Many of you know my dad's story: He was born in Damascus, grew up in poverty in Aleppo and Beirut and came to the US at the age of 16 accompanied only by my grandmother's wedding jewelry (which he never sold), 68$, and a singular vision: to be a doctor. Many of you know he didn't see his family for 6 years, showed up in NYC not knowing what a hot dog was, speaking rudimentary English -- working as a dry cleaner by day, saving every penny and going to Queens college by night. Many of you know he made his way to Wake Forest University (my own alma mater) in North Carolina, ate out of vending machines on school breaks while other students went home to spend holidays with families, received a personal recommendation from the president of the university to attend Wake Forest Medical school and eventually, against wild odds, accomplished his dream.
Many of you know the outward details of the life of a man who never followed a path, but created one.
I want to share my experience and honor of being the eldest born of such a man.
My sisters and I grew up in many ways, in a feminist household -- Our father, from the youngest age was adament about the excellence of our academics. Summers were spent learning SAT words, hours reading in the library -- and any extracurricular activity in the theatre for me was made against the barter of maintaining a straight A report card. He would hold summits where he read motivational quotes to us from positive self help gurus like Zig Ziglar, and give us private classical guitar concerts (he is self-taught) waxing poetic on the importance of study, and practice and hard work.
But my father's true gift was not in what he consciously encouraged and mandated, although wonderful and valuable, but in what he naturally, unconsciously exemplified: deep passion, unbridled perseverance and the unwavering belief in the possibility of absolutely anything.
In what is one of the most extraordinary elements that has shaped who I am, my entire life has been an opportunity to witness what it is to follow a life's dream. To see the sacrifices that accompany that level of obsession. To tangibly feel the excitement of what it is to do what one love's to do in the world and to be called by something greater than the self. In front of my very eyes, I had the embodiment of what Joseph Campbell called "following your bliss". My father's life has been a testament to living with profound purpose.
In so many ways, my father is a simple man. He is still that boy who grew up eating fool and playing soccer on the dusty, serpentine streets of Aleppo and the little boy who sewed the soccer ball up when it got tattered because they couldn't afford to buy another ... giving glimpses into the surgeon he would become. This little boy, who from the outset was given so little, but who made so much from what he had, has generated a life of monumental generosity. From the way he provided for us as his family, to how he serves the humanity he loves so deeply, my father is simply a giver ...
So, dad, I want to express my gratitude for your greatest gift to me: your indelible, invaluable example :
Thank you for being this transformer of adversity
Thank you for being this manifester of hope
Thank you for being this disciple of determination
Thank you for being this custodian of wild dreams
Thank you for negating the acceptance of "no" and "impossible" from the lexicon of my experience, for being inspiration personified .. for being, quite simply, the most strangely unique, wonderful man I know ...
Happy 65th, baba! I hope I do a better job of this in 35 years ...