Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Interview with Kaveh Adel

Kaveh Adel, D.D.S is my son. For years, my relationship with him was like the relationship between Annette and her son Marc in Romain Rolland's Novel "The Enchanted Soul" (1922-33).

From 1914 to 1937 Rolland lived in Switzerland where he completed this seven-volume novel which centers on a female counterpart of Jean-Christophe, and a woman, Annette, who becomes disenchanted with material possessions and struggles to achieve her spiritual freedom. Other central characters are Sylvie, Annette's half-sister, and Annette's son Marc. The work reflected Rolland's interest in Communism - Annette becomes active in the defense of the Soviet Union.

As Rolland quotes: "The greatest book is not the one whose message engraves itself on the brain - but the one whose vital impact opens up other viewpoints, and from writer to reader spreads the fire that is fed by the various essences, until it becomes a vast conflagration leaping from forest to forest."

Now here is Annette's interview with her son Marc!

1- Introduce yourself to those who do not know you.

My name is Kaveh Adel. I currently reside in the Western Suburbs of Chicago.

2- How old were you when you left Iran. Tell us the process of your emigration and your situation after you left Iran.

I was 13 years old when I left Iran with you (my mother). Iran was still amidst the war with Iraq at that time and almost every night we were under threat of air raids and missile attacks. During this time I was living with my father and step mother and my half brother (who was six months old) and I would go with my mom on the weekends to visit my grand-mother and father in a suburb of Tehran almost every weekend. My mom under intense pressure and was fearing persecution and even imprisonment because of her writings(under an Alias) and involvement in opposition groups to the Islamic republic regime at that time. So, it was those circumstances that lead to the mutual decision between my mother and father that I would leave Iran with my mother, much to my dismay!
We left Iran and spent several months in Paris (living with a great uncle.. in his flat, which was quite generous of him) but we felt like we were imposing on him despite his generosity, Our attempts to secure a visa to travel to the United states hit a dead end in France. For me, this time was one the darkest times of my life. Having to deal with nightmares of air raids and bombings, essentially anxiety left with me from living in fear. I was uprooted from my familiar environment (my school, my family, my favorite cousin who was like my brother) and I had to deal with growing pains of puberty in an extremely open society such as France where nudity and human sexuality was out in the open and I was “brainwashed” by the Islamic regime guilt and shame instilled in me from years of being in a segregated school ( I was the first generation that started first grade under the new regime in 1980). Make a long story short, I was miserable in France. I felt that I was in limbo every day there were new options given regarding my future (ranging from going back to Iran again possibly without my mother, Going to the U.S. to live with my aunt who I had never met before, Possibly going to Mexico to live with an uncle and his family, living on my own in a boarding school in France if my mom would not be able to stay) Being separated from her was not going to be an option! At the same time, I was constantly being reminded to study by my father who had no clue about the emotional and psychological pressures of emigration so in case none of the plans would materialize that I would return. I knew that returning to Iran without my mother was not an option either because the dynamic of family that I was used to would not be the same: I would not see my mother every weekend and without her presence I would simply be the other son. I realized that very early on. So, we had to travel to Italy, to the city of Genoa and there with the help of my aunt, a great uncle, mother’s cousin, an attorney and sponsorship by a wonderful man (my aunt’s husband’s uncle) in the U.S. we were able to get a visa to travel to the US. During my interview with the American Consulate I was (maybe, idealistically in my mind) made a statement that After my travel to the states and studying there, I would go back and help rebuild my war ravaged country!!!

3- Did you willingly leave the country of your birth? What do you think about your decision now?

As I said before, the circumstances were such that I had no say in the matter. My father was dealing with a newborn baby with his second wife and my mom’s life was in danger. They made a decision that at the time was the best they could. Did not matter if I was a willing party to this decision! In retrospect, I believe it was the best decision. But, I can never be sure … no one can ever be sure about a different path, and can not dwell on what could have been! Sure, at age 13 I would have wanted to stay in Iran closer to my family and friends than become a stranger who would be looked at and treated differently for rest of his life. But, that’s all in the past!

4- How was your early life in the U.S.?

Pretty hard. Thankfully, my aunt was an angel amidst all the confusion and was a guiding light. But, having been used to a certain type of life now I had to start from below zero. A language that had some familiarity with but no UNDERSTANDING of! I have a funny memory that I’d like to share: In Iran, especially during the war we were pretty hard pressed with money and there was a shortage of heating fuel so hot water was hard to come by so we took showers once every few days sometimes once a week and also our clothes we did not have an outfit for everyday of the week so we would wash the clothes everyday(so at least the clothes were clean!) well, when I came to the States and started as a freshman(1st year) in high school at the age of 13!!! I literally had 3 sets of clothes so I would go to school 5 days a week and naturally I was seen in two sets that I wore earlier that week.. Finally one day one of high school classmates came up to me and said: “hey man, do you ever take a shower??? Or change your clothes???” You can imagine I felt pretty small, like I was the being compared to a cockroach…..To this day that has stayed with me but I find it pretty funny now! But I digress!
Grasping the language and expressions were pretty hard but by the second year in high school I was much more comfortable and I was due to extreme hard work on my part( I remember looking in the mirror and trying to watch my mouth as I would pronounce each word—and I would practiced it until it would sound like what an “American” sound!
Money was tight( we had arrived in the US with more than $10,000 debt due to various expenses ranging from attorney fees, airplane tickets, living expenses just to make it here… not to mention dental surgery in Paris for an abscessed tooth!!) so from the get-go we had to start working, no honeymoon! No time to enjoy the sites and the sounds….. get to the land of dreams, the land of opportunity… now it’s time to get to work! At first, we lived in a two bedroom basement apartment that my aunt had secured for us) that literally had two well windows so it did not get much sun! My mom had to work, I started high school literally the week I arrived in the US and also had to start work too(paper routes, passing out coupons for Domino’ pizza, and sometime later I was actually making pizza( I was getting pretty good at throwing the dough up in the air and make a “mean” pizza!) In reality the American dream that I envisioned wasn’t throwing pizza or watching my mom have to do babysitting jobs and be exhausted every night, but those were the cards we had in our hands….. no aces, but we made the best of it!

5- How do you compare your situation with the other Iranian students who were the same age?

I remember back home I was always compared by my father to my classmates and it was meant to motivate me to do better…. I absolutely despised that methodology! I have since learned to compare myself to me; to my own potential not someone else’s potential!
So to answer, that question: I have to say that everyone is different. I can say that there were several other Iranian students that I vividly remember a single girl who would go to my high school by the day, work the late night shift, go to her small apartment that she had to pay rent for and all under the age of 18 and she did not even have a parent there in Iowa(the frigid yet friendly state where I grew up!) and there were others who had all the money and support of both parents had jobs in the university, would get driven to school and picked up. I would place myself in the group who had it harder but certainly not as hard a that girl I mentioned! She was a very humble person despite all the hardship so when I had to ride my 10speed bike in snow some days to get to school because some weeks I did not have money to pay for the bus, I would think about how hard she had it!)
There is no good answer to this question, except that story of such hardships should be told and shared. People nowadays don’t like to study the process of what makes a person who he/she is, rather they judge the person by a snapshot of what they look like and who they are now

6- Did you deliberately choose your field of study? Are you happy with your choice now? If we return back to that time what will you do with your life?

I did choose deliberately to become a dentist. I always wanted to be in a profession where I would help people (my grandfather and three uncles were doctors and dentist back home) I saw how they cared for other people and how people respected their humanity. I also was blessed with the artistic ability to draw, work with clay and metals. The logical mixture of these two abilities was dentistry!
At this point I am happy with my choice but a part of me always wonders what if…. What if I would have continued on the path of Art only, what would I have done, where would I be? I am in a way pursuing that dream now as I am working on my life story in a mixture of Art and written word along the same path of revolutionary artist and story tellers like Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi.

7- Do you call yourself a successful individual?

Yes, is my personal life, professional life I would consider myself successful. I depends what the definition of success is. That is highly subjective and it is a debate that could take hours! 

8- What are the most pleasurable and painful (if there is) memories you have had since your childhood?

Most pleasurable moment of my childhood was when I would travel to Southern Iran to send the summer with my cousin, Mohi.
Most painful memory (there are a few: war(watching and experiencing death an destruction Daily—more painful was the fact that I can became comfortably numb to it), watching my grandfather struggle everyday to do the most basic tasks due to his Parkinson’s Disease and passing away on my Birthday).

9- How do you identify yourself in your adapted country? Do you call yourself an American? Iranian? Iranian-American or….?

I am Persian/Iranian and l always will be. I am also a naturalized American Citizen. I have never shied away from my heritage and living in the United states has actually given me the opportunity, with hard work, to become who I am at the same time become a positive contributor to the society. I don’t subscribe to specific labels because that limits my ability to reach beyond it and as an Individual I have the power to define who I am through what I do.

10- If you had a chance to start all over again, what choices you'd make or won't make?

I would have had more fun in my college years! I was on the fast track, did not finish my undergraduate studies and went straight into dental school on early admission.( all because of financial necessity!) But I would have taken more classes in Philosophy and definitely more classes in Art!
I would have a kept a written journal of my life occurrences because I am more visual and remember events that way than verbally. But, now I have to rely more on my visual memory to write my life story…. Which is a little harder.
The path I chose is the path that I am in now….regret will only slow my progress into the future so I would like to look ahead.

11- What's your perspective on life, politics, art, family and culture?

How much time do you have for me to elaborate on this!!!??? On life, after an epiphany, I believe that in my mind if I envision it, it will happen( whether it is positive or negative) in essence, I am no longer a victim of a circumstance, I used to think bad luck or actions of others defined events that affected me. Not anymore.
On Politics, in my profession I refrain from discussing my political views but I would be considered a liberal (if someone would want to put a label on it) Having lived under a suppressive political/theocratic regime allows one’s mind to envision a free life (or as close to that ideal as one could envision) I believe in dialogue, respectful dialogue, truly expressing and communicating my reality…sometimes agreeing to disagree but never forcefully imposing my ideas.
Art, is so vast and subjective that to define it would not do it justice. But I have many eclectic likes. I generally gravitate to graphic novels (such as works by Herge, Spiegelman, Satrapi, Moore) but also grew up with Picasso’s “war” painting reprint on the bedroom wall! I was always an admirer of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. I have to definitely mention Kamalolmolk as well as Mohases.
Family is something that had been lost due to my separation from them for over 17 years. As I mentioned before I used to spend most of my summers with my cousin and my aunts and uncles and grandparents and suddenly getting uprooted and only have phone and snail mail contact is a bit of shock. Seeing my cousin after 17 years was extremely emotional in a good way, and seeing that he kept all of the toys that we had played with in pristine condition and dividing them equally when I was flying back was something I will cherish forever! However, now that I have my own family I am definitely making up for lost time. I want my kids to never feel that they’re separated or an inconvenient choice in my life, rather beautiful teachers of life!
On Culture, coming from Iran that has over 4000 years of history, I was always intrigued by the ever evolving culture. The onslaught of invasions in Iran from Mongols to Arabs influenced many aspects of the Persian culture but never changed the core values. In fact, the Persians changed the invaders! The change was caused by the culture, respect and patience. But we have to be careful not to label a culture by what the political leaders have done or do. Living in the United States I have lived among people who have hearts of gold and treated me as one of their own. Unfortunately, some leaders lacked long term vision and certainly ruined the image of their people, whether it was in Iran, U.S. or elsewhere. There are always positives and negatives in any culture but I choose to look at the progressive changes rather than the regressions. Learn from the negatives (never repeat them), DO the positives and if they get results repeat them! Patience is something that I believe in Iran we were endowed with but that came with YEARS of experience, America is a relatively young country in comparison and true greatness will come with patience and dialogue. I am optimistic about the power of individual people achieving great things. We saw it happen in the American elections. True test will be the patience factor!

12- What's your perspective on your generation in comparison with your parent's generation?

This is an age old question that gets the same answer, usually! My instinct would be to criticize my parents for their “traditional” thinking, but I will not do that because I know that I will get the same answer from my own children someday! So, I will try a different approach: My parents were faced with enormous personal pressures (traditional religious family, cultural, etc.) and lived in extraordinary times of revolution, war, ever tightening and narrowing personal freedoms, identity crises, language, prejudice. They struggled with most of them but managed to make the best of it. My generation dealt with many of the same issues but managed to surpass most of those hurdles more quickly and skillfully by virtue of youth (strictly speaking about language!) and resourcefulness. The hurdles change as the times change. I have noticed that on many issues I am in a polar opposite of my parents. The “traditional” thinking was that if a family member makes mistakes (no matter how many times) you take them back because They are your “family” . The new generation, while still has respect for the elders, holds them responsible for their own actions so the element of personal responsibility and integrity supersedes the traditional thinking. It can be a source of frustration or the older generation and a little bit of guilt for the younger ones. I still respect their views, may gain experience from others, may disagree with some but ultimately I have to look forward.

13- Elaborate on women/ men issues as they relate to your generation?

I have this discussion with my wife quite often. As a Persian man jealousy and over protectiveness of one’s wife is “traditional”. I don’t feel those traditional boundaries because one, I love and trust my wife implicitly, two, I refuse to limit my thinking with such boundaries. Much of my beliefs come from the way I was raised. My mother and father during their short marriage were limited by boundaries. In fact, it was after their mutually agreed upon divorce, that I understood the dynamic of the traditional marriage and how I did not want that. For example, the elders of the family try to facilitate or “arrange” a marriage and hope that the couple learns to “love”. I definitely did not want that! Nothing happens by chance. The feeling of loving someone or “falling in love with someone” has been theorized to be like chasing a butterfly. If you chase it will fly away whereas if you be patient and allow the butterfly to land on your hand then you don’t have to imprison the beautiful butterfly (force it to fall in love with you!). Now I don’t advocate just sitting at home and “waiting” for things to happen, absolutely not. In fact I firmly believe that a thought is more powerful than useless unfocused action. In my thoughts I TRULY believed that the person will find me/or I will find her. When I stored that thought in my head all my actions, subconsciously, were aligned to make that happen naturally never for a second doubting “if” it can happen —much like the butterfly landing on one’s hand without much effort to catch it. The more a person thinks about the negatives the more the negatives will be attracted to him/her. When I took away the negative thoughts, it happened. An individual takes focused ACTION on a positive thought. I took action, I controlled my own destiny. When the older generation sits there and make a decision for you, your control is instantly gone. You become angry (feel negative) however deep down you bury it…it will resurface and eventually eat away at your life, marriage leads to divorce( which is a good thing if you decide on it early and choose a better path), depression sometimes feeling of worthlessness, devoid of life. I did not want to go down that path. But I digress!
I learned from my mother’s experiences and guidance that SOME traditional family dynamics were one sided, only benefiting the man because the “man” brought home the money and the woman was supposed to be a housewife--that the woman would have to sacrifice much of her life (emotionally and financially) and be at the beckon call of the man. I know that is an oversimplification but I can elaborate more if you like!
Nowadays, that dynamic has changed completely. Both men and women are working, even sometimes men are stay-at-home fathers and women bring home the “bacon!” The roles are divided more and hence more equality is needed. There is no ownership of the marriage. It is a process shared between two people. Almost a game where each person tries to complement the other, as a fluid waltz without any stumbles( ideally speaking) No prejudgments, no withholding always having all senses perked up to watch the other person’s back. Being a husband and a father has taught me quite a bit about that.
I unfortunately, now, see the relationships between people become more like a commodity, an exchange in a quick pass. No real emotional investment. Use the other person, one time use, then off to the next fad. I, not only see it in America but also in the youth in Iran. That’s where culture and education is key. And that’s a debate for another time!

14- You're a caring and loving husband, a responsible father. How did you achieve all these qualities? Describe your life as a father. What are your dreams for your children?

I alluded to this somewhat in my previous answer. But I will elaborate. Since the age 13, after leaving Iran I really did not have much close contact with my father. Letters and phone calls were happening but a child(in a confused state of puberty, cultural duality, shaping personality) needs BOTH parents to be present. My mother was there for me, my father was far away, did the best he could. But for all intensive purposes he was not present. So I did what I could do be a role model for myself. Raise myself through my interactions and contact with friends, schoolmates, etc. Based on that, I NEVER wanted to have a dynamic of that sort for my own children. I am very hand on with my boys….from the day they were born, I was involved in every aspect of their growth along with my wife. I never delegated the raising of my sons to anyone else. I will not be able to live such a decision. I will NEVER let them feel as though they were just a decision for me between my business and my family…. Family will win. I admit that sometimes I have been bogged down by work but I try my best to make that the exception not the rule. I want to know my kids routines, what they like and what they don’t like… the future as they become older, you can bet that I will be involved in their lives, not intrusively but inquisitively because I want them to know that I am interested in the latest Music they like, or what they may think about the latest “whatever” they have interests in!!! I will ask them if they want me to be involved, if they push away I will give them space! I WILL NEVER COMPARE THEM TO OTHERS!!! That is a no, no! That left a bitter taste in my mouth in my youth ( the reason why I intentionally and nearly failed my Geography final in Iran, effectively taking myself out of the running for the valedictorian of my class just to make a point to my father that being compared to my peers was the wrong method of motivating me to do better!!!) So, I will accept them for WHO they are and will motivate them to do better in comparison to themselves not any other person. The saying that my wife and I have is that they can become whoever they want to be as long as they are TRULY happy, then, we know….I know that my job as a father has been fulfilled. And, I don’t need their acknowledgment to make me feel that I have accomplished my job!
I differ from many Persian parents in that the hopes and dreams for my sons are theirs not mine!!! I don’t care if they don’t become “the best” in their class unless they want it. I will not push them and will not be disappointed, will not make them feel guilty if they don’t want to go into medicine or dentistry or engineering! In fact I will encourage them to carve their own path and not necessarily follow my or my wife’s footsteps! Too much pressure and competition is hazardous. Some competition is healthy! They have to figure that out on their own! They don’t need me to nudge them, or nag them everyday!

15- How will you see your future?

Bright!! To become a speaker of truth as I see it. To tell my life story, to help others. To spend the rest of my life with my family never worrying about tomorrow. To have my children always be aware of their place in the world.

16- What are the most desirable things you'd like to do in your life which your life style does not allow you to do?

To have a little more time in 24 hour day! To spend more time with my family, travel the world especially to see the ruins of Persepolis (become a lifelong student of history), write my life story(graphic novel format), do more art.

17- Do you like to add anything to this questionnaire?

No unless you have more questions for me!

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