My dad’s journey to America was not hard or arduous, but his life in Egypt was. He left in the early 1980’s as a single man. He picked strawberries in France as a part of a two-year study abroad program, before finally getting citizenship in America.
My father had deeply traumatic experiences in Egypt that directly confronted his idealism in freedom of speech, religion, and honest democracies. For example, during the Cold War my father ended up in jail as a middle schooler, and later was put on President Anwar Sadat’s watchlist for advocating for Communism on live television.
Still, my father persisted. He scored high enough on his test in Egypt to become an engineer, a coveted position. In his idealism, he decided to shun engineering and instead became a social worker, accepting a much lower socio-economic position.
I never understood what it was exactly that made my father leave until I visited Egypt for the first time as an adult. When I met his brother (my uncle) for the first time, he told me that my dad was “too honest for Egypt, and that’s why he had to leave.”
As a social worker, corruption in Egypt left him jaded and disillusioned. My father visited people who were signed up for welfare. He once told me of how he met one woman who was so poor she and all her kids lived in one tiny bedroom in an apartment. He also met an ex-military man who was clearly faking his poverty, hoarding his belongings in a hidden room. When my dad went to his supervisor to report what he found, his supervisor ordered him to give a welfare check to the rich man, not the poor woman, because that man was connected to the “right” people in the government.
My dad came to America, and married my mother very soon after. I think that changed my dad’s identity. His hopes, fears, and challenges became tied to his children. Growing up, there were cultural clashes between my father and I. I was not allowed to celebrate Halloween for the first half of my life, had to beg to go to school dances, and to go to the mall alone with friends. These are just a few of the challenges we faced. When I was older, I realized that although my dad was twice my age, he was “discovering America” at the same time that I was. Things like multiculturalism, individualism, religious freedom, and of course, dating, were all things my father had to get accustomed to while I was growing up.
I want everyone to know–especially my father–just how thankful I am that he gave up everything he knew for us. As an outspoken female Christian journalist, I cannot imagine what my life would have been like in Egypt. I encountered a quotation on social media about immigrant families that deeply resonates with me. It says: “My parents were tasked with the job of survival and I with self-actualization…What a luxury it is to search for purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.”
I have watched my father do whatever it took to keep our family afloat. He sold satellites, health insurance, and anything else he could to make sure we had food on the table. My dad has given up his health, a life with his parents and siblings, and his own personal dreams to take care of us.
My dad is a visionary. I think, in a sense, most immigrants are. How could so many have given up what they knew for a life of complete uncertainty, if it wasn’t for their vision of what could be? In return, their kids become doctors, engineers, lawyers, and, in my case, a writer; to make their sacrifices worthwhile. It is in us, the children of immigrants, that our parents’ vision lives on.
Marianne (about her father, Ezzat) – Los Angeles, USA