Call Me Baba, Minus the Sheep

My father, throughout my life, has clung to small food rituals. Here is how you spread the labneh on the pocket bread. Here is how you open the pocket bread. Now the olives. Now the tomatoes. Now the salt and pepper. Here, now. Here. This is how you drizzle the oil. Then we roll it. Then we eat it and, ahhh.

Call me Baba, he would tell me when I called him Dad. It was not a food ritual, but he asked more than once.

It feels weird, I would tell him. Baa is what a sheep says.

My mother chastened me. It means a lot to him. 

My father’s eyes were on the floor. Try it. Just try, I was sure I heard him think.

For a Texas summer, I tried. I tripped over my tongue, correcting myself when we sat down to meals or he showed up with an aluminum dish of baklawa. Try this, he would say.

Yes, Baba. And each time I said it, he would smile.

You eat it this way. His finger touched the air before he showed me how to bite, how to not make a mess. Not this way, he said, shoving the entire diamond into his mouth, closed lips smiling, black eyebrows raised on his head like caterpillars.

I would giggle, La. La. La. No. No. No. Of course, Baba.

His hands as he rinsed them clean. His hands as he told a story. His hands as he joked or asked after what he had been told because he was not sure. I wish I could show you. They curved and his skin was always dry, is always dry still. Try this one, I tell him, sharing my moisturizer when he chafes his palms together.

Or I will bring him a dish, one I learned in Lebanon. Try it, Dad, I say. Just try.  And though I do not call him Baba, I think it every time.

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