T-minus two weeks until
you arrive in this world. This is your father writing to you, and I want to be
the first to welcome you into this world. According to your mother, "Areh
bakih! inE yet hejE new antew "welcoming komitE"
yehonkew? ZeTeN wer.. inE neN ante yaregeznew?"
Don't mind us. It's all
because we are excited about you getting here, our first born!
Son, you might be interested
to know that I am also the first born in my family. The difference is that
when my mother was pregnant with me, my parents didn't get to see my head bobbing
up and down on a fancy computer, or hear my heartbeat. I don't think my father
framed my mother's first sonogram. In those days (wochew-gud ...
"in those days" lemaletim beqan), in those days, as
sophisticated as Nigest Zewditu Hospital in Addis Abeba was, it had not yet
reached the level where the "pain killer" was not a sharp qariya Tffi
on a miT 'miyasCHohat mother followed by admonishment from an ill-tempered
nurse, "Ay ingidih! Beqash. CHuhetu mindinew?"
Now your grandfather, my
father, will tell you stories about how when HIS little brother was born in
a small hut in Shakiso, Sidamo. How the village "nurse assistant"
could not be found when my grandmother went into labor. (Supposedly this nurse
had other talents as well, such as drinking tej from two birilEs,
and on that fateful night she was out stone cold on someone's floor.) Anyway,
my father remembers holding a chibo as his father assisted my grandmother cut the
umbilical cord of their new daughter. So, to him, NigistZewditu
Hospital, with its clean corridors and white sheets, was a marked improvement.
I wonder what he thinks about his grandchild now born several thousands of miles
away in ye ferenj hager where they allow the father-to-be in the delivery room,
serving as both a Lamaze coach and videographer. Dylan was right. Times, they
are a changin'.
I am writing to you very
late at night. Your mother has not been sleeping much these days. It has been
a hard pregnancy for her. The first few months, she threw up nearly every day.
Son, when you grow up and have a wife and she's pregnant and she throws up,
DON'T, if you know what's good for you, give her any reason to say "min
feetihin taCHemadidaleh". Son, trust me, just hold her head and
try to think about something else while she rails on you about "what you
have done to her." During the wife's first trimester is not a good time
to bring up the fact that it took two to tango. You also have to hope that her
threats about never letting you touch her are just idle, caused-by-hormonal-imbalance
kind of threats. I'll tell you more about hormonal imbalances when you grow up.
I still don't know much about it, and your mother and I have been together for
five years now.
Don't get me wrong, your
mother is a wonderful woman. She has single-handedly saved what was left of
my soul and my confidence in humanity. I love her almost to a fault. Son, I pray
that you, too, will end up with someone like your mother- someone kind and wise
and superbly intelligent, and someone who looks great in a bikini. I want you
to know that your father is where he is at this very moment because of the strength
of your mother. I say that literary and figuratively. Literally, because she
kicked me out of the bedroom because I was snoring too loudly, so I am exiled
to the spare room. Figuratively, because her love was strong enough for the
both of us when I was not strong enough.
Aside: your mother just
walked into the spare room to kiss me and apologize for kicking me out of the
bedroom. She said that she has not slept in days and might be a little irritable.
(Proper response to that, Son is "Who? You? Irritable? Nahhhhhhh!")
She assured me that she still loved me. I asked if she would like me to come
back to the bedroom with her, maybe rub her feet. She said "no" very
sweetly to both offers, but she did bring me a pillow. It was for me to sleep
on, not to suffocate me with, which I thought was also sweet. It used to be
that a foot massage could open up so many doors, but (inflation, Son!) it has
been devalued severely recently. The market is flooded with cheap alternatives…
her mother offers her backrubs, her sisters (she has 4) are waiting on her hand
I thought I'd write you
a real letter Son, besides the darling little diaries that your mother makes
me keep in the "Big Book of Baby Memories." She is making all your
uncles and aunts write in that book, too. There is even a place in there to store
the first strands of hair from your first haircut. Well, I guess that's all
good, although I can't help but wonder what they would make of all this fuss
back in Ethiopia. The most people will offer you back there is "wend
lij kene qaCHilu yisTachiew." I don't think they go about writing
daily diaries in a "Big Book of Baby Memories."
I wish we were living in
Ethiopia, Son. I wish you could grow up the way I did… play in the same
soccer fields, go to the same stadium. I know I can't give you a childhood
where you are the majority and you never have to deal with the exigencies of
racial profiling and identity upheavals. I wish I could continue the security
of feeling safe in your house and understand the comfort of seeing your extended
family every day. Maybe you might not miss all these things, but your old man
sure does. I promise to take you back to Addis and Sidamo as soon as your mother
thinks you are old enough so you and I can at least connect at that level. The
pasti joints in Addis, Son, is where people do the real growing up. But let's
keep that between you and me. According to your mother, you won't be leaving the
house until you are seven and, even then, only when with an entourage and bodyguards. So, enjoy
your days in the womb, and enjoy your daily trips to the mall because you ain't
going nowhere for a while after your debut. Your mother, she says she goes
to the mall so often just to get exercise, but the only thing being exercised
are my muscles when I lift the credit card bill that is carted into our mailbox
with a back-loader truck. Son, you would not believe how expensive you are.
Apparently you and your compatriots, New Borns, Inc., are a several billion
dollar a year conglomerate. If we were in Ethiopia, the only thing you'd be getting
is indigestion after your mother's intake of too much genfo. Sew
hager menor, now you are a proud balebet of a whole room
full of color coordinated furniture. Son, do you know how long it took me to
get my own place? But you also own many, many other property. You would be considered
a tujar if baby toys were considered assets. But, I am not complaining.
I promise you, nothing but the best for my Son.
While I am at it, I want to make you some other promises, Son.
I promise, on a stack of
bibles, and our HBO subscription, that I will never leave you. Not for the love
of another woman, not for money or other earthly comforts. I promise to be there
for you when you fall, and promise to kiss you everyday when you're growing
I promise to be there when
your homework is difficult and you can't seem to please any of your teachers.
I promise to help you. I promise to be gentle with you. I promise not to raise
my voice at you unnecessarily and mistake your fear for respect. I promise to
always listen to you, and never take out my anger at you. I promise never to
displace my frustration out on your fragile little body.
I promise to always respect
your mother as the central figure in our lives. I promise never to mistreat
her of speak to her in any other way than with full respect. (Son, I don't have
a choice on that last one.)
I promise never to blame
you for my failures. I promise never to make you walk on eggshells around me.
I promise to keep my promise when I tell you I would come see you. I promise
I will never forget to pick you up from school. I promise to be there for you
when you wear your first suit, when you shave for the very first time and when
you start dating. (According to your mother that won't be until you are 25,
so, Son, we'll have a lot of down time.)
I promise never to make
you vie for my attention or be intentionally cruel to you. I promise never to
choose my happiness over yours. I promise to listen to you no matter what. I
promise to teach you how to drive your first car, and to respect women and to
appreciate the women in your life.
I promise never to use harsh
words. Never to torture you with the silent treatment for something you know nothing
about. I promise to encourage your ambitions and respect your decisions. I promise
never to make light of what you hold in high regard. I promise to respect your
intellect and your choice of careers. I promise not to be dismissive about your
pain or ignore your anxieties.
I promise to listen to you
when you tell me that something is wrong and you need to take time away from
I promise Son, never to
disappear without a word. I promise never to use "divide and conquer"
between you and your siblings. I promise to always take your side first against the outside world. I promise to
be there when you get married, when your first-born arrives...to smoke that
cigar with you. I promise to be honest with you about life and to be open about
my mistakes. I promise to apologize to you when I am wrong, and not to scar
you in any way, fashion or form. I promise you never have to lie to please me.
I promise never to emotionally blackmail your young mind by making you the cause
of any strife with your mother. I promise never to speak ill of the woman who
bore you. I promise to trust you and to fight for your trust in me.
I promise to always protect
you until I die and even after that. I promise to make you feel safe. I promise
not to hurt or taunt you because I can and have the knowhow. I promise to respect
you as a man and never to say or even intimate that you are a failure. I promise
I will remember your birthday. I promise that you will never have to lie to
your friends as to my whereabouts. I promise you that when you look back at
your childhood that you will know you were the most precious thing to your mother
and I. I promise to care about your life and your future. I promise not to punish
you for my carelessness. I promise never to forget that you are, first and foremost,
a human being with feelings. I will never forget that. Ever.
Most of all, I promise to
tell you everyday how much you are loved and how proud I am of you. I promise
to actually say the words "I love you," and not assume you know.
I promise you will never
have to take dance classes Son, like your cousins are doing! Yes, Son, we are,
after all, still Ethiopian men. I promise that if your uncles tell you anything
about my youth and gurmissina that they will never come near you. Ever. Again.
I promise to be the best
father I know how to be, my Son. And I am putting this on paper so that I can
read it when you make mistakes and make your mother and me mad.
I give you my word.
Been summoned to the bedroom,
Son. My offer for a foot massage has been accepted. Its value, as the value of the "get
out of jail" card, Son, is never totally without value, especially when the
competition is not open for business 24/7.
Today, I hope you learned
your first lesson.
It's past midnight so it's T-minus 14 days until I hold you in my arms.
Son, I love you.