Fathers, Love Your Daughters

By Taleen Mardirossian

In 7th grade, Jason Miller asked me to be his girlfriend. The bell rang during our game of two on two so we returned the basketball to Coach N and started walking to 5th period when he grabbed my hand and completely blindsided me, “Wanna be my girlfriend?”

At the age of twelve, I didn’t know that having a significant other was even a thing. Sure, Jason and I had a lot in common; we both loved skateboarding, were fans of Sugar Ray, and reveled at Jason Kapono but that’s why we were friends. In all honesty, I was more prepared for a 9.6 magnitude earthquake than Jason Miller’s suave proposal. At least then I would know to drop, cover, and hold but no one had given me a step-by-step guide on how to reject a prospective suitor. To be fair though, my mom had kind of, sort of, not really warned me that this would happen.

“Boys are going to like you,” she would tell me, “but no matter what they say or ask, you always answer no.”

“Even if I like them?”

“Especially if you like them.”

“Mom, that makes no sense.”

“You want to know a secret?”

Of course I wanted to know a secret. Asking a girl if she wants to know a secret is like asking a sweet tooth if it wants sugar.

“Here’s how you pick the right boy.” Now she had my attention. “If you tell him no and he moves on to another girl, he doesn’t deserve you. But if he fights for you, then that means he loves you and only you.”

I must say mom was on point, but this didn’t become my dating mantra until years after that day in 7th grade. Had I listened to my mom when Jason Miller asked me out, I would have simply said no and walked away. But what I did in that moment had nothing to do with my mom and everything to do with my dad.

My dad and I never had a conversation about boys. He was your traditional Armenian dad; protective to a fault and untrusting of every human being I ever came in contact with. However, he was more modern in his thinking then he’ll ever realize.

During that year that Jason Miller asked me out, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with the show ER. I’d be up before the sun watching back-to-back episodes while my dad drank his coffee and read Asbarez. One morning, as I watched George Clooney charmingly hand out miracles to his patients, I confessed my change of heart.

“Dad, I think I’d rather be a surgeon than a lawyer.”

“Who said we can’t be both?”

In our conversations, my dad always used (and still uses) the word we; never you or I, but always we. We would figure things out, we would go to law school, we would become president one day, if that’s what I wanted, and although I was aware that these were all things I would have to do on my own, I always knew that we were in it together. And if I was going to have anyone on my team, I was glad it was my dad.

He’s the charismatic type, the what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong kind of guy who speaks his mind even if he knows he’s going to offend the person sitting right next to him. I admired him and was always in awe of his strong character, never phased by anything or anyone.

Despite his intimidatingly perfect mustache and resilient nature, this hardy man would smother me with kisses, whisper I love you in my ear when I pretended to be asleep, and spend hours at a time just talking to me. According to him, I was the best at everything I ever did. He oohed and aahed at my every move and if I knew anything growing up, it was that I was the smartest, most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He taught me my worth and made me believe that I was invincible, capable of anything and deserving of everything.

And heaven forbid, if anyone were to ever lay a finger on me, or make me feel uncomfortable, my father encouraged me to recollect my savored scenes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and similarly, strike at the antihero.

And so when Jason Miller made me feel uncomfortable that one day in 7th grade, I instinctively slapped him. In hindsight, Jason was hardly an aggressor, nor a villain, but my twelve-year-old self was naïve and unnerved nonetheless. His blue eyes froze, as did the gel-soaked spikes in his hair. With my luck, the principal happened to be standing only a few feet away, bearing witness to my “socially unacceptable behavior” and immediately demanded an apology.

“I didn’t do anything wrong so I’m not going to say I’m sorry,” I shot back, my voice trembling with fear.

This was another lesson I had learned from my dad, never apologize for the sake of apologizing. And so I stood there with my arms crossed, hearing the gasps and whispers of the girls huddled around us. She doesn’t want to be Jason’s girlfriend?

As Jason disappeared into the crowd of students, I took my first walk of shame to the principal’s office. My heart was beating out of my chest as I felt my cheeks turning red. Good students weren’t supposed to be in the principal’s office and I couldn’t help but feel like this was the end of my life.

“You shouldn’t have slapped Jason,” he stated assertively.

“And he shouldn’t have grabbed my hand and asked me to be his girlfriend,” said my timid but attitude-filled voice.

“You should be flattered that a boy likes you.”

At this point, I felt like I was under attack. I had been taught to be ladylike and I was pretty sure slapping someone was far from it. And Armenians are all about respecting their elders and I was also smart enough to know that answering back wasn’t a form of respect. So I was beginning to question whether I was the one at fault.

“Listen, you’re either going to walk into class and apologize to Jason or I’m going to call your parents.”

Looking back now, my principal must have thought that this choice would be a no brainer and it was. After all, isn’t that the ultimate threat? What kid wants the principal calling their parent? But my immediate response caught him off guard.

“542-7321.”

I may have been on the verge of hyperventilating but there was no way in hell I was giving a public apology for something I wasn’t sorry for. After all, if I was in trouble, we were in trouble.

He walked me out and told me to take a seat in the secretary’s office while he made the call to my dad. I never found out what was said during this conversation but he came out minutes later and told me I was free to go back to class.  Just like that.  And I remember grinning from ear to ear because this meant that all those times my dad had said we, he had meant it.

For me, that day was less about Jason Miller and more about my relationship with my dad. It was my dad’s influence that kicked in when I panicked and it was my dad’s love and support that gave me the courage to do what I thought was right.   Where other parents may have scolded or punished their child for not obeying an authoritative figure, my dad carried me on his shoulders and paraded me around the house as though I had just won an Olympic gold medal. That day marked the beginning of a series of life decisions that were made solely on what I felt and believed was right, never taking into account what others might think or say.

I have since realized that without a doubt, it was my mom who built the foundation of my very being but it was my dad who built me up from there. Where I could have easily become lost in the loud voices of the bold, patriarchal men of my family, simply fading into background noise, my dad raised me to become a woman whose voice was just as loud, if not louder, than his.

The Benefits of Being Raised Armenian

By Taleen Mardirossian

I see the new generation of Armenian parents repeatedly shying away from Armenian traditions, culture, and even, language. And the reasoning behind this somewhat intentional abandonment of identity seems to be one and the same, to make it easier for their children to integrate into society. Here’s my take on this trend; you’re not doing your kid any favors.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’m not a parent and by no means is this meant to be a parenting guide on how to raise your children. These are just the thoughts and experiences of a twenty-six year old, raised to be Armenian in a city where most people would ask, what’s an Armenian?

I grew up in the South Bay, a predominantly white neighborhood where Armenians are a rare find.  I vividly remember my mom calling me one day, hurriedly telling me to tidy up the living room.  To Armenian moms, tidy up actually means dust the tables, vacuum the floors, Windex the mirrors, and set up an impressive arrangement of nuts, cookies, and dried fruits.

“Why mom? The house is already clean.”

“Because I found people.  I’ll be home in ten.”

This either meant that the human race had become extinct since the last time I checked or that my mom meant that she had found our kind of people, which turned out to be the case. Where I grew up, if you heard Armenian-speaking voices in the next aisle while shopping, you’d bring them home for coffee.  So, it goes without saying that I was raised in a town where the norm wasn’t being Armenian, it was having blonde hair and light eyes, and I definitely didn’t fit into this norm. At school, I was often the only bearer of an –ian last name.  And I was always okay with this because instead of indirectly encouraging me to shy away from my identity, my parents taught me that having a hard to pronounce name, thick eyebrows, and a not-so-perfect nose made me different, and that being different meant that I was special. So I grew up loving my name, my eyebrows, and my nose but most of all, I loved being Armenian. I loved being different.

And this “being different” that young parents are now trying so hard to dodge away from, is the very thing that is rewarded in the society they are trying to fit into. Being different is what lands you the job that hundreds of other applicants interviewed for.  Having a voice that’s different, a perspective that’s different, a presence that’s different, is the difference between being ordinary and extraordinary.  The progression of our society is not thanks to people who invest their time and effort into being like everyone else. So, instead of trying to mold into the norms of society, allow your child the opportunity to embrace the fact that they are different.

And I don’t mean to say that being different is always easy, because it’s not. Being the only Taleen in a school of thousands of students wasn’t exactly a stress-free experience growing up, but I attribute a lot of my personality to the fact that I had an uncommon name and here’s why. It taught me to speak up when my classmates dared to call me something different and it taught me to demand respect from anyone who needed to call my name. I learned not to sacrifice something as important as my identity for the sake of not inconveniencing my peers. I learned to be patient and teach others to pronounce my name correctly, think Pauline but with a T, even if it took a dozen tries to get it right. Having an Armenian name taught me to stand up for myself and others, even if it meant that I had to stand alone.

Being raised Armenian also taught me to educate my peers. In third grade, my teacher handed each student a sheet of paper and told us to write down interesting facts about a country of our choice, which we would later present to the class.  Naturally, I chose Armenia and the facts that I found interesting weren’t about Armenian foods or landmarks. Here’s what my third-grade self wrote:

Taleen is a special name in Arminia because in Arminia there is an old village called Taleen and a lot of people live there.  Turkish wanted to fight us because we were the first people to be Christian and the Turkish didn’t want us to be Christian and they wanted to have our land.  Every ten Arminians fought back against hundreds of Turkish soldiers.  April 24, 1915 is a memoriel day for the Arminian people because they killed over one million Arminian children, womans, men.”

Mind you, I didn’t know how to spell Armenia in third grade but I did know that Armenia was the first Christian nation and I did know about the genocide perpetrated against my ancestors.  And in case you’re trying to figure out how old you were in third grade, the magic number is eight. While my classmates went up, one-by-one, educating the class about how the French eat snails and how fascinating the Great Wall of China is, eight-year old Taleen proudly went up and gave a history lesson about Armenians.

Most parents these days would cringe at the thought of an eight-year old having any knowledge about an attempted mass extermination of an entire race but my parents taught me about the history of my people at a fairly young age.  They never sheltered me from the cruelties capable by man and they didn’t raise me with the false perception that there is no evil in this world.  And because I was always acutely aware of my people’s past, I grew up with compassion and a constant desire to right a wrong.  And it is for this very reason that I continuously found myself gravitating towards positions that involved public interest throughout law school.  This constant desire to seek justice for people who are victimized and advocate for those who are oppressed was not just happenstance.  This compassion was deeply rooted to a past that occurred long before I was ever born, a past that nearly annihilated the Armenian people, and being raised with knowledge of this past taught me to care for people other than myself.

Many people rolled an eye or two at my parents for their traditional approach to parenting while raising me and my brothers. Surely, they were told that their children would fall behind in school if they were taught Armenian before English, that they would become insecure if given un-American names, and that they’d be emotionally scarred if they were taught about the devastating past of their people before they were adults. But my parents, each fluent in four languages and raised to be Armenian in the Middle East and Europe, thought differently. They followed tradition in naming their children, raised their kids in a hayeren khoseer household where we only spoke Armenian, and educated us about both the victories and tragedies of our history. I can honestly and confidently say that all those eye-rollers were wrong. My brothers and I were not adversely affected by being raised Armenian, nor were any of our close friends who were raised similarly. Among our group are educated and intelligent Armenians who attended prestigious universities, graduated at the top of their classes, hold influential positions, and are successful entrepreneurs.

It doesn’t mean that a child with an American name or a child who doesn’t speak Armenian is any less capable of achieving success or possessing these qualities. All I’m saying is that if you’re foregoing an Armenian name for your child, choosing not to teach them the language or history, solely because it will be easier for them to assimilate, then maybe it would be worthwhile to think about the positive aspects of gifting them with a unique name, language, and history. Before being so quick in holding your child back from their own identity for the sake of convenience, let’s remember that parents are supposed to build their child’s potential, not limit it.

Armenians are a people whose history dates back thousands of years, a people who have lived through kingdoms, wars, and genocide, which means, we’re pretty damn good at persevering when all odds are against us.  And your children are their descendants and they too will persevere. By raising your children to be Armenian, you will be raising them to be kind, compassionate, understanding, loving, and appreciative. You will be teaching them to stand up for themselves and others, to be a leader, and a hard worker. If for no reason at all, raise your children to be Armenian for their sake because being Armenian is a beautiful thing to be.

blog