I want to address an aspect of this piece that seems to be a bit controversial in these comments. Many seem to be sympathetic to the father and feel that the daughter is unappreciative and uptight. I completely understand where she's coming from here from my own experience.
One very vivid memory I have as a child was my brother, a teenager at the time, yelling at someone on the phone like I had never seen someone yell before in my short life. He then slammed the phone down and ran into the bathroom crying – one of two times I've ever seen him cry to this day.
Only a couple years ago I shared this memory with him, asking him who the hell was on the other side of that phone call to generate that sort of reaction from him.
It was our father. He called to see how everything was going. He was being cheery and asking how everything was going. Things weren't going well, and he had thrust a teenager who lived a very comfortable life back in Iran a couple years earlier straight into the role of "man of the house." We were poor, my brother was bullied endlessly, and my mom had become depressed.
When you've been abandoned by a father, you don't have the patience for the "fun uncle." The abandoner wasn't there for the hard times – the bankruptcy, the eviction, the teasing, the depression, the canned food your classmates would donate that ended up on your table, the toys they would donate that would end up under your Christmas tree. The abandonment is a burden that follows you throughout life. It manifests itself in the form of insecurity, anxiety, and/or a shitty attitude.
Sorry if that's too deep for HN, but this struck a chord with me. Dug up a part of me that I bury way deep down.
This kind of separation happens quite a bit within immigrant communities, especially nationalities that have long waiting lists for green cards, let alone undocumented immigrants. Due to some quirks in the Visa system, you have to leave the country in order to change your status which runs the risk of delays or outright rejection. When the parents are on separate visas, one can get let through with the kids while the other is stuck indefinitely. Often times that means that the parent not granted a visa becomes an undocumented immigrant in the host nation and the other is forced to return home because all of their stuff and financial obligation/jobs are in the US. If they can't find a job in the host nation, the stuck parent often moves back to their support network in their birth country, further complicating things.
I was stuck for a month, with no possible way of getting back to the US. It's a truly sickening, horrifying feeling, that the only solution is to blow up your life and go back where you came from.
I was extremely lucky that my employers lawyers cajoled them into communication before my money completely ran out.
Was the situation the same in your case? Or did your father simply chose to stay behind out of his personal comfort?
Including eastern european and Balkanian cultures? If so, I would be interested on the reasoning behind your claim.
Or Mediterranean cultures? I'm waiting for some explanation, too.
The author came across as an extremely uptight and unapologetic jerk, who "quietly tolerated" all 4 of her lifetime visits with the man who stayed behind to make it easier for them to escape. Every time he came to visit, he seemed to be the "fun uncle" personality - Loud and boisterous, but always having fun and chatting up people. He seemed to have a few problems, for sure, but overall by the end I felt really bad for the father and rather upset at the abysmal treatment the author gave him. If I was supposed to sympathize with the author, they failed pretty spectacularly.
Instead of being melodramatic, the author recounts some facts about their (lack of) a relationship, how and why it failed to develop, and how things stand now.
I don't think the author is looking for sympathy. Just reflecting (quite beautifully IMO) on the way things turned out.
The author of this piece wrote nothing that convinced me she was any different.
I may be completely wrong. But I do not think I am. I didn't live in the US until I was a teen, and I've seen this song and dance before.
Seriously, it's OK to just plain disagree. Literary interpretation isn't a hard science.
Edit: she also does not seem to realise that her father's behavior might have been determined by the sacrifice he made, staying behind and having his family ripped apart.
I definitely empathize with the father, he seemed to have things figured out for himself, and by the end seemed to just kind of "give up" trying to please the author, preferring to spend his time with people who were less uptight.
But at the same time I think both are very interesting reads, with a different point of view of what I'm used to, so for that it was a worth read.
It's very clear the tone, and it is in no way subtle; this is a piece meant for compassion for the father, and I assume is a cathartic release for the author. By writing it up and admitting her faults openly, she's giving herself the chance to forgive herself.
(Please note this is in no way a criticism of you, or your point, with which I agree. But my experiences as a person who didn't live in the states until I was a teen give me... strong opinions about children who refuse to understand the deep sacrifices made to give them a shot (and that's what it is, just a shot) at a better life, no guarantees.)
I hope my own dad doesn't feel like I don't value his sacrifices endured while getting us to safety decades ago during one of the wars in the middle east. I got him out of the middle east and into Canada a few years ago (bringing parents to the US is hard). So far, fingers crossed, he seems to have resettled.
Very tangentially I'm reminded of a book called White Teeth (by Zadie Smith) that I found compelling (I was living in England at the time).
Some others have commented that the author feels like things like children are an imposition. Superficially, I see why, but I think that misses the point.
She hints at this in other parts. How she comes across to me is I think what must be typical of many first generation immigrants (those first to be born in the country or who emigrated there in childhood).
You see stories like this where a family comes to the US from Russia where someone who was a doctor now works as a janitor to give his or her children a better life. I think it must be common to get knocked down several rungs on the social ladder when making this kind of move. But it's a sacrifice many parents make for the sake of their children.
Having gone to Princeton and Harvard (as the author and her brother did), they became fairly high achievers, which is to be applauded but is also I think the exception. It must be a huge part of their psyche to remember where you came from, coming to the US with nothing, living as a refugee on virtually nothing and so on.
One affect that has on someone, and I think you have to have experienced poverty to some degree to truly appreciate this, is the inescapable fear that all that you've worked for in life might go away, be taken away. Those who aren't first generation immigrants or came from money I think just don't appreciate this lack of security as it's not something they're typically exposed to or have any experience with.
I'm not even sure the author realizes it even though it's what I took from the piece. Perhaps the book will explore this (the book is mentioned at the bottom). Perhaps it's an editing snafu with the excerpt.
Money is everything. Without money you can't do any of that living life stuff. But only someone who's experienced not having any can understand that.
"Whether you broke or rich you gotta get this
Havin' money's not everything, not havin' it is"
The countryside might be a different story, if you're willing to work wherever you can find it. Room and board on a farm perhaps; that costs nothing if you are willing to work. Tent in a forest; this costs nothing, as anyone can scrape together a tent and sleeping bag. Cities have no room for these things.
A bare minimum amount of money can be everything. Once you can feed and house yourself, why not focus on life and making the best of it? I think money is everything _until_ you can sustain the bare minimum. After that... if you still think money is everything, you have lost sight of the rest of your life. That or you have kids.
I think a large part of it is that I've spent the first 25 or so years of my life living hand to mouth. As such I'm probably never going to get used to the idea that you can ever have "enough" money.
What if something happens? Is your stash really big enough to tie you over? What if it isn't? What if ... basically I think that once you're in a money-tight situation for a prolonged period, especially if it was when you were growing up, that leaves a mark that's never going to go away.
As the anecdote attributed to different rich people says: "Yep, my son tips more than I do. He's the son of a millionaire, I'm the son of a <insert poor-ish profession>"
Maybe I hit a double whammy as well.
My girlfriend's parents emigrated to the US from a relatively well-off French background. It's not all roses of course, but to my understanding they were never broke broke. Her grandma, for instance, has an estate that's been in the family for 300 years.
I emigrated to the US from a single-parent background in a postsocialist country. My maternal grandparents went bankrupt when my mum was 15 or so, my dad's grandparents died by the time he was 5. Great grandparents' assets were mostly wiped out during WW2 (partially effect of war, partially socialist redistribution of wealth). So really I have about 4 generations worth of baggage about "Fuck we're broke!".
There's no way that doesn't have an effect on how I think.
I don't mean to make an ad hominem, but I think it's fair to say that lofty pronouncements such as how much money does or does not matter from people who have basically never actually had to experience extreme poverty sound a little hollow.
I just graduated and moved across country for a new job and for the past few years have been incredibly worried about money constantly. I worried that the rest of my life I would be completely obsessed about having enough money. Now that I'm starting to get some paychecks the sense of relief of not having to worry if I'm going to go hungry/not make rent etc is incredible
Only when I had the first bitter taste of having the first series of failures did I bother to find out that not everything that I think is right is right, and there is not one true highway. People have different ways of living a life. Thinking everyone who doesn't live or think the style that I do is worse than me (especially the people and family back in the home country), is the one thing that will lead me to my ultimate demise. It got me to the utmost lonely, singled out, outcast feeling that I have ever experienced, despite how many likes and support I get on social networks because of my popular idea.
I've read The New Yorker (and similarly targeted magazines like The Paris Review, etc) since I opened one up to kill some time in the university library, freshman year.
Though I've never found a place to discuss them with people like myself - I'm not a literary kind of person though you pick up things here and there. I identify much closer with the HN crowd.
While some of your comments make me roll my eyes for how to me it appears you missed the point, some are genuinely enlightening and even those I don't "like" have been valuable.
So thanks all, for talking about this article. It was interesting.
The situation is not exactly the same for us. We'd like to reunite as soon as we can (but the immigration situation in the world has become an issue and we don't know how its going to happen).
But what I relate to is my connection with my father. I love him. He loves me immeasurably. But I cannot make the right connection with him and I feel its mostly my fault because he tries and I fail.
Both the main story and comments were fantastic. Many thanks to the Author and everyone here.
Although the immigrants come from a different culture and a different time than in this essay, they share many themes (keeping the old language, being ashamed of parents who seem too attached to the old world, fitting in, etc).
Interesting fact is that we do not hear much at all about the mother.
Maybe she could've done more for her Dad by moving him, but as she seemed (to me) to say, he didn't really want that.