I've sat down to write a post about my dad no fewer than a dozen times -- easily once a week since he passed away on September 9th. But something has always held me back. I'm not sure whether it's the fear that once I start writing, I won't be able to stop, or the concern that I won't do him justice, or the ever-present worry that no one really wants to read about loss and sadness.
Finally, this week, the time has felt "right". So please indulge me a moment, and let me tell you about Yahya Philip Khatibloo, and how he celebrated Christmas.
My father was not a man given to mindless behavior. Rare was the moment that you'd find him at a loss for words, and without an explanation for every action (or inaction) that he made. While this trait of his has made me a keen debater, and given me a sometimes-unhealthy level of curiosity, it wasn't exactly easy to live with. If my room wasn't clean, there had better be a logical reason why not. If I wanted to stay out late on prom night, I had best be able to explain why it was a GOOD idea, and not just why coming home earlier was a BAD one.
There were moments, though, that my dad threw caution to the wind, and embracing Christmas was one of them. In November of 1978, he and my mom had just made their way to America, toting along a precocious four year old. We parked ourselves at his eldest brother's house, where my mom and I whiled away the days apartment hunting with Aunt Bettie as my dad geared up for his MBA program at Adelphi, due to start the first week of January.
Looking back, I don't know how they did it. This move had come at a time at once fortuitous and deeply saddening -- they must have known Iran was falling apart around their families, and that it would be a long time coming before they'd set foot on their homeland again.
At any rate, as the holiday season rolled around, my parents decided to honor the Christmas tradition; a terribly difficult move for two people so far removed from every comfort they'd ever known, and one made from a place of pure love -- they didn't want me to feel an "outcast" in this culture, and they wanted me to have a history of traditions no matter where I lived.
From that year forward, we always had a tree, there were always presents under said tree, and my mom always made a traditional holiday dinner. Dad would put aside his stoicism, and our doors were thrown open to friends and cousins, and all THEIR friends and cousins. He would dress up as Santa, just because. He would trudge out in the coldest snowfall, me at his heels, to pick up a tree we could some years hardly afford, just because. As my brother and I grew up, he started to take us to Midnight Mass -- despite being a wholly unreligious man -- just because.
It's been a few years since all of us were together at Christmas; after my brother and I moved out, our folks no longer put on the game face like they used to. Dad would sometimes still go to Mass, because he came to love the music and ceremony of it. But the turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and ham were a thing of the past for him.
This year, mom and bro came up to the Bay Area and, my, was it bittersweet. I had struggled all week with making stuffing from scratch, or making Stovetop, which he'd always loved. Of course, I made the Stovetop, and mom and I teared up a bit talking about it.
Everyone says the first year is the hardest, and I can see why. It was so hard to set a table for four, knowing he'd never butcher the turkey again. It was utterly bizarre, as I shopped for gifts, to stop myself when I'd find something perfect for him. And the scolding I'd get when those gifts cost more than he thought I should spend on him... I do so miss that.
I hope that you and yours had a wonderful holiday, whichever one you celebrate, and I hope that 2009 is filled with light, prosperity and health for you. And I thank you for allowing me to go on about my father, who is dearly loved and sorely missed this holiday season.
Yahya Philip Khatibloo
March 12, 1946 -- September 9, 2008