For My Beautiful Dad
Bassam Habib Farha, 19 March 1946 – 14 November 2015
Thank you all for coming, particularly at such short notice. Dad would have appreciated the speed with which this was organised.
I wanted to say a few words about him, and I started in my usual place, looking up some quotations that I thought would capture something of his spirit. Alexander Solzhenytsen said, “talent is always aware of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing.” That was Dad, he had a genius for sharing and for giving of himself.
Another of my favourites was from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “true love is inexhaustible;” that was Dad, an indefatigable source of love and affection, “the more you give, the more you have. And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow.”
And love was our primary experience of him too. Overflowing with love for us as a family, and for the people in our lives, he filled the house with guests to feed at every opportunity. My primary memory of Sundays at home, were of Dad fanning a barbeque with anything that came to hand, including my homework on occasion, cooking a whole fish, and stacks of chicken and steak and sausages. There could never be enough guests in his house, or his life and we were all lucky to be guests at his table, to experience the world through him, to dine on his stories and be nourished by his love.
But the truth is, Dad didn’t read books. He told me he had read four in his life. He wasn’t interested in someone else’s experience of the world. He was interested in only one book, his passport, which he filled year after year, travelling the world, and fulfilling his promise to himself to see and love and experience everything first hand.
When he did something, he did it completely or not at all. All or nothing might have been his nick name, if it hadn’t been ‘Yalla Yalla’, Arabic for hurry up. His favourite game in the casino (and he liked casinos as a young man) was blackjack. It seemed to reflect his view of the world, that you can count your cards and know the odds but eventually you have to take a chance and trust yourself to luck. He found it exciting that the outcome was already decided, but still not known to him. “What’s written is written”, he used to say.
On family holidays, he would get up at 3 am to go to the fish market, and before breakfast was even finished he would be busy marinating, crushing, mixing, cooking the ingredients for lunch. Everything he did was a flurry of activity, a whiff of nicotine and endless cups of thick arabic coffee, extra sweet.
On workdays, he’d be out of the house at 7 am with a lebneh sandwich and two cups of coffee to get him started. For the few months he was forced to have a driver, after his licence was taken away, he would arrive at the office with the driver in the passenger seat because the driver was going ‘too slowly’.
Many of you knew him far better than I did as a younger man, at his peak in life, in family, in health. Everyone I have spoken to in the last few days have recalled his kindness, his love of life, of fun and his generosity in everything he did.
Few of you knew him as well as I did in the last few years, when his health declined, and he was further from the people he loved than he could ever have imagined. What was most striking, as his body deteriorated, was that his strength of character shone through even brighter. His dignity, his charm and his innocence rose to the fore. His love for his family, and the way in which he embraced my fiancee Marie with open arms, called his brothers and sisters every day, often many times, and waited impatiently for deliveries of kibbe from from his dear sister Amoul, was beautiful.
After his recent heart attack, lying in a hospital bed, fed and watered only through a drip, we arrived to see him. He beckoned a nurse over, looked at Marie with a smile and speaking to the nurse said, “get her a drink.”
His love of food, and in particular of Amoul’s cooking, which gave him so much pleasure in its regular deliveries to Cornwall, never completely left. One day in hospital, as I asked him yet again what would get him to eat he said, “bring me a watermelon and I’ll eat it all.”
Seeing a man who loved life as much as he did, who loved food, who loved his family, who loved water so much he had two water coolers installed at home, unable to eat and drink was unimaginably hard. He knew medecine couldn’t restore him to his former self, he never did like doctors, he’d seen the next card in the deck. “What was written was written,” he might have said.
He would have been pleased to see so many friends and family here for him but if you hadn’t come, he would have shrugged and said, ‘they didn’t want to.’ He knew how to take life good and bad without complaint. He fought like fury, but he knew when to accept it.
And then as I was writing this, I remembered something he said to me a few years ago, sitting in a cafe in Damascus. “Do what you think is right, and don’t listen to anybody else.”
Thank you Dad.
I originally delivered this eulogy at my father’s funeral at St Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in London on 19 November 2015.
I delivered it again on Saturday 21 November 2015 in Dad’s home town of Marjeyoun, Lebanon, at a service held in the church where he was baptised before he was buried alongside his parents in our family grave and my cousin, Darlene, read it at a service in his memory in Montreal, Canada on Sunday 22 November.