WANT TO HONOR BABA'S LIFE BY doing what I do best: storytelling. I WROTE A SPOKEN WORD PIECE IN 2012 CALLED "MY FIRST LOVE." IT WAS to BABA. ONE OF THE LINES WAS:
"I WANT YOUR STORIES TO BE MY STORIES. I WANT THEM TO BE ETCHED INto MY MEMORY SO YOU CAN REMAIN FOREVER YOUNG IN MY HEART"
this couldn't be more true today. when baba passed, I was most fearful that his legacy, his stories, his memory wouldn't live on. I was also terrified that March 13th would be a horrible day for the rest of my life. for my own sanity and closure, I couldn't let March 13th go down in history as a bad day. I just didn't want that to be a part of my story (or his story). I am still the luckiest daughter in the world to have had a man like him in my life, so I would rather focus on that. I would rather channel my energy in trying to ensure I remember every detail of my time with him. to make sure that his legacy lives on. Baba wants me to do that, which is why I'm convinced that he and God made sure to carry me delicately through this past year.
I swear i continue to be dumbfounded by how gracefully things have been unfolding in my life. i am truly blessed.
and as the story goes, March 13th of this year was an amazing, beautiful, peaceful day. I kind of was embarrassed/ashamed to say that on Tuesday, because it sounds kind of crazy: "the year anniversary of my dad's death was a great day." when I really think about it though, it is so fitting. Every single potentially traumatizing, draining or painful experience post Baba's passing was somehow oddly peaceful: from his actual death (he looked so beautiful and at peace), to his burial services, to the "first" birthdays, holidays, events without him, I was somehow tranquilized through it all. I was truly being lifted. and His year anniversary was no different. This is how I spent March 13th, 2018:
I woke up super early, made it out to my favorite coffee shop so I could be the first customer to try their Fruity Pebbles Latté (yes I'm basic and yes it was SO good). I spent the rest of the morning finalizing a video that I would show the family later that night, when they all came over to commemorate Baba's passing. I wanted us to have something special to enjoy as we mourned baba's absence, and it made my heart happy to create something so special to my family. after this, I got my nails and toes done; I got my hair done; I redecorated parts of my room; I even made it over to Brome (my second home) to get a juice from their Balence juice bar (amazing). It was just an all around perfect day.
God made sure that my spirits were lifted that morning, and I had pre-planned a day for myself to make sure it stayed that way.
The day only got better from there. My beautiful, loving family got together in Baba's home that evening. We ate some really good food, listened to Quran and read al-Fati7a several times for my father, my grandmother and grandfather, and other relatives whom we have lost over the years, we sat in a big circle in my living room and a beautiful portrait of my father watched over us all as we shared our favorite stories about Baba. that was my favorite part: hearing all of these stories (more on that in a minute). We ended this magical night by watching the video I made from our family reunion trip to Dubai, a trip dedicated to Baba and Teta. on march 13th, my family exchanged tears, laughter, hugs, kisses, jokes and silence. It was so beautiful, and I just know my father is so proud of us for creating this healing space.
Baba was born on March 4th. Say it out loud: MARCH FOURTH, like MARCH FORTH. and That is my promise to Baba and to God, that is the entire premise behind my #roadtorima, and that is how I will forever remember my superhero - when the going got toughest, he continued to march forth. When I stood over his grave and looked at the beautiful picture of him above it, I promised him that I would always remember him like this: as The beautiful, gentle, fierce man who dropped everything to love those around him, who always marched forth. I promised him then that I will continue in this legacy.
and while marching forth, I want to carry every memory with me. I don't care how heavy they get. I dropped all of my baggage to make room to carry his precious cargo. forever. I want to carry his legacy, I want to carry the sound of his voice, I want to carry the love in his eyes, I want to carry every word we have ever exchanged, I want to carry his cute jokes, his exceedingly high expectations of me, I just want to carry baba with me everywhere. I am constantly collecting these stories. I crave them. I am all ears for them. i am all tears when i tell them. his stories are the soundtrack to my heart. I will continue to collect them from his wife and children, his siblings, friends, colleagues, students, and anyone who was lucky enough to cross paths with this beautiful man.
and I will carry them for as long as I live, until it's time for me to pass them on to my children, so they can pass them on to their children. i used to think that the reason i wrote so much was to communicate more effectively with baba, but I realize now that It was so much more than that: i was writing to create history.
EVERY NEW STORY GIVES ME LIFE BECAUSE, IN THEM, BABA WILL LIVE FOREVER.
when I create this catalogue, I will probably keep it within the family (unless I get confirmation from god that I am supposed to be telling his stories on a more public platform), but for now, I would like to share a collection of some of my favorite stories about baba. habibi, he was so many things, and I will always remember him like this:
THE GENTLE GIANT
OF COURSE my all-time favorite story is when I was first born. Baba cried from happiness. My aunt asked him how he was feeling and through tears, he told her in arabic: "She is exactly what I have always wanted." I always get choked up when I hear this story. It highlights his gentleness and the dynamic of our relationship. baba and mama didn't know they were having another girl, so I was a whole different kind of surprise. they did a heartbeat test instead of an ultrasound for some reason, and apparently my heart-beat indicated that I would likely be their third son (lol idk). my father, the big, strong, deep-voiced man who survived figurative and literal wars, cried streams of happiness because he had a baby girl. I wish I somehow was able to store this memory. to this day, I remember him singing fairuz's "yallah tnam," rocking me back and forth to put me to sleep. I used to feel so special because my name was in the song, and I absolutely loved his voice. when I am most anxious, I hear him singing it in my head, and it always soothes me like it did when I was a baby.
the NOT-SO-TOUGH LOVEr
As a toddler, I had a rebellious spirit. baba was still getting used to disciplining his first-born daughter, and at a young age, I took advantage of this. I vividly remember this time when Baba was on the phone with someone in Lebanon. We had these white tables to match the ugly white couches pictured below, the tables, to me, were beautiful canvases for my artwork. I sensed that the call he was on was very serious, so I went to Mama's bathroom and gathered a few of my favorite lipstick colors. As Baba was on the phone in front of me, I sat down and began coloring all over the tables with the lipstick, getting it all over my clothes and hands in the process. The conversation was so serious that Baba was giving me the googly eyes and "God help you as soon as I hangup" face, but could not interrupt the conversation. I wasn't scared at all. I kept casually coloring and looking up at him to see how much time I had left before he killed me. He kept telling the person on the other line "okay, okay, okay, talk to you soon, okay." Finally, when he hung up the phone, he picked me up with all the lipsticks and began cussing himself out like all arab parents do: "yil3an abouki kalb!" (goddamn your parents, dogs!) as he rushed me to the bathroom to clean myself up. I used to love messing with him when I was young because as hard as he tried to be scary, I was just never scared of him. I enjoyed not being scared of him while it lasted because this would soon change lol.
THE HANDIEST of men
When I was a little girl, I was a huge tomboy. I would cry and refuse skirts or dresses or anything pink. When people bought me barbies, I would strip them naked, rip them from limb to limb and throw them in the bathtub to drown 🤷🏻♀️. One of my favorite things about Baba is that he always understood this about me, that I didn't subscribe to gender norms, and he kept this understanding when sese was growing up, because she was the same way. he accepted us as we were, and I think he kind of loved it. Instead of trying to box us in, he nurtured our interest in other things. With me, it was animals, toy race-cars and building stuff. We would go to the store, buy a birdhouse building kit, and he would help me build and paint little bird-feeders. He taught me how to use all of the tools. I was so proud of myself, especially when the birds would perch on the house and eat from the feeder. he was such a good teacher. Months after his passing, one of my father's friends was helping me disassemble my bed and prepare to move back home. when he saw me work with the tools, he stopped what he was doing and said "3njad innik bint imad" (You truly are Imad's daughter). My heart smiled so big.
the LOVER OF ALL LIVING THINGS
Before middle school, Baba bought me a subscription to National Geographic to continue encouraging my fascination with animals. Each week, a one-pager about a random animal would come in the mail; we would always read it together and then add it to one of my five huge National Geographic binders. Every time I went to our village in Jnoub, Lebanon, Baba would get us sheep, goats, puppies, cats, and pretty much anything we would ask for to make sure we were having fun (and not complaining about how bored we were). A month before his passing, I came home and saw Baba completely immersed in an Animal Planet episode on how snakes can eat zebras whole. It was so cute watching him watch it for hours. baba's last pet, who stayed with him until the end, was our bird who he named "dumbass." he loved this bird so much. I can still hear him "dumbasssss! step up, step up." he was such a model muslim in his ability to see beauty and god in all living things. and those binders we made, I am going to keep them forever.
the most delicate father a daughter ever had
In middle-school, Baba was my principal. I was still a huge tomboy. I would wear basketball shorts and big tees to school every day (shout-out to Steve & Barry's lol). He sat me down once and gave me a really cute lecture about presenting myself like a "young lady." It was so cute because he was trying so hard not to hurt my feelings or perpetuate any of the pressures or preoccupation with image that he knew women experienced. baba was always so cognizant of his role as a father to a young woman, and I give him so much credit for getting it so right the first time around. It honestly amazes me all the time. aside from me being his first-born daughter, there were so many differences between us: being raised in two entirely different worlds, cultures and generations. but he was just so deliberate with how he treated me, and, as a believer in equity over equality, he was especially deliberate in how he shifted his parenting style from raising sons to raising daughters. baba rarely commented on my "presentation" or seemingly petty things, so when he did, I always took it seriously and it always stuck. another beautiful moment that speaks to his delicacy was when he would see me cry. growing up, he would yell at me when I cried because it hurt him so much. he would panic and wouldn't know what to do. but after he realized my tears weren't going anywhere, he learned how to handle them. the last time he saw me bawling my eyes out and locking myself in my room, he gently knocked on my door, cracked it open and asked "are you okay?" after nodding my head, he smiled and gave me my space. these moments made me appreciate my parents so much. I got to watch baba grow as a man and as a father. these moments always made me so proud of him.
THE PRINCIPLED PRINCIPAL
My dad followed me to Fordson High School, where he was my principal for all four years. He did his absolute best to make me feel like a normal kid, and sometimes he would even ignore me in the hallways to alleviate any weird feelings on my end lol. he tried to hard to protect me from all of the bs and politics that I would soon learn about. but my ignorance of these underlying issues ended up hurting me (and him) pretty early on. During my freshman year at Fordson, I coordinated a cedar point trip for our class, and it was a disaster (to say the least). The chaperone was so unhappy with some of the students, that she had my dad meet us on the bus that night when we got back to the school. I walked home that night terrified, knowing he was going to have a lot to say given his daughter coordinated that mess. When he got home, his screams shook the entire house, and then he proceeded to suspend me. "Mr. Fadlallah's daughter got suspended" became the talk of Dearborn lol. I always think back on this story and crack up because he was truly a man of principle who believed strongly enough in equity and accountability that he would suspend his own daughter.
THE CREATIVE DISCIPLINARIAN
After that hiccup, I never wanted to do ANYTHING to defame my father's name. I began to understand so intricately the politics, pressure and flat-out racism underlying his position as the first Arab Muslim principal of the largest high school in Dearborn. he was being attacked from all angles, so I never wanted to give them more ammo. I was on my best behavior through all of high school - nothing short of a model student. By my senior year though, I got kind of tired of the pressure, so I found little ways to rebel. I decided to wear ripped jeans to school against the dress code: I only had three class periods at Fordson that year, and everyone else was getting away with it. When I came home and Baba saw what I was wearing, he told me if I did it again, I would be in big trouble. I always tried finding loop-holes though. A few days later, I went to school wearing a different pair of ripped jeans. When I came home, he looked at me, and calmly said: "go upstairs, take them off, and bring them to me." Uneasy and not knowing what to expect, I followed his directions. When I handed my favorite pair of jeans back to him, he got up from his recliner, threw them in the fireplace, dumped the whole can of lighter fluid on top of them, lit them up, and walked calmly back to his seat. He reclined the chair back with his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes to the peaceful crackling of my jeans bursting into flames. All I could do was crack up laughing with my mom because his level of creativity as a disciplinarian caught me by surprise each and every time.
the life-long educator
when I was a teacher, one of my proudest moments was when baba came and taught a day's lesson to my students. after my first week in the classroom, he found me having an anxiety attack one sunday, feeling so unprepared for the week ahead. he told me he would come in the next day and teach my lesson. he spent that whole sunday buying me materials for my classroom and helping me put them together. this is how baba showed his love, habibi. he just made everything better. it still means the world to me that my students got to meet baba, that they experienced firsthand the fire behind all that I will do professionally. it was so adorable. my students loved him. "Miss Fadlallah, can your dad come and teach every day?" he came back and visited later that year, because I asked him to observe my day's lesson. I valued his opinion above anyone's. during lunch, he ran to mcdonald's and got us both fish filets. after the day was over, he gave me such reassuring words about my teaching and told me he was proud of me. before I won the national sue Lehmann award, he sent me this e-mail in response to my application video:
baba was the best, cutest, funniest jokester. his sense of humor was so freakin cute and so lame, that I would try so hard not to let him know he was hilarious. that was the best part. he didn't need anyone else to laugh for him to have a ball. when I was a baby, he put shaving cream all over my face, gave me his razor with the cover on the blade, and told me to go into the kitchen where my mom and her little breakfast club were sitting and pretend to shave my face. I knew I was walking into a trap, but I did it anyway. and sure enough, all my crazy aunties were screaming and jumping at me until they realized it was a prank. my dad, of course, was in the background just cracking up with his adorable laugh. the month before baba passed, I was rushing to get ready for a meeting. I ran into their bathroom to use his hairspray and comb (he Hated when I used his stuff). I wanted to slick my hair back in a high bun; I picked up one of his combs, slicked it through the crown of my head, and heard a loud *kkkhhkkkk.* the comb had a small blade on it that I didn't see, and I accidentally cut off an entire strand of hair. I was horrified. I had the comb in one hand, and my precious strand of hair in the other, and I walked into the living room where my parents were sitting. my mom immediately tried to reassure me: "it doesn't even show! it's okay it'll grow back!" WHAT DID BABA HAVE TO SAY? "EH, BTISTAHLEH (YUP, SERVES YOU RIGHT), I TOLD YOU NOT TO USE MY STUFF." I COULDN'T HELP BUT LAUGH. NOW, WHEN I LOOK AT THIS SHORTER STRAND OF HAIR THAT INDEED, IS CATCHING UP TO THE REST, I SMILE AND LAUGH TO MYSELF. MY PARENTS' FINAL CONVERSATION THE NIGHT BEFORE HE SUDDENLY PASSED INCLUDED HIM TELLING HER A RANDOM FUNNY STORY WHILE IN BED. they laughed, exchanged "I love yous," and went to sleep. SO FITTING.
earlier this week, I had a thought on a car-ride home: baba had exceedingly high expectations of anyone and everyone he loved. this was quite literally how baba expressed his love. he wanted so badly for others to see themselves in the bright, illuminating, captivating light that he saw them in. he brought this love to his role as a teacher, as a mentor, as a religious figure, as a father, husband, boss, sibling, friend, etc. sometimes it is so scary, to try seeing yourself in this way, but baba never gave up. I used to observe him and be so disappointed and hurt for him: "baba, why do you keep letting x, y, z in our house: you know they don't have good intentions," "baba, why do you keep helping them, they hurt you before," "baba, what do you mean haram? don't you feel like they deserved what was coming!?" I was so ignorant. I was allowing my brokenness and fear to stop me from seeing baba's strength (and life purpose) for what it truly was: this man left every single person and every single thing better than he found it. even in his absence, his love continues to change the hearts of so many people, myself included. I will never be the same, and I am so thankful that he was able to reach even the most resistant parts of my heart.
I was always terrified to lose baba. I once promised myself that I would sit down with him and make him tell me every single arabic idiom that he always used. I wanted to create a small book with all of his expressions, because there was always so much culture, wisdom and truth packed into those concise statements. I wanted to keep this book and show it to my kids. I never got to do that, but I will. I plan to spend the next several months putting together a personal collection of moments and memories of my dad.
I AM READY TO CARRY IT ALL, AND QUITE HONESTLY, I COULDN'T BE MORE HONORED.