A note to my dad

Dear Dad,

Every year it gets a bit more difficult for me to understand how to best celebrate your birthday. How do you honor a life so well-lived, so accomplished, so selfless?

I've only known you since 1993, but your story is one for the ages. You were born in the slums of Iran into a family of six brothers and a sister. Your father a Rabbi, your mother there to raise all of you.

You worked alongside them in a silk mill where bringing home a dollar a day meant food on the table that night. Where one wrong move on the hand-powered machinery meant a missing finger. And in the evenings, on your long walk home, you were lucky to make it back without being bullied or stoned for being Jewish. This was life.

But you knew you were meant for more.

At 15 years of age, you left alone to a foreign country with just $80 in your pocket not knowing a word of the language. When I asked you what that experience was like earlier this year, you explained:

"The defining moment was when I sat on the plane. What was this, fifty years ago? I swear to you, I remember this as if it was yesterday. You've seen this in movies a thousand times. A kid is separating from his parents. He turns around and looks at them through the window wanting to have one last look.

I had that sort of a feeling that I wanted to – whether in my mind or in true physicality – turn around. But I insisted, 'I will not look back'. And it wasn't about physically looking back. It was that I would not look back at where I came from or what was past. I was only going to go forward."

You landed at JFK in 1970 unattached from the past, only to spend your first nights sleeping in Manhattan's subway stations. Your drive remained unrelenting.

Over the coming years, you wore your newfound titles with pride: each a small validation of the belief you placed in yourself. From "dishwasher" to "busboy" to "deliveryman" to "waiter" to "student" to "dental intern" to "D.D.S".

This note could never do justice in conveying what you endured moving from step to step. The 23-hour workdays. The trips to the ICU. All for a few dimes a day.

How fitting it was that you ended up in a profession meant to relieve others of their pain. Only someone who had been through what you had could have practiced it as empathetically as you did for 25 years.

And as if you hadn't had enough, you went on to discover your final title: "Dad". And what a father you have been.

To recount my childhood is to recount being led by example and unconditional love. In every moment and interaction, you made it seem so effortless. All these sacrifices never spoken from your mouth; never shown on your face.

Who could have asked for more?

It is a privilege to be your son. I am forever grateful for that endless determination that led you to be the man you are today. And it's my hope that others like you – who see more in themselves than their circumstance should ever allow – do not have to experience all that you had.

So today on your 65th birthday, I am committing to donate at least $25,000 a year for the rest of my life in your name to charities that would have eased your burden and suffering in those most sacrificial years of your life. And in the spirit of those relentlessly optimistic days, months, and years, I'm naming the effort Forward.

My greatest wish for your birthday today, Dad, is that you feel it was all worth it. For a life of joy instead of one of survival, I will always be indebted to you.


October 21, 2020

2020's donation →