“While the prudent stand and ponder, the fool has already crossed the river.”
It is with this quote from my father’s favorite book by the revolutionary Armenian writer Raffi, that I will attempt to summarize the life of the man who made the most positive and lasting impact on my life. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my father is being buried on Armenian Independence Day, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the book on my father’s nightstand until his last breath was Raffi’s “Khentuh.”
A little more than ten years ago, I noticed my father would get bored in the evenings. We were downstairs eating oranges and chatting so I jokingly asked him, “Bab, if you’re bored, why don’t you rejoin the ranks of the ARF? Kna Tashnagtsagan yeghir. You can go to meetings at night with your friends.”
His answer was: “Took ek eem Tashnagtutiunuh.” (“You are my Federation.”)
These words are a testament to his unconditional love for our family. The strength we have, our independent thinking, our love of life, and love for all things Armenian come from a man whose biggest and most profound investment was that of love and guidance for his daughters. Ir “martinuh” ir zenkuh menk eyink. (Translation: We were his rifle, his “martin.”)
His love and loyalty to my mother was evident to me and my sister throughout our lives. His adoration for my mother was profound, and he loved her so much that, like the King in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he would not “allow the winds of heaven to sit upon her face lightly.” His chivalrous protection of her was nothing short of the knights described in Arthurian legends.
His unconditional and profound love for me and my sister was evident through simple acts and pieces of advice he would share. He was immensely proud of Ani and always referred to her as “Aniss.” His advice was simple—to find a profession that we love, surround ourselves with the Armenian community, and be aware of our strengths and our weaknesses. I remembered back almost 30 years ago when my dad was hit by a car in front of my friend Mia’s house. As I saw his body covered by bandages and as he was being placed on a stretcher he said, “Sevo jan bagh eh, jackedud hakir.” (“Sevo jan, it’s cold, wear your jacket.”) If something bothered me, I would often vent to him, and he would tell me: “Sari bess yeghir, yerp klkhut choor tapen togh ichneh minchev vodkerut.” Translation: “Be like a mountain. When they pour water on your head let it flow down to your feet.”
He taught me to collect pens because they were our greatest weapons, to question authority, to always strengthen myself intellectually, to surround ourselves with good friends and to always be close to my sister…
He taught me to collect pens because they were our greatest weapons, to question authority, to always strengthen myself intellectually, to surround ourselves with good friends and to always be close to my sister—his baby who carries the torch as a member of the ARF in Philadelphia. A few pockets of his life, however, were shrouded in mystery. As he began his battle with dementia, I began to ask him about his stories. I asked him questions about his visits to Beirut to which he answered, “Ad paneri masin chenk khoser.” (We don’t speak about those things.”) He kept his promise to secrecy even during his battles with memory loss, and this is why I will never forget my father’s resilience, strength, and love for the Armenian cause.
His love for his pesas (son-in-laws) was often shown in ways that only Eric and Mark could understand. His inside jokes and nicknames were one thing, but the fact remains that he loved them as his own. When he first met Eric, he gave him a book called “Inch bidi kidna Yeridasart Tashnagtzaganuh” (What a young Tashnagtzagan needs to know”) and whispered to me, “Mekich es girkuh gartah lav glini.” (“It will be good to read this book.”) A few weeks ago when Eric and I went to visit him, Eric bent down to tuck him in bed, and my dad said “Eric, lav dghah es.” (“Eric, you’re a good guy.”) When we FaceTimed with Mark and Ani, he would still joke around with Mark and through his humor, show his total love for the pesa who married his baby girl.
His love for his nephew Galoust was sincere. The other night when Ani was putting together a collage, she noticed how much he loved my cousin. In their years in Kuwait, or their chats on the phone, or their short visits to LA, my dad adored Galoust as the one son he never had.
Finally, and probably most importantly, his earnest love for his grandchildren was a love that was shown in small daily acts. The caregivers at his memory care facility said he would kiss photos of the grandkids every morning and say thank you to God. He would carve pumpkins with a communist hat on his head. He would help Areni with math and eat ice cream sandwiches.; Sophene her Armenian reading and how to make a gourmet sandwich and share his theories about world history. As he battled dementia, he would watch Areni at swim practice and keep tallies of her laps; as she swam, he would put his hands up and say, “Park kezi, park, park Asdoodzo.” (“Thank you, and thanks to God.”) He would take Sophene on her scooter, and as she would ride on the reservoir in front of their home, he would watch with awe and then go for a ride himself. He talked of beautiful Noemie and always said she had the kindest soul and sweetest voice, and he always said that his namesake Armen, was his carbon copy who would one day make the family proud. The last time he was with all four of the children he said, “I don’t know what I did in my life to be so lucky.”
The answer to that is, he cared for the community so much and gave his family unconditional love. Pure and simple.
It is ironic that my father was a structural engineer because he was the structural strength of our family. He was, in essence, the foundation which took the most stress, the most pressure, and the most tension in our family, and his emotional ductility bent with whatever force was placed against him.
He loved his friends, who also loved him, and until his dying days, they visited him and read to him to make him feel like himself again. I will never forget the joy on his face when he would say “Enishten yev Yezniguh yegan” or when he pointed to a photo of Haig Mekhjian and smiled big smile. He was respected as an engineer and mentor to so many, and I am receiving texts and emails to confirm what I already know—that my father was a great man.
As a boxer, my father always said that he was a good fighter because he knew how to exhaust his opponent by taking the most punches. Those punches could have been from the trials and tribulations of his life or the daily battles to remember the words to his favorite song, ironically called “Unforgettable.” The brain trauma he sustained as the Homenetmen champion and akhoyan of Iran was something that he was immensely proud of. His love of scouting was also clear. He was the ultimate example of the scout described in the Armenian scoutagan kaylerk:
Ov hay ari nakh partstratsir
Marmnov mdkov hsga tartsir
Jank jeekk tape too amen or
Kordzatreloo parik muh nor
Translation: “Armenian youth, always raise yourself, with your body and mind always embolden yourself, toil through your daily life so you can serve and do good deeds for others.”
My father lived, breathed, and manifested the words of that song until his dying day.
However, the punches he sustained as a boxer caused immense suffering at the end of his life. The punches he took during the last year and a half of his life were too much for this heroic man. Until his final breath, as I held his hand, he tried to dodge the right hooks of dementia and pneumonia. Struggling to breathe, he was too weak to swallow his last communion. I pray that he knew how much we adored him. But it was too much. He was ready for his independence, and tonight, on the eve of Armenian Independence Day, I pray that our dear, loving, heroic, humble father is freed from of the shackles of of the intellectual and physical loss of dementia as he “crosses the river” to enter the gates of Heaven.