Learning to talk

We couldn’t wait for Kaveh to start talking and hear what his little baby voice would sound like. It was no surprise that one of the first words he learned was car. He was obsessed with cars and especially big trucks. He probably collected over 200 matchbox cars from birthdays, holidays, or the casual visit to the toy store. He organized them in a long single-file line that resembled a highway traffic jam, starting from the playroom and stretching out along the length of the hallway until he ran out of cars. Other times he lined them side by side like they were in a big parking lot or perhaps the start of a monumental race. Every time he saw a car or a truck on the street, he would yell out “CAR!!!” Since he began talking relatively early, I figured he was smart enough to learn the difference between a car and a truck. So, every time we saw a truck and he yelled out “car,” I would point and say “truck.” After a few days of this it started sinking into his vocabulary. Unfortunately, I just confused him and he ended up combining the two words together. This was a never-ending source of laughter, especially with his grandparents in the car because most of our conversations with them were interrupted with our one-year-old blurting out the word “COCK!!!” every time he saw a car or a truck that he liked.

We knew we were in big trouble though when we walked into a birthday party for our friend’s son and noticed the theme was construction. All of the plates and napkins and posters on the wall had great big trucks on them. Pooneh and I exchanged cautionary glances and before we knew it, our excited little Kaveh ran through the room repeatedly yelling out this taboo word that had never before been uttered by a one-year-old! We didn’t even know most of the parents at the party, making it embarrassing and funny at the same time to see their expressions of shock and dismay.

He wasn’t shy about using new words that he heard, even big words that came out sounding more like a completely new word that he invented. The funny part was that he would repeat it the exact same way with total confidence like we were idiots for not understanding him. You’re welcome came out as Malcolm (I think there was a kid in his daycare with that name), hamburger became hangeber, and helicopter sounded like lellipopper or something like that. He used to sing the song “Small World,” but we could never really understand if he had all the words right until I heard him singing loud and clear, “It’s a small world, Uncle Wob…” I suppose he figured all those little kids inside the ride at Disney Land were singing to his Uncle Rob.

Pooneh taught him some Farsi words to enhance his language capacity and hoped he would eventually speak it fluently (he didn’t). She told me this would help me learn to speak Farsi too if I practiced along with my kids, but I’ve never been adept at learning foreign languages. I took French for two years in high school and two more years in college, yet still can’t speak it worth a damn. I did pick up some new words and phrases from her every couple of months that I would sprinkle in to the conversation with her family, but not nearly enough to carry on a conversation. Sure, they acted like they were impressed, but sometimes I mixed up a word or used it in an inappropriate context which could get embarrassing at times.  

Whenever Pooneh took Kaveh for a bath, she would call it aab-baazi. So, one day Pooneh’s aunt called from Iran while she was giving Kaveh a bath. Her aunt didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Farsi, but I did know—or at least thought I knew—the word for bath. Figuring she would understand to call back later, I explained the situation with as much clarity as I could muster, “Pooneh aab-baazi.” I was sure I said it correctly but instead of replying, she giggled kind of awkwardly, so I repeated, “Pooneh aab-baazi,” louder this time. Then she burst out laughing along with a blur of words that I couldn’t begin to comprehend except for Khoda hafez (goodbye), then hung up. I told Pooneh that her aunt called and when she called her back, I could hear them both laughing throughout their entire conversation, and by the way she kept looking at me, I had a pretty good feeling I was the source of their amusement. After hanging up, she explained to me that aab-baazi is actually a term to describe babies or children playing and splashing in the water and not bath or shower. Of course, her aunt knew exactly what I meant, but I guess it painted a picture in her head she wouldn’t soon forget.

More confusion followed at Kaveh’s daycare. The teacher asked us one afternoon what sheer meant, because he kept repeating it with increasing insistence until he began to cry. When we told her it meant milk, it looked as though she just had an epiphany and she promised to spread the word to other teachers. We felt bad for the poor little guy and realized that if we were going to teach Kaveh a dual vocabulary, then we would have to teach the teachers how to speak Farsi as well.

A few months later I asked him a question at dinner, but he kept ignoring me for some reason, so I snapped at him, “Hey Kaveh, what’s the matter, don’t you speak English?” His reply was almost indignant as he shook his head: “I don’t speak English, I speak Farsi.” This became one of his most famous lines, and we still tease him about this to this day.

A Birthday, a Wedding, and a Heart Attack

We took Kaveh for his first plane flight to Munster for a very busy week with two big events to celebrate: his first birthday and my brother Rob’s wedding. But the real excitement began when my dad decided to have a massive heart attack right after Kaveh’s birthday party had ended. We think it was probably the ice cream cake that did him in because he started agonizing about shoulder and chest pain shortly after eating it. I called the paramedics who brought him out to the ambulance on a stretcher while my mom and I waited in the car behind them. As soon as they put him in the ambulance, I saw some commotion and then the paramedic waved for me to join them. I peered inside the darkness of the ambulance bay to find my dad posturing with his head torqued to the side and his arm flexed over his head. To anyone with medical training, this is an ominous sign of lack of blood flow to the brain. He was unresponsive but they hadn’t even hooked him up to a monitor yet, so I couldn’t see what his heart was doing. They began checking his pulses and doing CPR, while I ran in to get my wife for extra help. We hurried right back out and his monitor showed ventricular fibrillation, so we shocked him, which thankfully worked on the first try. We got him to the hospital in time where he received blood thinners followed by five vessel bypass surgery the next morning. My poor dad had to miss the whole wedding but listened in on the cell phone from his hospital room during the ceremony and speeches.

Rob had asked me to give the traditional speech before dinner, so I prepared and rehearsed for weeks ahead of time. After the events of my dad’s near death, I added a whole new part of the speech that I had to memorize. I emphasized that despite the fact that the groom’s father couldn’t attend, this is still a time of celebration since he survived the heart attack, and after all, we were at a wedding. My dad said he felt like he was listening to his own funeral! I’m not a very good public speaker and got lost halfway through. Feeling flustered with everyone staring in silence at my bright red face, I gulped down the champagne that I was supposed to save for my toast and somehow regained my composure. At the end of my speech, I closed with toasting to the new bride and groom and offering them a piece of advice. “Make sure you have kids; you never know when they might come in handy some day!”

On top of the birthday, the wedding, and the heart attack, Pooneh and I had to wake up early and drive through heavy traffic to a medical conference in Chicago every morning. Needless to say, we were totally exhausted by the time we got on our plane to go back home. Just as we got settled into our seats to relax and began to reflect on the long week we’d been through, Kaveh vomits the most malodorous, bile-ridden, sour milk puke all over poor Pooneh. I just stared in disbelief at this thoroughly disgusting situation until Pooneh calmly suggested that I go get some paper towels. Of course, this had to happen right at the beginning of the flight, so she had to sit in smelly, wet clothes for hours until we arrived home.

Kaveh’s wild wagon ride

               Once back at home, we had another party for Kaveh with Pooneh’s side of the family. For his first birthday present, I bought Kaveh a new wagon so I could walk him around the neighborhood and to the park. Now that he was a “big boy,” this was way more fun for him than the baby stroller. When we walked through the garage to drive to his daycare, he headed straight for his little blue wagon and just sat there, wanting me to wheel him around. One chilly winter day I took him to the park. When I looked back at him sitting in the wagon, he looked so cute and happy, beaming a closed-lipped, chubby-cheeked smile. Stuffed into his Sheepskin winter coat, everything about him looked puffy and cute. When I sped up, he let out a chuckle and grinned even bigger, so I ran faster down a hill which made him laugh out loud. I ran off the sidewalk into the grass to make it even more exciting, and he started yelling with joy. I loved hearing the sound of his laughter rattle over the bumpy, unpaved terrain. Then I ran around in circles, turning sharply in different directions, hooting like a silly dad in the park with his toddler. Before we left, I ran him down the hill once more for a grand finale. To maximize the acceleration—and hence his joy—I made a quick turn at the bottom of the hill. I turned around expecting to see that cute little smile between those puffy red cheeks. But to my horror, I saw him soaring through mid-air! He flew so fast that upon landing, he kept rolling and tumbling across the cold hard ground. “Holy Shit!” I shouted as I ran over to pick him up. He shrieked in terror with a look I’ve only seen on him after waking from a nightmare. All I could do was hug him tightly and tell him how sorry I was. Thankfully he was ok and willing to get back in the wagon. I looked around to see if anyone had seen what just happened, because I’m sure I would be ex-communicated for my negligence. Pooneh would have freaked. Whether anyone saw me or not, I was sure of one thing—I’m going to hell.

Baby Kaveh, Part II

(I’ll try to spare bad puns like “Number 2” or “Part doo-doo”)

As magical as those first few days were with our new baby my parents visiting from Indiana, they didn’t go as smoothly as we would have liked either. Despite attending the breast-feeding class, she still couldn’t get him to latch on properly. I guess there is no way to teach an infant, but I couldn’t help thinking, “How could it be this difficult, isn’t that the most natural thing a baby can do? In fact, it is basically the ONLY thing a baby has to do!” He never did get the hang of it, so poor Pooneh ended up pumping her breast milk and then feeding it to him with a bottle for the next six months.

For the ride home, I brought out our overnight bags and flowers to the car, then brought Kaveh and fastened him into his new car seat. On the way home, Pooneh reached back and noticed that the car seat was too loose. She started freaking out and made me pull over to fix it. “This was the one thing I asked you to do and you couldn’t even figure out how to put in a car seat correctly! How could you be so careless with our baby’s life?!” She went on to say that I should have taken it to a police inspection site so they could certify that it was installed correctly. Guess where I spent the next morning?

The next several days were pretty brutal, and days stretched into months before I finally caught up on my sleep. I’ve been through internship and residency, so I am used to getting woken up at all hours of the night, but at least I would get a couple days of rest between overnight shifts. I did my best, but after a week or so of this, my body began to rebel. I could hear him crying, but I incorporated his cries into my dreams. One time I swore that I actually got out of bed, picked him up, cradled him endearingly in my arms, and placed the bottle to his hungry lips. But then I suddenly heard her gasp and jump out of bed in frustration, “Can’t you offer to get up and feed him at some point during the night to give me a break?” I honestly and sincerely replied, “At least I dreamed I got up to feed him. That must count for something!” Any humor buried within that comment was lost on her.

I was very good about playing with him almost every waking minute that I was home from work. I would move his arms and legs up and down for exercise, caress his cheeks, put him on my shoulders and let him eat and pull my hair, practice sitting up with him, taking him for walks in the stroller, and on and on. But on one unfortunate evening, I couldn’t get him to stop crying despite my best efforts. I made sure his diaper was cleaned, held him and rocked him and fed him his bottle, walked up and down the hallway, tried getting him to laugh with my weird sound effects and exaggerated expressions—nothing worked. Pooneh was busy making dinner so I didn’t want to bother her. Then a light bulb went off in my head when I remembered how much he loves to sit on my shoulders. Surely that would work, so up he went! I tried doing whatever I could to distract him like singing loudly and walking in circles around the room and clapping his hands. It wasn’t working so I trotted toward his colorful bedroom when I suddenly heard a loud thud. I wasn’t paying attention and whacked his poor forehead on the top of the doorway! He went silent for a second, but then started whaling at the top of his lungs like never before. Pooneh yelled from downstairs, “Oh my God, what is going on up there, what was that sound?!” My head exploded with a deranged sense of fear and dread. I hoped to God that she didn’t think I intentionally hurt him because I got fed up with his crying. I explained what happened and basically told her that I wasn’t fit to have kids because I was such a complete idiot. She calmly took him into her arms and after a few tender lullabies, he finally calmed down and fell asleep. It turned out that he just wanted his mommy after all.

Waking up in the morning next to Kaveh in his basinet was the cutest thing you could possibly imagine. We couldn’t see his body from our bed and couldn’t hear him because he was generally such a tranquil baby, but we knew he was awake because his legs and feet would stick straight up in the air. He would just hold them up there and occasionally give them a little wiggle. Once in a while he would let out a cute little squeak or coo, but that was about it. After about two months of this morning entertainment he began to outgrow his basinet, so we felt it was time that he moved out of our room and into his crib. On weekends that Pooneh had to work, she didn’t want him left alone in his room, so she would bring him in to sleep next to me on our bed in the morning. I remember staring at his little face and watched him jiggle for a while until I fell asleep again. Somehow I don’t think that was what Pooneh had in mind. When I rolled over, I must have unknowingly tugged the blanket from under him and spun him off the bed because I heard a thud as he hit the floor and began crying his eyes out! Thankfully he landed on a carpeted floor and calmed down pretty quickly after I picked him up and consoled him. I figured I hadn’t caused any brain damage or anything, but if babies could speak, his first words would be “What the F#&K, Dad!”

Please stay tuned for my next post: A birthday, A wedding, and a heart attack!

Baby Kaveh

After the wedding and graduating residency, we moved to California to begin our new lives together and our new careers at Kaiser Permanente. We had some issues to work through that first year, like many couples. Of course, it was usually my fault, either by something ignorant popping out of my mouth or doing something unknowingly inconsiderate. I just looked at myself as a wild and undomesticated caveman who needed to be trained and humbled into husband-hood.

I tried my best to charm her family through my efforts of learning the Persian culture. The first Persian (Farsi) word I learned was “Joon” which basically means “dear.” It is a friendly and endearing way to say the names of those they are close to, like Baba-Joon and Nana-Joon and Pooneh-Joon, and always brings out a smile, especially if coming from someone who doesn’t speak much Farsi. Then she taught me some common phrases like “How are you doing?” “This is delicious!” “Good morning and Good night.” I quickly learned the names of my favorite Persian dishes since she wouldn’t prepare any unless I asked for it by name. Honestly, I had never eaten anything comparable—the most exotic food in Munster, Indiana being Chop Suey and some Greek restaurants.

The most important and useful phrase I learned (for Pooneh at least) is “I’m Sorry” which is pronounced “bebakh-sheen.” It almost always worked like a charm to soften her up after inadvertently doing something to upset her.

Anyhow, when Pooneh became pregnant with our first baby, I felt like I was ready to embark on a new journey in life. Even though I was still adapting into my new married life, I was fully aware that these changes are trivial compared to the new priorities and sacrifices demanded by a new baby, and a new family.

Yet I was undaunted, and my excitement grew right along with her belly. We went to Lamaze class together, practiced the breathing techniques and exercises, and all that good stuff. On the day of her ultrasound appointment, I was supposed to meet her at the clinic with a video camera to capture the first mysterious images of our growing, intrauterine baby. Whoops! I committed my first mistake of fatherhood—forgot to bring the videotape. (No, we did not have cameras on our phones in those days). The look of disappointment on her face made my heart sink. Oh well, we had the still images of our healthy baby and later got one of those 3D Ultrasounds that was way cooler than the plain old ultrasound, so we were both happy.  

Since he would receive my last name, we wanted to give him a Persian first name. I actually liked many of her suggestions because they all had some kind of meaning behind them, unlike most American names. I just had two conditions: first, it should be easy for Americans to pronounce. I didn’t want my family to have to strain themselves trying to make that “khh” sound from the back of the throat, like in the name Khosrow. Second, I didn’t want the name to sound like a funny English word that would invite ridicule from other kids.

We both liked Kaveh (pronounced Ka-vay) since it is easy to say and sounds exotic, strong, and elegant at the same time. The clincher was when she told me about the origin of the name. Kaveh was a legendary character in a famous epic poem called the Shahnameh, written by Ferdowsi in the tenth century, a mighty blacksmith that led a national uprising to overthrow their evil, foreign, tyrant King. His name forever after became symbolic for unity and resistance against foreign rulers. “Oh, hell yeah! How can you get better than that? Kaveh it is!”

The time finally arrived with the onset of her labor contractions. “Great, let’s go!”  I hopped out of bed, ready for action, leading the deep breathing, encouraging her that she would soon deliver a new baby into our lives and how all this misery would be worth it. The contractions fizzled out though, and after an hour or two we were back in bed. Well this went on for the next three nights, always starting at 2:00 am. She would try bouncing up and down on her big blue inflatable exercise ball with me massaging her back and coaching those obnoxious breathing drills into her ear from behind. Since I had to wake up early for work each morning, my “coaching” and support became less enthusiastic, and of course she grew even wearier and more exhausted than me. By the fourth night, she ended up agonizing in another room all by herself, with me knocked out in bed. She wasn’t very impressed. Looking back, I can kick myself for not understanding that even though she didn’t need me to tell her how to breath, she just needed me to be there with her.

Since she wasn’t progressing, she was admitted for induction the next morning. Starting early, we were optimistic she could deliver the baby by evening. We brought her big blue ball to bounce upon and even a cute tiny, little bear that our Lamaze instructor told her to focus on to distract from her pain. We chose the little bear because we used to take turns putting it in random places for each other to find; a way of letting the other know we were thinking of them when not at home. But hour followed agonizing hour with one contraction after another. She bounced a few times but ended up kicking it across the room when I stepped out. Even though I was up for more breathing and massage with renewed vigor, she found it completely ridiculous at this point. Trying my best to think of something to help, I warily presented our sentimental little bear to her. “Sweetie, I know it’s hard but just try and focus–” and with that she promptly whacked it against the wall. She evidently didn’t want to be spoken to or touched during these relentless waves of pain.

She finally ended up getting relief with an epidural block, but by 3:00 am the doctors decided she wasn’t making progress and the baby’s heart rate was becoming abnormal, so she had to deliver by C-section. I had the video camera this time! Our son, Kaveh, was plucked from the uterus, as healthy as can be with a full head of dark Persian locks. He literally needed a haircut already since it had already grown below his ears. He was a big boy too, at eight and a half pounds, which made me very proud. “Put a hammer in that mighty blacksmith’s hand!”

The part that I didn’t expect as I was trying to look across the room at him through the crowd of doctors and nurses attending to him, was when he tilted his head backwards and peered across the room, calmly and directly at me. I know that newborns can’t really see very well, but that didn’t stop him from looking directly into my eyes as I walked toward him the whole length of the room. I felt recognized and loved by someone I had just met, who rewarded me with an immediate sense of what it meant to be a father.

By the time we got from the operating room to our hospital room it was around 6:00 am, and we hadn’t slept in 24 hours, not even including the four nights of labor before going to the hospital. Baby Kaveh was still in the nursery, and Pooneh finally got a chance to rest. I was exhausted too, but when I looked around the room, I realized that there was nowhere for me to lie down. I kissed Pooneh goodbye and left for home to get a couple hours of sleep. I knew I wouldn’t be getting much in the days to come. After a refreshing shower, I stopped to pick up some flowers and returned to the hospital later that morning.

I expected to see a pleasant smile on her face as she gazed upon our new little miracle. Instead she looked tense and totally exhausted as she tried to get our new little miracle to shut the hell up. She darted her blood-shot eyes at me and asked where I’d been all morning. Apparently right after I left, the nurse brought Kaveh back to her and she had been awake ever since. She said the nurse acted surprised that I left her alone since she really wasn’t supposed to be holding the baby so soon after her C-section. She was also having trouble breast-feeding, so he cried all morning from hunger. I felt so terrible that I already failed within the first few hours of being a father. I didn’t know what to say except that I didn’t realize the nurse would bring him out of the nursery so soon and there was nowhere for me to lay down. I tried to articulate my best “bebakh-sheen” that I could muster, but she countered with a sharp “Oh shut up, you’re not even saying it right.”

My Wife

June 2000

It wouldn’t be proper to jump right into my adventures without first introducing my wife, Pooneh. She didn’t move to the U.S. until after she finished high school in 1985, which was six years after the Iranian revolution. Speaking only a very primitive form of English when she arrived in California, she learned quickly through classes and working at a donut shop. Our paths didn’t cross until twelve years later when I was working as an intern, and she was a visiting medical student performing a two-month rotation at a hospital in Michigan.

Sure enough, I even managed to bungle plans on the first day we met. While attending an evening conference for residents and medical students, I had my eye on this beautiful Persian girl with pretty brown eyes and sporting a little flower in her lush, dark hair. She was sitting with a bunch of other medical students a couple tables away. After dinner I went over to ask them if they would like to join me and the other interns to play pool at a bar across the street afterwards. They exchanged uncertain giggles and glances with one another, and the best they could reply was “Maybe.” I asked the guys at my table if they wanted to go but they didn’t look too enthused either since they had to work in the morning. I felt a little disappointed that everyone was being so lame, so I just went home and watched TV. Apparently, the girls decided to go after all because the next day Pooneh came up to me with a big teasing smirk on her face and asked why we stood them up at the bar last night! Ugh, I’d already screwed up and it wasn’t even our first date. At least she knew who I was now, so it was easier to say hello and chat when I saw her in the hospital.

The following weekend, I got a call from one of the medical students who asked me if I wanted to take her and her friend out to a movie. I wasn’t at all interested in her, although she was really friendly, so I asked her who her friend was. “Pooneh, do you know her?” Without a moment’s hesitation I replied “Oh yes! I’ll pick you guys up in an hour.”

We went to see the movie Liar, Liar with Jim Carrey. Pooneh was sitting in the middle of us and couldn’t believe the contrast between our reactions during some of the scenes. On her left, she heard my unrestrained, bellowing laughter, while her roommate on her right wouldn’t even crack a smile because she probably thought it was too corny. Pooneh later thought she might have been angry because she didn’t get to sit next to me even though she was the one who called me. After the movie the three of us went to an Irish Pub nearby. Pooneh and I talked the whole time for over an hour, while this poor girl just sat there with no expression and didn’t say a word unless I asked her a direct question or made an effort to work her into the conversation.

We became more acquainted that month by going on a couple dates to the park for paddle-boarding, and a musical called Showboat on our last weekend together. Over dinner, she told me her name comes from a type of pretty blue flower that grows in the mountains of Iran. She told me that she loved sports, but it was against regulations to run or jump in high school grounds because it was not considered “proper” in a Muslim country. Volleyball was allowed, but they had to play in a carpeted room with only a nine-foot-high ceiling while wearing a full-length gown (kind of like a tunic) and a head dress. She told me stories of her family having to endure bombing raids during the Iran/Iraq War while having to study for final exams.

In comparison, stories about my high school days on the swim team or heading to the malls and teenage night clubs to “pick up chicks” sounded quite ordinary, but she did a good job of indulging me.

Before she left at the end of her rotation, I let her know that I was changing my residency to Good Samaritan Hospital in Arizona, and since it wasn’t too far from her home in California, I suggested that she schedule some of her fourth-year rotations over there. She did! And the faculty liked her so much she was accepted as an Internal Medicine resident the following year.

After a series of romantic blunders which I won’t go into (hell, I could write an entire blog about that!), I gradually learned what it meant to be in a committed relationship. I just looked at myself as a wild and undomesticated caveman who needed to be trained and humbled into husband-hood.

We planned a big wedding at a castle that we rented in Hollywood Hills. I knew from experience after her brother’s wedding that the bride and groom are expected to remain on the dance floor for the majority of the night to “keep the party going” and that most of the attention is centered on them. It became clear to me that if I wanted to impress her on our wedding night, I needed to learn to dance like a real Persian man.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even know how to dance like an American, let alone like a suave Persian dude—and to unfamiliar foreign music no less. My brother, Rob, knew what a terrible dancer I was from our days at those teenage nightclubs like “Club Soda” and “Jubilation,” so he was really looking forward to getting a good laugh at my expense.

Pooneh’s brother and uncle were always the studs of the dance floor, executing their moves with masculine flamboyance and confidence, raising their arms in the air, and shaking their shoulders without moving any other part of their bodies. Their wives and even Pooneh complimented them with such perfect grace and elegance that I felt like I was in the Persian-version of a Bollywood movie. Needless to say, I felt extremely intimidated which made me dance even more awkwardly.

Some of the parties we attended with her family involved dancing in the family room with really nowhere for me to hide. Since I was the only American in the party, and Pooneh’s new boyfriend, they even lured me in from the backyard, beckoning and chanting my name with growing vigor until I joined them. At first, I was kind of shy, so I’d just try to wiggle around with subtle motions so as not to attract much attention. This didn’t do any good though because they soon formed into a big boogying circle that each one of us had to enter in turn and lay down our best impromptu jig with everyone clapping and singing around you. I actually ended up just letting myself go and it turned out to be pretty fun.

When the big day finally arrived, I surprised myself that I wasn’t even nervous. I just felt honored and excited to see so many guests arriving from across the country and even overseas. The castle and grounds for our outdoor wedding looked surreal and even more picturesque than I imagined. Pooneh looked absolutely stunning. We strode out of the castle and over a bridge together to a lively Persian wedding song, taking our place under a beautiful gazebo cascading with vibrant red and white flowers and overlooking the valley behind us. The minister read beautiful poems in Farsi which he then intermittently translated into English. This actually sounded better in planning than how it played out because nobody could really focus on what the heck he was talking about through his strong accent.  

After the ceremony, an extravagant display of hors d’oeuvres stretched across about ten long tables, while a DJ played a good mix of both Persian and American music. Rob and Chris were with my cousins and friends that have known me since I was a kid, sitting on the edge of their seats, eager to see what a fool I would look like trying to dance in front of all our guests.

I nailed some of the new moves Pooneh showed me which seemed to energize the guests with rousing cheers and applause. This gave me some confidence, and realized for the first time that I was actually enjoying myself on a dance floor! Then I copied some moves of the other good dancers on the floor and improved as the night went along. Rob and Chris joined me for a Russian jig, which we performed arm in arm with our long legs kicking out from a squatting position (think of the wedding from the movie The Deerhunter). Rob told me afterwards that he was quite impressed but also disappointed that I didn’t give them enough material to make fun of me at their table after all. I felt like my triumph in learning to dance was a symbol for my triumph of finally becoming a husband that Pooneh would be proud of. We continued to dance the night away, as I watched my big American family try their best at some Persian dance moves alongside my new family that they had just met—truly an unforgettable night.

My Parents

To give my audience a sense of who I am and where I came from, I was born in 1970 and grew up in a residential town in northwest Indiana called Munster. I have two brothers: Rob, who is about two years older and Chris, who is seven years younger. My dad has always been a hard-working, very active man who worked long hours in the steel mills of East Chicago, while my mom worked a couple of long overnight shifts in the admitting department of the emergency room so she could be home with my brothers and me during the day.

Now, before I go on to expose my own stupidity with raising kids, I’d like to begin by throwing my parents under the bus. They were terrific, responsible parents, and I have nothing but great memories of my childhood, but I just wonder if there might be an absent-minded gene that we don’t know about. Or maybe we do know about it, like some type of Attention Deficit Disorder or something like that, but never diagnosed. Allow me to illustrate some examples of what I mean.

When I was a young teenager, we went on vacation to stay at a cottage on a small lake in Michigan. When we arrived, we wanted to change immediately into our swimsuits and jump right into the lake. “Not so fast,” said my dad as he stared blankly into the trunk. “Looks like we forgot to bring your bathing suits.” We walked over and joined his bewildered gaze as we all stood staring into the empty trunk of our car, struggling to realize that we had no luggage at all. My parents swore that they remembered packing and carrying the suitcases out to the car, so this became the big mystery for the whole trip. Did we get robbed at a gas station or something? We had to buy poorly fitting, nerdy-looking clothes for the week at some secondhand store, since it was a very small town without any department stores nearby. When we returned back home, as we drove down our street, we noticed our luggage still sitting on the sidewalk next to our driveway–mystery solved! Once the shouts of amazement and laughter simmered down, my dad pointed out that it was a good thing we lived in Munster, Indiana because where else would three big suitcases sit on a sidewalk for four days?

My mom is notorious for being absent-minded. Lively conversations about her funny stories can go on seemingly for hours with her sisters’ howling laughter and slapping of thighs at our family parties. She amassed quite an array of strange mishaps over the years while working her midnight shifts in the emergency room. She once accidentally tied a patient’s wrist to the gurney with his wristband ID. Another time she kept asking this female patient with “beautiful big eyes” what her name was until the nurse had to tell her that she was dead. One morning, she came home from work and found an apple in her coat pocket. Wondering how an apple could have landed there, she finally realized that she accidentally brought her boss’s coat home instead. While taking an elevator down to the cafeteria and talking with her friend, she looked over and noticed that her friend was not there anymore. Apparently, she was facing the wrong elevator door and didn’t notice her friend getting out. The next thing she knew the rear door opened and she found herself staring directly into the morgue! When walking out to her car, she passed by the parking lot security gate and felt someone pulling her purse off her arm. She screamed and looked up to see the gate rising into the air and snatching her purse along with it.

When she was a teenager, she went on a first date to a drive-in movie. Her date went to the concession stand to get some popcorn and drinks. She got cold so she turned the car on, but her date had left it in reverse gear, causing it to lurch backward about five parking spaces! Fortunately, no cars were parked behind her. She didn’t know how to drive stick shift, so some obliging young man offered to move it back for her. Her date returned just in time to find this handsome guy driving his car with his date sitting beside him, both laughing and smiling from ear to ear! He figured he was not only stealing his date but his car too!

One of her most famous incidents earned her the nickname “Crazy Mary.” It all began as she drove to the local grocery store on a day like any other. Her sister, my Aunt Jean, happened to be driving down Ridge Road, which is the main street in town, and slowed down as a stately funeral procession began passing her by in an orderly fashion. But then she heard some of the cars honking, which of course is unusual for such a somber and ceremonious event. She even noticed that instead of the usual stone-faced expressions of the passengers, they looked a bit distraught. A moment later, she spotted the source of the problem, and my mom was the focus of it. My mom said she didn’t understand why cars kept honking at her, so she kept changing lanes, but for some reason kept cutting right back into the procession wherever she could find an opening. Aunt Jean joined in on the honking, trying unsuccessfully to get her attention. She watched in stunned disbelief as my mom changed lanes once again and looked to be finally passing the procession until cutting back once again into the motorcade—right behind the Hearst! She continued driving like this for some time, completely oblivious that she was driving in the most honored position of the funeral procession.

As much as our family loves to tell these stories about her, it is only fair to provide an example of when she saved me from an absent-minded mistake, an oversight that could have been catastrophic to my future career. During my senior year of college, I told her I had received an acceptance letter to medical school but was still waiting for a couple of other schools to reply before I made my final decision to attend. They came to visit me for the weekend around that time and wanted to see the letter. I noticed her expression turn from excitement and pride to alarm as she read every word. “Oh my God, did you know the deadline to respond is only two days away?” My head almost exploded in that moment since I had no idea and would have missed it if she hadn’t read it so astutely. She definitely set the foundation for me through her inspiration and setting me straight with good study habits. Now because of this I can more directly say that I never would have made it to medical school if it wasn’t for my mom.

#

When not working, my dad has always been engaged in some project or another which usually involves gardening, digging and designing beautiful ponds, photography, and even hypnosis. He hypnotized Chris’s high school swim team before sectionals as well as his cycling team for optimal performance. If you can believe it, he even hypnotized a stubborn wart off Chris’s foot that finally disappeared within a week.

 He prides himself on being quite the handyman. I am the opposite of a handyman, so every time he comes to visit my family, we have a list of projects to keep him busy. I’m pretty sure he would actually be insulted if we didn’t have any repair or installation projects for him when he arrived. He loves to wear pants or shorts with a lot of pockets to keep his “nifty” little tools with him at all times. He really enjoys showing off his latest tool. “Have you seen my new pocketknife?” he asks with a beaming smile as he reaches into one of his many deep pockets. Once he brought out about five handy tools within a two-minute span that had no relation to what we were doing. He basically just wanted to show off how many he could fit into his pockets and how useful each one of them was. My wife couldn’t believe it as she laughed harder and at a higher pitch with each successive tool he presented. He wasn’t even done yet, because when I facetiously asked him if he had an adaptor plug for my amplifier that I was trying to find for the past two years, his eyes lit up and he promptly whipped one out of his magic pocket: “You mean one of these?” Unbelievable but true story.

He often gets irritated when people aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, and he is usually the focused one who calls others out on their carelessness. Patience has never been one of his virtues. He is quick tempered, but fortunately his wrath dissipates as quickly as it starts. My mom is the most frequent victim of his frustration. My kids’ favorite line of his that they love to imitate is his famous: “What are you doin’, Mary?!” using his rising pitch and exasperated tone to a tee. But she has never been one to put up with his anger, so they are like a living embodiment of the old comic called “The Lockhorns.” One evening when he came home from work, he saw my mom struggling to make dinner with two whiny young toddlers hanging onto each of her legs. She had worked overnight the night before and instead of sleeping, spent the next day trying to clean the house as best she could and play with us kids. She hadn’t had time yet to fold the laundry and the ironing board was still up. Instead of offering to help her out, he groaned “This house is a mess!” Completely frazzled at this point, she darted her head around, revealing bloodshot eyes and a storm of wild hair as she blurted out “Why don’t you just put a broomstick up my ass and I’ll sweep the floor with it too!”

As focused as he usually is, he is not completely immune from this absent-minded trait, as this next anecdote told from Rob’s perspective will expose. One snowy, cold morning as teenage Rob was lazily lying on the couch and watching MTV, my dad descended the stairs, shaking his head in disgust and telling him to make himself useful. “Hey Rob, instead of watching this crap, how about snow blowing the driveway so I can get to work?” He said he would, but then feigned a long bathroom break in hopes that Dad would get tired of waiting and do it himself. He didn’t hear him nagging to hurry up, so he quietly went to his bedroom to find himself another distraction. Suddenly he heard him booming up the steps before bursting into his room. “I thought I told you to snow blow the driveway! Get your ass out there right now or I’m going to be late!”

“Fine, geez, I forgot,” he meekly replied and skulked out of the room. He made his way downstairs and noticed a good video on TV which gave him pause but was immediately nudged along by his increasingly impatient father. He then had the gall to get a light snack out of the refrigerator, but as he was unwrapping the cheese, Dad whacked it out of his hand, slapping the cheese against the wall. “Don’t even think about picking that up!”

“God!” he retorted with a harsh whisper under his breath, “All right, I’m going!” He slowly put on his boots and coat and finally made it out to the garage. After about five minutes of struggling to start the snow blower, he felt satisfied with his effort, came back inside, and started to take his boots and coat off. He was startled by the sudden appearance of Dad looming over him as he bellowed from the top of the steps “Now what the hell are you doing?!”

“The snow blower won’t start, what do want me to do?” Then something seemed to snap inside Dad as he burst into a full-blown conniption. He furiously threw on his coat and pulled Rob back out to the garage, shouting obscenities all the way. “You have to learn how to be a man! You have to be able to figure things out on your own! If you want to be successful in life you need to work hard!” He approached the machine and checked the gas which was full. He primed it a couple times and with his great strength, yanked the cord nearly out of the machine and it fired right up. Triumphant, he puts one foot on top of the roaring machine like a conquered foe and pointed his finger at Rob, shouting over the engine noise, “You see!  That’s how you get things done!” 

Feeling proud of Dad during this big teaching moment made it all the more difficult for him to point out the obvious. “But Dad, that’s the lawnmower, not the snowblower.” After a long pause, his brain finally came to terms with the situation and he began laughing out loud. The tension was momentarily diffused, until he quickly discovered why the snow blower wouldn’t start: no gas.

My dad is actually known more for being injury prone than being absent-minded though. He might just be the only person to ever break his knee playing golf. Ok, he wasn’t actually playing golf when he broke it, but hopping a fence to get his ball that he had knocked over. He tripped over a pipe at work some years later and broke his nose as well as his other knee at the same time. A few years ago, he lost his balance on his bike while trying to reach into his mailbox and broke his thumb. His latest injury was when he lost control of his bike on a gravel road and broke his pelvis.

When I was about five years old, I was outside playing while Dad was up in a tree trimming branches. Suddenly he slipped, and the ladder fell away leaving him hanging onto a branch by his arms about twenty feet in the air! He told me to go get Mom for help, so I ran inside. “Hurry!” After hanging on for dear life for about two minutes, he sees me come back outside without her. “Mom is on the phone and wants to know what you want.” The entire neighborhood could hear his roaring until she finally came to his rescue.

Ok, just one more. I came home for lunch one afternoon in the fifth grade while my Dad was trying to dig up a post that was cemented in the ground in our back yard. He couldn’t lift it out himself, so he talked the garbage men into giving him a hand. The three of them were able to carry it to the garbage truck, but when they went to throw it into the truck, the post swung violently and whacked my poor dad across his head! He didn’t pass out but was bleeding all over his hair and face and clothes, and all over the yard for that matter. “Scott, go tell Mom I need some rags. I just split my head open!” Fortunately, she wasn’t on the phone this time. He had to go to his sister’s wedding the next week with his entire head wrapped in white gauze and over twenty stitches in his scalp.

My dad likes to relate his favorite story of what fatherhood really meant to him as we were growing up, because it exemplifies his love for his family alongside the chaos that goes with it. He arranged a week-long bicycling trip in Vermont through a beautiful, peaceful Bed and Breakfast that was featured on the cover of Gourmet magazine as one of the best places to stay in Vermont. He invited the rest of us along with a couple of our cousins and my Aunt Jean to do some sightseeing. Eight of us piled into one big blue station wagon that had well over a hundred thousand miles on it already. My little brother sat up in the front with my mom and dad. Aunt Jean, Cousin Mary and Rob were in the back seat, while either Cousin Dave or I would alternate sitting four across in the back seat with the others or else squeezed in the “way-back” with the luggage.

Everything went smoothly after stopping off at Niagara Falls and dropping Dad off at his Bed and Breakfast, and then the rest of us journeyed on to visit my aunt’s friend who owned an oceanfront hotel in Maine. My mom and her three sisters were notorious for having bad sense of direction, but despite this, they bravely set off on this grand adventure anyhow. The trip was supposed to take about five hours, but after driving about that long they noticed that we hadn’t even crossed the border of Maine yet so figured they must be lost again. The two sisters nervously chatted back and forth over the map, trying to see how to correct our route. After a heated discussion, we all agreed to keep heading in the same direction until we came to the next major highway which would take us exactly where we needed to go. Everyone except for my brother Rob, that is. He quietly looked over the map for a few minutes and explained quite logically what we needed to do. Nobody trusted him since he wasn’t even old enough to drive yet, so we all shut him down, saying he didn’t know what he was talking about, and kept driving out of our way for another half hour. He remained very adamant that we had to turn around NOW, and his persistence finally paid off. We stopped at a gas station to ask directions and it turned out that he was correct after all. They asked how much longer it would take to get to our hotel, and he told them it would take about another five hours! Amazingly, after another several hours of driving with Rob clutching the map and ensuring that we stayed on track, we finally made it to our destination.

After a few days of fun at the beach, we headed back to Vermont. We had no real problems with directions this time, but we noticed smoke beginning to emanate from under the hood that smelled like burning oil. We only had another hour to go so we pushed on. We had almost arrived, but Aunt Jean realized that she just barely passed up the exit. We were so close, and she didn’t want to risk driving on and possibly getting us lost again, so instead she BACKED UP on the freeway to get to the exit ramp! We all yelled for her to stop, but she kept backing up and reassured us that nobody was coming. Thankfully, we made it back to the exit unscathed and approached the Bed and Breakfast.

My dad describes this scene in all its glory. He was relaxing peacefully on the extended front balcony and engaged in pleasant conversation with the owners while enjoying tea and crumpets. They gazed out at the expansive lawn and backdrop of trees, as the occasional car slowly idled up the dirt road as if it were a carriage to pick up their loved ones. The view was immaculate, his mood in a state of bliss, feeling like a character in some serene painting. Then out of the distance, a cloud of dirt and smoke appeared from the furthest end of the road. He watched in silent consternation as this abomination rapidly approached. As it loomed closer, he could make out that it was in fact his own family in his dusty blue station wagon, tearing down the dirt road at 50 miles an hour! The smoke was really starting to blast out from under the hood by this time. We had wet, sandy beach blankets and towels piled high on the roof to dry and had also left a couple of bathing suits flapping out of the windows to dry and block the sun. His teenage kids were hanging out of the other windows and shouting “Hey Dad! Hey Dad! We made it!” The woman next to him smiled and politely asked, “Is that your family?” After a few seconds of staring at us in stunned silence, he raised his eyebrows and replied, “I’m afraid so.” His thoughts were a paradoxical mix of emotions because even though he knew this station wagon filled with utter chaos had arrived to rip him away from this serenity and back to reality; his heart was filled with joy to see his family again, and he ran to welcome us with a broad smile. He knew this was a memory he would never forget.

Introduction

As a physician, one would think I should be pretty smart: using good judgement, calm deliberation and forethought, making the right decisions…that kind of thing. I can assure you that I do these things when taking care of patients, so don’t be alarmed if you happen to run into me in the hospital. But when it came to raising my kids, well—let’s just say these traits don’t always translate so naturally.

It’s not like I was totally unprepared for raising children. In medical school I studied some of the psychology behind children and adolescents. During my pediatric rotations, I watched how experienced pediatricians interacted with their little patients, noted how they got them to laugh and relax so they would cooperate for their physical exam. I also had plenty of opportunities to develop my interactive skills with kids on my own. Surely, I must have picked up some parenting skills from all this. They say nothing can truly prepare one to be a father, but in general, by the time my wife became pregnant when I turned thirty two years old, I felt ready to rear a child of my own. My wife even made sure that I read one of those baby/parenting books that teaches about baby psychology. But alas, none of this came close to preparing me for what was to come in fatherhood.

 Growing up, I had always imagined that I would be like a combination of my own dad and Mr. Brady from the ‘70’s television show: responsible, structured, understanding, and fun. I looked forward to the day when I would be head of my own household. While many teenage kids probably look ahead to their college years or their twenties, I couldn’t wait to be a thirty-five-year-old dad with a big house and a big yard in which to play with my kids. As it turns out, I am no Mr. Brady.

Now, as I reflect back on my early parenting days, I see my struggles with a sense of humor, as I suspect many other experienced parents do. While it didn’t always seem so at the time, the stories I tell people are really quite comical and worth sharing. Some of these stories were so outrageously funny and ridiculous even at the time that I actually shared them on emails the next day with my brothers and friends. I saved those emails, and when I went back to read them years later, I thought they might be entertaining enough to arrange into a book or blog format to share with a broader audience. 

I get mixed reactions when I tell some of these stories. Many people can relate and empathize to exactly what I was going through, whereas others (usually mothers) simply laugh in disbelief or are incredulous that I could even get myself into such an absurd situation. Don’t worry, this is not a just a collection of self-deprecating tales of parental mistakes, I will include some success stories and heart-warming ones as well.