Friday, January 30, 2009

Homage to Betty Mahmoody

For Tacoma News Tribune readers of "In Your Neighborhood" my story will be somewhat familiar. The following is a more indepth account of what happened to our family.

Part I

As part of their Springboard English curriculum at the sophomore level, Gig Harbor High School students examine cultural conflicts as seen in the novel Kite Runner and the movie “Not without My Daughter” based on the book of the same name and written by Betty Mahmoody. Both are wonderfully powerful and for me the movie touches my heart. Because of the courage of Betty Mahmoody, the woman played by Sally Fields in the movie, I possibly escaped a similar fate.

During most of the 1980s I was married to an Iranian and living in the Bay Area along with my mother and my three children from a previous marriage. We had met in the late ‘70s while students at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1983 we had a beautiful son we named after my husband’s two brothers. I cannot and will not say that our lives were perfect. Financial problems and my husband’s explosive temper (something I had not witnessed until we were married) were probably our biggest obstacles to happiness. Those two things were absolutely connected.

These were turbulent times for Iranians the world over. The Revolution was in its infancy with many happy to see the Shah depart, but at the same time concerned about how the Ayatollah Khomeini seemed bent on dragging Iran back into the 6th century. My husband’s youngest brother, who had just completed high school in Seattle, returned to their parents almost immediately following the Revolution. I never met him. By the time my husband and I met he’d gone and would later regret it when the regime refused to let him return to America even to have heart surgery.

My husband’s relationship with his parents and siblings was and is complicated. He is the oldest of his father’s sons, a weighty position in an Iranian family. In his early 20s he’d become responsible first for his next youngest brother when he arrived to attend the UW, followed quickly by their high school age youngest brother. My husband always said that his prematurely gray hair happened as the result of the responsibility for his brothers. I do not mention his mother here because Iranian wives are little more than chattel. She was, is, his second wife and of note because she produced three sons. The first wife had only two daughters and was abandoned by my father-in-law who took the girls and introduced them to their step-mother who was more of an age to be a classmate than a step-mother.

I knew that my husband’s relationship with his parents was different from my Western ideal of what a family ought to look like. I knew nothing of Iranian families and thought perhaps they had continued to relate to him like he was 18, the age at which he’d left Iran. His mother had been to visit once or twice over the years and he spoke of her lovingly. On the other hand I had seen him lock himself in the bathroom of the apartment he shared with his brother rather than talk to his father. This was pretty childish behavior for a man in his mid-20s. I should have taken more note of that at the time, but I ignored my first inkling that Americans do not have a corner of the dysfunctional family disorder.

Another alarm rang after we were married. My husband never called his family in Iran. That was hardly surprising because money was tight and calls half-way ‘round the world were not cheap. Reaganomics had failed to trickle down as far as I was and I had withdrawn from the university before we married and was working in the call center of a marketing research firm which paid blessed little. My child support from my first husband was erratic and slim-to-none. It was when his parents called us and my husband did not tell them we’d married that I put figurative cotton in my ears and didn’t hear the ringing.

When my husband graduated from the University of Washington he began to look for a position as a computer programmer. He applied at the fledgling Microsoft, but did not get the position. Whether or not the American hostage situation in Iran had anything to do with his not getting the position I can only speculate. Almost every night on the news we were treated to film of angry Iranians demonstrating against the United States with chants of “Marg-bar Amreeka!” “Death to America.” Whatever the reason he wasn’t hired, my husband never forgave Bill Gates. It became personal for him. I wonder how different things might have turned out if he’d gotten the position all those years ago. So instead, my husband headed to Silicon Valley in search of a position at a time when the economy was dismal and Iranians were hated by Americans. I stayed behind until Memorial Weekend 1981 when we followed him with all our worldly belongings in a Ryder truck which I drove, trailed by my mother driving my Fiat and leaving extended family behind.


Lorraine Hart said...

As they say, you've been blessed with an interesting life. I'm glad for the opportunity to read about this part of your story more in-depth. Thank you.

Kim Thompson said...

Stephanie, I love your writing. However, it thrives especially when you are writing memoir style and when you discuss voluntary simplicity. I wonder if you can combine the two elements and produce a longer work?

Stephanie Frieze said...

Thank you, ladies. After watching Not Without My Daughter with the students last week I find I'm still examining my life and still trying to crack the simplicity nut.

Grandma Blog said...

You really have some interesing experiences. I guess everybody has something in the path of life that others would be interested in. Most bloggers love to write and when they get into the blog stall and can't come up with something, they should write about their lives. You sure don't have to be old, as I am, to have a past.

Stephanie Frieze said...

Thank you, Lorrene, and amen. During those days in the Bay Area I wondered how a Bellevue girl ended up in that little drama. I am happy to say that because of Betty Mahmoody's bravery I was able to keep my little son safe, but it was not without trials and tribulations. I will be finishing the story directly.