Of Mace and Men
A telling story between a Persian Father and Daughter
Last week when I dropped off My daughter at her dad’s house, he came out holding something. He said, here.
I asked “what’s that?”
He said: “it’s mace.”
“Mace?” I asked.
“For protection.” He said. I didn’t know what to say. “Thanks.” I guess. We’ve been divorced for over five years, what made him think about my safety all of a sudden?
I was confused and didn’t know why he cared, why now?
This incident took me back a few years. All the way back to the last time I received a Mace from a man.
It was April 2001, My dad and I were standing in the front yard of our family home in the suburbs of Plano, Texas. It was two days after my wedding. I was moving to LA with my new husband and his mother who had come down for the wedding along with other family members. Most of the guests had left the day before except my mother-in-law. She was flying back to LA with us.
That day I was overcome with nostalgia and nervous excitement. I had never lived away from home and I was excited about moving to LA. It felt as if I were starting a new journey.
My dad insisted on putting all our luggage in the trunk of my red Cherokee. It’s what he does when anyone is traveling from our home. He is very organized to the level of almost OCD. When it come to packing he gets annoyed if you don’t follow his exact instructions. It’s best to just let him do it. This time it took longer than usual. Nothing seemed to fit. If there was an Olympic game for how to put your luggage in the trunk of a car he’d defiantly win the Gold! It was surprising that it was taking such a long time.
I stood on the side walk of my family home watching him as he explained how to pack suitcases in the trunk of a car. If I had a penny for every time he explained how to pack a car or the appropriate mannerisms for every specific situation, like a job interview to visiting a family member. As I am about to go inside to call for my husband and his mother, he stops me. He walks up to me and starts pacing. You see, my dad is a very direct person and he is not the type of guy that needs time to modify his thoughts. I realized he is about to say something important but for the first time he is lost for words. I think, oh God, I hope he is not gonna have “the talk” with me. Persian parents don’t do that. They figure internet, books, the kids are smart enough to figure it out on their own.
He corners me: “So you’re really going?huh…” I look around at the packed car and my suburbia neighborhood which is 99% white except us and the other Persian family across the street. I had a feeling he was about to cry and I was hoping he wouldn’t, because just like him I am known to easily tear up. He takes out something from his pocket and hands it to me. “What’s that?” I asked.
“For protection.” He says.
It was green colored Miltary grade mace that had a key ring hanging from it. So I could casually hang my keys on it. I had always wanted a mace, but now that it was happening It was surreal. I was excited about getting one, but also a bit afraid. What did he think LA was like? Should I be afraid? I was starting to have second thoughts! “Thanks!” I said.
Phew, he didn’t cry or have “the talk” with me. I was relieved. But wait, he was reaching into his other pocket. What now, I wondered? He took out a huge waude of money then he says: “hide this.” I was wearing fitted jeans and a t shirt. I thought to myself: Where was I to hide it? As I was trying to figure out what to do with the money he says: “In case of an emergency.”
Before I could even get a chance to say something he pulls me in for a hug and he begins crying. He is so loud that the entire neighborhood stops dead in their tracks and watched us as we joined a unison father daughter cry. I was instantly transformed to the time I was five yers old and I’d wait eagerly at the front door till he arrived. My father coming home from work was one of my favorite childhood memories. He’d often hide a treat in one of his pockets and I’d had to search for it. By often I mean everyday. By the time I was in collage he’d still bring us three candy bars, one for each of his children. I appreciated it, even though I had reduced my sugar intake.
I often appreciated the fact that my father, who’s a masculin take charge person until that day. I was trying to avoid being emotional. I knew if he’d start crying I would too. I stood there with mace in one hand and cash in the other as he held me as I joined him in a unison cry. Seconds later the whole family jumped out of the house to find out what the loud cry was about.
When he realized the riffraff was coming he whispered: “hide the money.” With a face full of tears he ran towards the family and blocked them. He didn’t want them to find out about the secret items he had given me. I quickly put the money in my purse which was inside the car.
Between the precision packing job, the mace and the cash which felt like a scene from the God father, which was actually my father’s nick name, we finally made it to the airport.
This was pre 911 so my dad was able to accompany us to the gate. As we arrived at the Airport we heard our names being called out over the intercom. Our plane was getting ready to take off and we had just entered the airport. My dad was holding my carry-on and when my then husband said: “Don’t worry Mr. Mojahed, I can carry it for her.” My dad gave him the look of death, which made him back off. My dad had this dead lock white knuckle hold on the luggage handle, you couldn’t pry the luggage out even if you tried.
So my husband, his mom, and my dad and I started running towards the gate. My husband ran ahead of us to stop the plane from leaving as we caught up to him. After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the gate. The last stewardess was standing at the gate urging us to run in. My husband tried one more time to take the carry-on from my father. He finally gave in and let go of the bag and reached out for me. I ran to him and melted in his embrace. Just like when I was a little girl, except this time he felt small. I was faced with the ugly reality of having to grow up.
He then belted out the loudest cry anyone had ever heard. I am not sure wether to be embraced or to cry with him. Yet nothing mattered that moment. It felt as if we were freeze framed in a movie, followed by the part where everything happens in slow motion. The airport was pretty empty on a Tuesday afternoon. The stewardess, the janitor that was sweeping and my new family all stoped dead in their tracks watching a man let go of his only daughter. They all understood. My mother-in-law couldn’t help it and began crying too, as did I. I finally realized why he was having such a hard time letting go of me.
This macho man who seemed to have all the answers to everyones problems didn’t have a solution to his own dilemma. For the first time I saw my dad lose all control, he let go of all his power. This melted all the longing I had ever felt for a verbal “I love you.” I don’t know whether it was that he was unsure of my choice in a man or his unwillingness to let go of his only daughter.
Maybe it was simply that he was going to miss me. I often felt that he’d hopped his first born, me, should have been a boy. He taught me everything he knew. He’d make me go to the mechanic shop with him, and showed me how to do the boring dad stuff, like fill out forms, and jot important dates in a calendar. He even showed me his system for paying bills on time and filling tax returns. He taught me everything from how to change a tire to setting tiles, and even some plumbing and electric work. He had shown me how to test for a positve vs negative electrical powers and how to ground electricity. I never questioned him for teaching me everything. I was fascinated by his eminence knowledge and I knew this information would come in handy one-day. So I listened attentively. He taught me the types of things a father teaches his son.
He even taught me how to use power tools. By the time I was fifteen I had witnessed my father in several home remodeling projects. By the time I was fifteen he gifted me my own set of screwdriver set, the kind that ranges from a mini screwdriver and go up several sizes. I still know the difference between a Philips and a flat head screwdriver. On Sunday’s I was his gardening buddy. We planted seasonal flowers in the front yard and several fruit trees in the back yard. I even helped him build a veranda when the grapevines had grown and needed a place to run. I loved every moment of it, the one thing I refused to learn was how to change the oil in my car. He knew I wasn’t listening and it hurt his feelings. He’d argue: “ what if you get stranded at the side of the road and you need to change the oil of your car?” Which I had responded: “I’d call you, or a tow truck.” When he’d realize I was right, he’d yell at me and I’d run inside the house. It wasn’t always perfect, but it was my perfect imperfection. I just didn’t want to get my nails dirty, and this meant I was growing up. That’s what he was afraid of. Have you ever loved someone so much that the thought of being away from them at some point in the future made you angry and you didn’t know why? This is what every parent has to struggle with. The difference was that he treated me like an equal. He made me feel as if I were capable of anything. If there was a medal for fahter of the universe it would belong to my father, Noori (halo in farsi). He is truly the light that guides my steps when I fall into the darkness.
It all made sense now. He was teaching me to be independent. To say that I am grateful for my relationship with my father is an understatment.
My mother-in-law finally had to tap him on the shoulder and tell him: “Mr. Mojahed, the plane is leaving.” He finally let go and we ran into the corridor with no chance to look back as the door was shut behind us.
Through out my childhood I had always thought he wished I was a boy. That day I realized that I was wrong. He truly loved me for me simply because I was not only his daughter but I was his best-friend. I was the only one who listened to his instructions even though they were often repeated. My mom and my brothers were usally annoyed by the repetitive instructions. I was his buddy.
I was the closest thing that reminded him of his youth. I was the Bonnie to his Clyde, the Harold to his Kumar, The Sundance Kid to his Butch Cassidy. But I had grown up, and I wanted a new adventure which didn’t include him and he didn’t want to accept that. I wanted stability, and my dad was always on the move. Growing up our lives resembled an Indiana Jones movie, flying from one continent to the next, from one city to the next. I think the longest I ever stayed at a school was from third grade to fifth grade. I changed high schools so many times that I didn’t even go to my graduation and my high school diploma was lost in translation. It may have been dangerous at times, but it was definitely fun. That day my dad realized he had to grow up, because I had grown up.
My mom later told me after my father got home from the airport he sat on the couch and cried for several hours. He didn’t touch his dinner and went to bed around 7 pm and cried himself to sleep. She said she’d never seen him that emotional in the entire time they’ve been married.
After re-living the cash, mace and airport cry incident I now know why my ex husband gave me the mace. He knew I was headed towards an adventure that didn’t include him and he wanted me to be safe. It didn’t work out between us but its nice to know that he is wishing me safe travels.