Feeling the brightly colored gold chain between my fingers, its deep color and brilliance amazing me, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never received a gift from my father. It’s a seemingly normal practice that I have never experienced. The only vague memories I have are of myself as a six or seven year old eagerly opening Christmas presents laid out under the Christmas tree on cold Christmas mornings once we’d come home from church. I would enthusiastically rip off the wrapping paper revealing a doll dressed in pink whose eyes opened and closed, or a little plastic doll house, too young then to bother which one of my parents has chosen that for me. My father died a few months after I turned nine, exactly a week before Christmas. And so the gifts I received from him never went beyond dolls, and doll houses or the occasional paperback version of Alibaba and The Forty Thieves, which he would read to me on evenings after he’d come back from work.
The gold chain I now wore against my neck was bought by my father for my mother from Tehran on his way to or from Europe, as I can now guess at a duty free shop at the airport. I can imagine him standing in the jewelry shop closely studying what he’d buy, silently imagining what would look best on his wife and finally choosing the one that he decided would stand out obviously each time my mother would wear it. Because from the gold chain hung a pendent that looked more like a coin of some period back in time, On one end was the head of a man who I guess was an Iranian political figure, and on the other end was a lion beneath which something was inscribed in Arabic. This I guess must have convinced my father would draw a lot of questions and gasps of admiration each time my mother would wear it, making her feel proud and special as if she had a little piece of history nestling against her neck.
I hate to admit it but I’ve always been mildly envious of my mother not because she received gifts from my father but because she had the privilege of knowing and loving him for longer than I did. She knew him first as a friend, then a lover, and then a husband. Their relationship spanning over three decades, mine and his not even completing one. She holds memories of him in her heart sealed and so secure that I may never even be able to touch its fringes. Her recollections of him are bright and clear like the sun sparkling on a stream of cool, clear water. On the other hand my memories of my father seem shrouded in mist, seeping out of my memory gradually and gently. I remember him reading to me, his large liquid green eyes gently lingering over the page, patient with me each time I interrupted to ask him what a new word meant, and while he read my eyes would be fixed on him large with wonder and amazement imagining Alibaba in a cave full of gold and precious jewels.
I have memories of the endless hours we spent at bookshops in London, my love to read as intense as his. My mother abandoning us to go shopping. I remember myself sprawled out on a thickly carpeted floor in this particular bookshop, lost in a picture storybook while my father sat on one of the couches opposite me browsing through a paper back he’d picked off the shelf. I recollect walking up to him and peeping into the book he was reading and asking him in a matter of fact way how he could read a book without any pictures, I recall how he instantly began laughing his lined, grave face immediately looking younger and telling me that once I’d grow up even I’d enjoy reading books without any pictures. I remember holding his finger as we walked through museums and churches in Rome, a camera dangling from his wrist as he pointed out the elaborate and intricate engravings on the high arched domes and ceilings, so emblematic of Roman architecture. I don’t remember him taking any pictures but clearly recall him encouraging me to absorb the experience and craft a mental picture so I had something priceless to treasure all my life.
It’s true I never received any gifts from my father, not for my eighteenth birthday, not when I graduated, and not when I got my first job, but today when I look at his photograph on the wall I see more than a serious looking man in a stiff grey suit, I see a laughing, talking man who loved to read and travel , who gave me his name and his features who held me in his arms as a baby, who taught me how to eat with a knife and fork, and how to cross the road, and these memories are I now realize the greatest gifts he could have ever given me, gifts that are intangible and timeless, something that is unbreakable, that will never go out of fashion, something I’ll never get bored of and unlike the clothes that I wore as a child I’ll never grow out of.