Really, I don’t want to write about my childhood.
Or rather, I want to, but I want to try and remember the good parts.
My childhood rests on my shoulders like a huge load, a burden I’ve been carrying around with me for all of my fifty-three years, but a short exchange with Frauke yesterday brought back some memories that keep bothering me now.
It was not much more than her mentioning that she had begun to learn Arabic at some time because she was interested and rather liked the “basic tenets” of Islam, and that triggered, with me, the old queasy feeling of growing up with a Muslim father in a Western country.
Now, in hindsight, I understand my father a lot better, and also his struggle to introduce me and my sister to his culture and faith, and the obstacles he must have encountered in my mother’s family and his surroundings. How lonely he must have been, having no support at all! And he had come here for the love of my mother, leaving his home country and his family behind, only to meet this uncompromising resistance.
Sadly, my father never was a very patient or gentle man, but rather blessed with a terrible temper and no great understanding on how to treat children.
The one thing he never forgave me was that I was not a boy. His firstborn, and a girl.
SO not an option.
Imagine that wooden house in the forest on the dirt road, the staid German neighbors, my civil servant grandparents and uncles, my headstrong mother (she had gone to Arabia, remember, to marry this stranger!), and one child to fight over, and you have a potent brew.
When I entered high school at 11, I was the only child with foreign roots at a school with nearly 1000 students, and the only one for whom tuition had to be paid…. and the only one who did not have the German nationality. I don’t think there is need to elaborate.
The same went for holidays.
Muslim holidays were ignored, but it was expected that my father would celebrate the Christian feasts.
He must have been a truly torn man. He wanted the Western education, and yet he wanted it not. He wanted a perfect Muslim daughter, but with all the trappings of a modern, educated woman. H would tell me how he saw me in a strapless white ballgown, with satin gloves and jewels, a debutante, but he would not let me attend dancing lessons because that would have been immodest. According to his wishes, I would either be a doctor or a lawyer, but I was not allowed outside the house in the early evening to attend a typing course (which would have been useful!), and of course I would “return” to Saudi Arabia to practice that profession.
Where I would always ever be only a doctor for women or children, or a lawyer…. for what?
And we have not even spoken yet about the fact that I wanted to be neither…. ever.
Or that I did not speak any Arabic, despite his efforts to teach me… in grueling, torturous lessons on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, together with instructions in “faith”.
Now if I want to make sure my own kids really learn something and like it, too, I try to teach them the fun of it, first. I try to make them WANT to learn in, and not be afraid of it, or even loathe it
And here we return to Frauke and her interest in Islam. I LOATHE it. With all my heart.
To this day, and now I’m middle-aged and a lot more tolerant, there is this one thing that I loathe and want nothing to do with it at all.
Only now, with my father being 88 and a lot less rigid, we can talk about his life and what he wanted for his family, and for me, and he is able to accept my view of things, and I can see his.
The sadness of it, a life time wasted.
The misplaced love, wasted.
And the loneliness of one man, lost in a strange world because of his love, redeemed at the end of his life.