A Persian upbringing instills in a child a sense of family, a commitment to education, and strong moral values. Unfortunately, this upbringing is also full of brutality, humiliation, and constant mockery. To survive childhood, a Persian child must endure sufficient abuse to form both a physical and emotional callous. In fact, most Persians reach adulthood unable to express their emotions through anything but satirical writing.
Stage 1: Early Trauma
My earliest memory was from when I was three. I suspect that most people have a sweet first memory – breaking a pi+A|ata, or riding a pony on their birthday. My first memory, however, begins with a cordial gathering of Persian friends in a New York park. I, clad in my bright blue bathing suit with a snazzy red racing stripe, was frolicking along the shore of the river. Without warning, a “family friend” decided to teach me the fundamentals of swimming.
“He’ll learn to swim like this,” he exclaimed, and I was catapulted into the raging river. As I bobbed up and down, futilely waving my helpless three-year-old arms, I could just barely glimpse the satisfaction on his face as he stood on the shore, chuckling with my parents about what a strong swimmer I was becoming.
Stage 2: Pain and Humiliation
The extent to which a child’s body can be stretched and manipulated was thoroughly tested by my Persian upbringing. Any random stranger who met the requirements of being both Persian and older than me had free reign to pinch, stretch, or poke most regions of my prepubescent body.
One strange physical challenge came when one of the “family friends” would take my delicate wrist and bite down until pain numbed my entire body. I was left with multiple quarter-inch teeth marks in a circular arrangement just above my hand. Invariably, the explanation for such brutality was, “You see, now you have a watch.” And then laughter.
But I had never truly worn a watch; I only had a throbbing bruise that gave me no clue as to the time of day. I do not remember when or how I received my first “watch,” but the conglomeration of all those memories is enough to give me an aversion towards actually wearing a timepiece on my wrist.
Still worse than this was a custom known as “Bol-bollesh talahst,” which loosely translates to “His balls are gold.” No matter how many times this happened to me, I never really got used to it. A relative would utter the phrase, “His balls are gold,” and then lunge violently at my groin area. I guess this boosted my scrotal self-esteem, but I have an unfortunate reflex reaction in certain intimate settings as a result.
Stage 3: Continuous Mockery Throughout Life
Along with the physical abuse and personal discomfort that comes with a Persian childhood is an equally important dimension of embarrassment and humiliation. If my friends were visiting, ones who respected and admired me, my parents would choose that time to discuss my history of bed-wetting. If I said the house was cold and perhaps we should turn on the heat, my dad would respond by telling me “biah tueh kooneh man beekhab,” or “come sleep in my ass.” And then laugh.
Recently, when I was home for a visit, our dinner conversation centered around my lack of success with women. My parents spent nearly an hour laughing about how my twelve year old brother would probably get married before me. As the mockery continued, I was tempted to bite down on my own wrist, in hopes that it might distract me from the emotional pain.
Just as a concerned shopper wants the most durable and affordable Teflon pan, the Persian community is equally concerned with the durability of its children. Those children that are slow to adapt to raging rapids, bruising, bleeding, and mental anguish will probably not live past the age of seven.
In a way, I’m looking forward to having children of my own. I plan on keeping many of the older traditions intact, but I’ve contemplated some new ones, such as the ability of a five year-old to adapt to speeds of over 60 mph while strapped to the hood of an automobile. It is important for the next generation to adjust to the fast pace of today’s society at an early age, one painful, traumatic, emotional scar at a time.