My Father’s Handwriting | Story
My father wrote beautiful elegant lines with care and patience. His Parker ink pen was a treasure he stored like nothing else he owned. When he opened that case and replaced the empty ink cartridge with a full one, it was a ritual to see. He handled this pen with collector’s grace. Once he touched his little notebook, he wrote and wrote in Arabic and French with wonderful movement as if every letter had to be composed with delicacy, every word strummed like a musical chord. His writing had the finesse of calligraphy with lines drawn in intimate harmonious lines. As a child, I was fascinated by the sound of his pen as it landed on the page and the sight of his hand as it moved in a peaceful chorus with its thoughts.
My father was not a writer. He just liked to write with his ink pen. I never asked what he wrote or why he was so determined to write. I vaguely glimpsed his notebooks once and realized that his words were notes on readings, occasional reflections, perhaps attempts at journaling a life marked by failed dreams and interrupted by the long and long. terrible pain of illness. I’ll never know. My father passed away over 30 years ago and my family lost their notebooks. All I remember is his handwriting and the mystery of the words that I didn’t care enough about at the time of reading.
I was 10 years old when my dad found out he had oral cancer. Doctors in Morocco and France didn’t think he could live beyond a few months, but he defied a monstrous disease for 10 years. Brutal treatment never cured him. It barely eased his suffering as his energy dwindled and half of his face froze and hardened, leaving him horribly and visibly scarred for years. It was hard not to notice how this ruthless disease had ravaged her body. Frequent hospitalizations, severe fatigue and progressive loss of sight exhaust him. Heads turned in the streets and looks of terror and pity must have weighed heavily on him. I remember him frail but with a relentless determination to live on. He read and wrote during long periods of pain and even when one of his eyes let go, his will never faded.
I know he would have told me more about his writings and what it meant to him had it not been for the overwhelming interference of his illness. Maybe he wrote to escape bitter existence after his diagnosis. I wonder if he wanted to impart some wisdom to his children that he was too eloquent to deliver in person. Maybe he searched for words to break the monotony of his life as a government employee. Or maybe drawing letters on a page offered a calming meditation that he couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll never know.
My memory of my father is loaded with vivid clues, however. Clues from a man of letters who studied philosophy at university before he, the eldest son, was forced to give up after his father’s death to support his family. His own account of this period was often marked with a tinge of remorse, an unfulfilled and lost passion for filial duty. The library in his house bore witness to a dream canceled too soon. Beautiful blue volumes of Islamic exegesis in Arabic have been carefully arranged alongside the French books of Descartes, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Zola, Hugo, Maupassant.
I did not ask why these authors, why this series of books, if there was a harmony in this collection, but I understood later that, in addition to his lessons at the Koranic school, the education of my father in the 1930s and 1940s in Morocco was in the hands of French guardians during colonization. He often spoke of a stern tutor who insisted everyone repeat the deceptive colonial slogan, “France is my new homeland” (France is my new homeland) at the start of each lesson and of the tutor who called them “little ones”. natives ”(small natives) and gave them French names. As a child, my father’s education was in the service of the empire, an indoctrination force disguised as a benevolent endowment. “When the French colonize you,” he told us, “they colonize your mind. That’s it. A heavy load of meaning in the briefest of statements. I had to read for myself much later to catch the dissonance my father must have felt between the corporal punishment of the Koranic school and the deceptive cordiality of modern colonial education. Apprenticeship was either an imposition or a misleading proposition.
But despite the sinister imperial calculation, my father still had a real infatuation with French philosophy and literature. He spoke perfect French with an elegant accent, a deliberate sign perhaps of a reverse appropriation of the colonial language. As the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine would say, we kept French as “spoils of war”, even if it contained words of our own subjugation. Perhaps that was the reason why my father sought to embellish French words with the soft touches of calligraphy. His memory of a dehumanizing schooling was to be appeased by the soft nib of his ink pen. This is how he finds, in the most humble way, a voice tamed from an early age by the violent transactions of the colonial school.
Whether he was stunted by his illness or intimidated by the darkness of colonial memory, my father spoke little of himself, his past, or his dreams. Sometimes his silence was resigned because he was just exhausted, but in hindsight his speech was held back because like most people of his time, he didn’t want his children to be burdened with a painful story and humiliation. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the talent and serenity to resonate with the past and make it meaningful to themselves and to others. My father was not one of them. Her stories did not have life-changing wisdom, nor did they contain clues as to how I should “know myself.” Perhaps her writings hid a talent or regrets about not having the ease of language or the physical strength to be that guiding voice for her children. I’ll never know.
Looking back, I wanted to be able to say like Jorge Luis Borges that I was more educated by my father’s library, that the books on its shelves and his cherished writings planted a seed in me. I don’t know why my father wanted to be a philosopher, why he read Descartes and Hegel, why he continued to read the Koran and its interpretation. I was too young and distracted to ask him these heavy questions, but perhaps something deep was tormenting him. Perhaps an obsession with finding harmony between one’s deep faith and the intrigue of philosophical doubt. I wanted to be able to say that I am fulfilling my father’s dream of becoming an educator and scholar, that his discreet love of reading and writing was the source of my early awakening, or that I am now giving voice to his quiet existence. . And maybe it’s all true. I’m an extension of my father’s fractured fate and it’s beautiful to feel, even momentarily, that the dream of his life hasn’t been stifled after all.
But I have no way to certify this connection. If there was ever a thwarted aspiration of a writer or a scholar with my father, he was able to hide it well. I searched frantically through his rare belongings, traces of him now living in a drab garage, for his notebooks in the hopes of locating a clue or finding a note hidden in one of his books, but my insistence only revealed frustration and anger. The things I cherish most in my father’s memory are gone forever and only my imagination can save that side of him from oblivion. His writing weighs on me like a whisper, a hollow memory that drips in subtle but painful lines.
Perhaps that is why writing as an Arab, as a Muslim, does not come easily or serenely to me. My words land on the page like a confrontation, a devastation, an elegy, a spectacle confronting another spectacle of my identity, my history and my culture. Contrary to the serenity I imagine in my father’s writing, mine feels prompted, assigned, a sort of summons fabricated by the anguish of leaving too many insults unanswered, too much fanaticism unexposed. “I build my language with stones,” said the Martinican poet Édouard Glissant. I build mine as stones are thrown at me, and wonder why some can write without provocation while others see their writing doomed to perpetual response, a painful call to accomplish pain and assess. the damage. I want to reclaim the forbidden tranquility of my writing from the ugliness of the task that still awaits the junior writer. I don’t want my quill to become a sword, its ink to serve a vulgar purpose. My tongue wasn’t supposed to look like a hemorrhage meant to be stopped, lest it cause too much damage to be repaired. My words weren’t meant to be thrown like darts into a world of instant enmity. I don’t back down from a fair fight and believe in the gift of a wild tongue and a mighty pen, but I don’t want my writing to always be a clamor, an armor, a lament in the face of distress and pain. ‘insult. I long for my feather to meet the balance of my father’s feather.
I have to believe that it is to the inaudible beauty of my father’s handwriting that I cling to, a wordless poem that I strive to remember in order to free my own handwriting and save myself from the injunction to plead, defend and response violence imposed. On the day he died, my father’s sight returned for a few minutes just to see us once more. It was a wonderful moment of fleeting joy before unspeakable sorrow, but I remember it now in the same way that I can still imagine those tender lines of his handwriting. My father’s notebooks were full, and maybe that’s a pretty good memory to live with. His words were not for a reader, an editor, but for himself. He wrote and wrote, as Gloria Anzaldúa urged us to do, not to let the ink coagulate in our quills. “Write with your eyes like painters,” she said, “with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers, You are the truthful with pen and torch. I may never know what my dad wrote or if he wanted his handwriting to be a torch for anyone, but he left me the biggest lesson of all. Never give up your pen to write for someone else.