Behind Every Great Woman
Many men have influenced me in different stages of my life. But the man who laid the foundation of my personality is my father. My father’s lessons began early in my life and they continue today. His effect on me has been deep and profound. I learned to be kind and tolerant and to reach for higher goals. He encouraged me to make risks, to speak up, and ignited the love of writing in me.
My father’s name is Mahmoud. It is an Arabic name that means someone who is highly praised. As a child, I heard my mom say, again and again,” Your dad is a great man.” This statement gave me a feeling of great peace and created within me an admiration for my father.
My father is 68 years old now. He still works as a civil engineer but his favorite days were when, in his early 20s, he worked as a teacher.
My father is an elegant, polite man with nice white hair combed neatly to one side. His carefully chosen clothes are of high quality. His favorite color is purple and his style is eclectic in a way that combines modern and classic. For example, his casual look involves a slim, tailored shirt worn with pants cut in a slim-jeans style. He will never wear long sleeves or sneakers. He has olive skin, expressive features and sharp eyes that seem to glow with intelligence. He is of average height; he has a short neck.
There is some shyness in his personality that you can read in his body language and his smile. Perhaps it is his sensitivity or reverence, or maybe it is both.
My father loves perfumes and the air is scented with them when he enters a room. My mom told us this memory about when she and my father were engaged. She said, “When he would come to meet me in my brother’s house, the tissue in his hand would be full of perfume and I would take it and keep it with me after he would leave.”
A typical setting for my father is on the couch in the living room either watching the news or observing everyone silently. My dad talks rarely but when he talks he uses very condensed, strong and brief sentences. He likes to listen more than to talk. I am the opposite. Talking, to me, is a process of thinking.
He defends his position as listener more than talker by saying, “The more you talk the more mistakes you make.”
Even though he does not talk a lot, I have learned a lot from from what he did say because his advice always came at the right time.
Teaching tolerance demands consistency, and my father was consistent in his lessons.
When I was in the first grade, my mom was trying to teach me the skills that she believes make a person strong and successful.
“Don’t tell other girls what you know. Keep it for yourself. Do not let any one (anyone) get ahead of you,” she would say.
When my dad heard her statement he intervened, politely, but with lots of power and confidence in his words.
“This is not right,” he said. “Strong smart student do not lose anything when they share what they know. Actually, they take more confidence and power. Only weak students will try to hide what they know. Go ahead. Share and give.”
I took my dad’s advice and I challenged myself to give and share, overcoming all the time my jealousy and my fear of giving to reach to the real strength that comes from within that my dad had described.
I used to live in Saudi Arabia, where you can meet diverse people with different cultural values. There was a stereotype about Egyptians, for example, that they are money oriented in a cheap and direct way. But each time someone — a guest or a relative, for example — repeated this idea, my father responded by saying, “I do not agree. Egyptians that you meet here are a very small portion of Egyptians in the world. Egypt has a lot of positive impact in art, history and science.”
When somebody talks with prejudice about being Palestinian (our roots come from Palestine) my dad responds politely, “The best way to belong is to belong to an ideology, not to a piece of land.”
I absorbed all these great statement in my spirit and I live them in everyday life.
Another important aspect that works together with kindness and tolerance is reaching for great goals. My father widened my horizons and encouraged me to look farther and to reach higher. He wanted me to leave an influence on the world. This is the only way, in his opinion, to have a meaningful life.
This is his favorite part of a famous Arabic poem, “If you do not climb the mountains / in the holes you will live forever / the horizon never embraces dead birds / the bees never touch dead flowers.”
As I write this, I realize that my dad’s goal was not just to teach me good manners, but to lead me to universality.
In 1985 I, was one of the top 10 students all over Saudi Arabia, and this led me later to the chemical engineering school in Jordan University: one of the most competitive schools in the region. But after graduation, I decided I preferred the media to engineering. With my dad’s support, I was able to change directions. Let me explain: Working in broadcasting is not considered a respectable job for a woman in the Middle East. Also, it is not considered as prestigious or challenging. When my father asked me why I wanted to change direction, I told him, “I find myself more in communicating with humans about humans than in communicating about machines.” He smiled, remembering his best years as a teacher before he became an engineer. He said, “I do not care what people may think of me or you. Working in media will be a great opportunity.”
And it has. I have broadcast programs for women and children on TV and radio. Moving to America, I became a wife, a mother and a storyteller. I wrote my first children’s book that was published by one of the most respected publishing houses in the Middle East and I am about to start my new Talk Show for women “I Am America.”
I do believe that behind every great woman is her father. Have you ever noticed that in children’s literature, all the fairy tales are about princesses and their ties to their fathers? My father laid the foundation of courage, love of learning and reaching for universal goals.
I am still working on using this foundation and reinventing myself to get there.