The America My Dad Dreamed Of

For this series, the WSP counselors were asked to interview an older family member with a childhood experience different than their own. These pieces focus on the family member’s past, particularly his or her goals or aspirations. The purpose of this assignment was to get the counselors to engage with an important family member and to learn more about themselves and their family history in the process.

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When I called my baba (dad) on the phone this week, I had the opportunity to talk to him even though he is usually busy working as the manager of his retail grocery store. Work: that’s all he seems to do. Whenever I look at my baba and see his deep set wrinkles, his graying hair, his shrinking posture, I become somewhat sad.

My baba and his brother came to the U. S. in the mid 70s – before the Iranian Revolution occurred. While my uncle went to Cal State Long Beach and received his bachelor’s in design, my baba went to community college and studied mechanical engineering, specifically calculus. His dream was to work for Boeing or even NASA.

Some years after the Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979, my dad went back to Iran in the late 80s, got married to my mom, and with her, came back to the United States to live here permanently.  And now that I see his aging, stressed, worn-out appearance, yet think of the strong aspirations he held long ago, I ask myself, “What happened?”

Baba, before you came to the U.S., what were your goals as a child?

My father took a few seconds to answer, in which I knew it was a rare question to be asked. In Farsi he told me, “All throughout school, I was always the best one at math. All of my classmates would ask me questions if they didn’t understand any of the problems, not the teacher!” I wasn’t exactly sure if my baba was exaggerating (like he usually does) or not, but I was impressed. How come these math genes didn’t get passed down to me and my brothers? He then said that his love for math grew as he got older. He wasn’t “a math protege,” but his proficiency in that subject led him to decide what he wanted to do as an adult. His dream was to be an engineer and help create cars, machines, anything.

When you were in college in Iran, did you continue to study math?

He stated that before he went to college, he had to spend two years in the military, as it is required of all men in Iran to do so. He didn’t hate that he was in the military, but he knew his time could have been spent elsewhere. However, after the military, he was able to enroll in college and study mechanical engineering for about one year. But then, he decided that he didn’t want to study that subject in Iran. He wanted to come to the U.S. – and so he did. “Under the rule of the Shah, it was much, much easier going to America.” My baba got a visa with his brother, and off they went to have “the American Dream.”

Did you expect the U.S. to be what you imagined?

My baba laughed when I asked him if he liked America. “Of course I did, and I still do!” His aspirations as a child were being brought to reality as he moved to another country. Along with his brothers, he wa able to experience a different culture and societal standards, all of which he knew was great in a different way. But as he kept talking, I noticed he started to speak a little bit slower, a slight hint of sadness in his voice. After he had spent a few years in America, the Iranian Revolution seemed to halt his dreams. After the revolution, he knew he had to go back to Iran, to see him family once more. And when he went back, he married my mother. “Pegah, when I came back to America with your mom, it wasn’t to chase my own dreams. It was to create a future for my family.” I felt bad because he said he never got far enough to apply for companies as an established mechanical engineer.

The sacrifices along with a two changing nations with relations ruined had altered the course of his life immensely. “What could I do, you know?” He instead created a small, retail grocery store with his business partner, and has since been its manager for almost 25 years now. And when I see those deep set wrinkles and his worn-out appearance for working almost everyday, I’ll always wonder how things would have been different if he decided to go ahead and chase his dreams.

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