Father's Day: Driving lessons with my Egyptian father

A young mother remembers driving lessons from her immigrant father as an example of his principled, patient teaching and care. 

By , Correspondent

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    A huge electoral banner for presidential candidate and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen among traffic during the third day of voting in the Egyptian presidential election in Cairo, May 28.
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Driving lessons with my dad were not a joke when we were teenagers. He would wake us up at the crack of dawn on Sundays and take us to an empty parking lot to practice. And even though the K-Mart parking lot we practiced in was entirely empty, he would scowl disappointedly and say, “you just hit five cars – how are you still driving?” if we drove on or even came close to the empty parking spaces. 

But dad continued to be patient, yet stern when we made mistakes. When we improved and stopped "running over" pretend cars in the parking spaces, he would finally let us take charge of the wheel on the drive back home as the sun was rising.

Besides teaching me how to become a defensive driver, my father has taught me other numerous lessons throughout the years.

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He taught me to: always remain principled, even if others aren’t; treat others justly, even when it’s easy not to; never turn down someone who asks for help, even if you are struggling yourself; continuously give, and do so humbly; work hard – do your best; remember that vacations are important — take care of yourself. Most important, he taught me to take care of the family. 

Fathers who care for their families – whether they are single parents, homemakers, step-dads, immigrants, or otherwise – aim to protect, support and love their families unconditionally. 

My parents immigrated to the United States from Egypt when I was just 1-year old and my brother was 2. They left everything behind and were exposed to an unfamiliar culture and language, no friends or family, and worked long days to try to cultivate a fuller life. Besides seeking a better future for his children and wanting to better provide for his family, he strongly disliked the corrupt economic and political practices back in Egypt.

My baba (the Arabic word for dad) has always been a hardworking man with strong ethics and upright values. Growing up, we watched him take on 24-hour-long shifts at his job, and for the past 15 years he has commuted a total of three hours every day.

With all of this, not once did my siblings or I ever hear him complain about his challenging job as a doctor. Instead, he always strove to fulfill his job wholly, and by doing so, he strove to make a difference in whatever community in which we found ourselves when we relocated or traveled.

When we traveled with him on a business trip or on vacation, and we rode in cabs, Baba would casually chat with the cab driver about life and family. I remember he would always give the drivers extra cash and tell them it was a little gift for his children. He has a deep appreciation for the hard-working family man, regardless of social stature or occupation, who struggles to provide for his family.

But above all that, his main reason for working was for us – to support my strong, selfless mother and my three other siblings. Over the years my caring mother has been a community organizer who makes endless sacrifices with her time, skills, and resources. She's faced discrimination and ignorant comments in regards to her Muslim faith and culture, but has always remained steadfast and forbearing. 

However, no matter how hard he worked, work was never my father’s  first priority.

Family always was his first priority, and he made that clear as soon as he stepped into the house after a day at work. My siblings and I would playfully hide from him when we heard the car pull up, and he would always walk in and pretend to search for us (even though we consistently hid in the same places) and act surprised when we popped out and scared him.

He made up silly songs for us that we loved to hear and recited them back to him proudly. Baba took us to the park with him and let us play on the playground while he walked, allowing us to explore enough so that we felt independent, but still connected to him. 

Although he eventually became a US citizen, my father has held on to his roots.

He continuously gives back to his community in Zagazig, Egypt. He makes sure my grandmother who still lives there is well, calls her several times a week, and brings her over for summer-long visits to the US every year. Since she speaks no English, whenever she visits, he goes out of his way to book her layover flights at Arabic-speaking airports.

One year, he tried booking too late and the only layover available was in New York City. So he booked the same flight for himself to NYC, dropped her off, made sure she got on the international flight to Cairo, and flew back to Ohio on the same day.  

A couple of years ago, Baba suffered a cardiac arrest while at the office, and thankfully survived. His recovery has been a long and trying process. During those initial tough days after the incident, I realized truly how much people around us respected, loved, and cared for my father. 

Friends and family flew from all over the country and even from Egypt to see him. During that time, I dropped my graduate class and left my job for several weeks to be close to him. 

It was hard to imagine life continuing as usual as my family and our friends focused entirely on his recovery, with the same fervor he used to care for all of us.   

In a way, we all felt this: my mother, husband, and sibling all put everything on hold at the time so that we were near him.  We simply did what he had always taught us: family is irreplaceable; family always comes first, no matter how we’re doing with our  career or education. Everything else can wait. 

Happy Father’s Day to all the hard-working fathers out there who always put family first.

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