I have never written anything about my dad—Nishan Salibian. In fact, I don’t think anyone has. That’s why when his only granddaughter Leeza asked me to write a tribute in his memory for Father’s Day, I couldn’t resist.
Her request immediately took me back to my childhood in Beirut, Lebanon. I grew up in a peaceful, two-story home near the railroad tracks; my paternal grandmother lived with us, and my aunt, uncle and cousins Lena and Raffi lived downstairs. We were inseparable.
Our balcony ledge was lined with tarnished cans of gardenias and rayhan (fresh basil plant). My father would run his fingers through the green leaves. He loved the aroma of rayhan on his palms. My parents used to spend summer nights on that balcony taking in the sights of the neighborhood with a cool drink.
When I continue to think about my dad, however, I can’t say I have countless memories to cherish. I don’t remember being carried on his shoulders and other playful and bonding moments. But there are still endless reasons why he was the greatest dad in the world for a little girl who lost him at the tender age of nine and grew up without her father.
Here is what I do remember about his short time on earth with me.
When he would return home from work, he would sit in our living room by the window and light a cigarette, always pensive. I’d make him Armenian coffee, and when he’d see me approach him carefully balancing a tray with sweet coffee and a glass of cold water, a smile would appear across his face. “Hamov soorj eh,” he’d say without even taking a sip. We would have our little conversations; he’d be having his coffee, and I would be combing my doll’s hair. There would be nights he’d work late hours, and he would come to my bedside and kiss my forehead. I would wake up with excitement just to see his gentle smile. He would caress my head and say, “Keesher pari.” On summer days, he would take us for an afternoon drive to Jooneh for ice cream cones—the ones with a bubble gum at the bottom. In the winter, he would drive us and my cousins to a mountainous area to play. We used to take molasses with us in small cups to mix with the pure white snow.
The best day of the week was Sunday; it was tradition—Sunday meals around our tiny kitchen table together as a family. It didn’t matter what was being served, he’d always pair it with an Arak or Laziza/Almaza. A prized few hours I valued, always…
My father was a handsome man. He had dark hazel eyes, olive skin and a salt and pepper hairline. He had a quiet, yet strong presence in the house. He was truly a gentle soul, a dedicated husband to my mother and a loving son. I remember how he would tease my grandmother. You see, she was not a fan of tomatoes (I took after her). So he would often offer her a piece of tomato and say, “Mom, try the watermelon. It’s delicious.” Of course, my grandmother would smile, knowing her son was being mischievous. He would laugh, like a little boy playing tricks on his mom.
My father never made his little girl cry until that knock on the door in the middle of the night in April of 1974, on my parents’ wedding anniversary. His golden heart had stopped. Grief set in. Our family chain broke, and for his little girl, life was never the same.
My father has been gone for 46 years, but I think of him every day. I think of all the happy occasions he has missed in my life and how much my children would have loved him. My wish is to one day travel back to Beirut, light a candle and adorn his grave with gardenias and rayhan.
It was my honor to have him in my life for as long as I did. All I have are these memories, a few photographs and my father in my heart. Happy Father’s Day, Babba. You are still loved and still missed every day.