At best, fathers in Iraq are semi-absent. At worst they're fully absent, off spending time with friends and neglecting their family.
Or at least that's what I thought two weeks ago. Before Remedy Mission IX, my perceptions of Iraqi dads were pretty negative. And they weren't entirely unfounded. Having lived in Iraq for a year now, I've met a number of dads who spend a lot of time away from their family, and it was hard for me to understand. So I assumed that these fathers didn't care. Why else would they be so absent?
The key word in that last paragraph, though, is "assumed." I applied my own cultural understanding to contexts that demanded further explanation!
What if these fathers are away because that's how much they have to work to put food on the table? What if they're ashamed to come home because they can't put food on the table? How could the handful of fathers I know here even begin to represent all of them? And this is probably most important question: since when did I become the time-keeper for fathers in Iraq?
I started asking questions like this at the beginning of our ninth Remedy Mission after I watched an Iraqi father cry over his child's desperate need for surgery. It threw me off, and I thought he was the rarest man in Iraq I'd ever met. But then another man wept for joy in front of me that same day when his child was accepted for surgery.
One father was able to calm his shrieking son just by whispering sweetly in the child's ear. The boy was even giggling by the end of his echo! Then another man wouldn't stop holding his daughter after surgery, as though she might break if he let go. One dad begged me for more photos of his child in surgery—each new glimpse bringing him to tears! Another persistent father was constantly fretting over his daughter and would grab my sleeve and ask me questions like "Is it OK that she is coughing a lot?" or "When can she eat? How much? What should we give her? When?!" One father enthusiastically shared his son's story on-camera.
And, for me, this became the theme of Remedy Mission IX: fathers who desperately love their sons and daughters. I'm honored to have met them. They changed my perspectives for the better and showed me something beautiful.