How I Become a Man
On Saturday we left Atlanta before dawn, and before his departure for Ghana, my father Anwar drive us by car, me Charbel, my mother Lina, my brother Alex, and my sister Rita; after parking the car, he took us on the hiking trail up to the top of the Stone Mountain from where we watched the sunrise in the eastern sky. It was the first mountain we had ever seen. Standing on the granite ridge, with the light coming from Georgia, we felt like we had the whole world lying at our feet. Far, far away, we saw the modest horizon of Atlanta taking shape in the sun. On the side of the mountain, the half-finished effigies of Jefferson Davis Stonewall Jackson, and Robert Lee were carved into the rock, and these horsemen without bodies caracoled in the granite in a timeless ride.
My mother had prepared a picnic and laid a white tablecloth on top of the largest piece of granite in the world. It was a clear and windless day, and the tablecloth stuck like a postage stamp to the rock. We, the children, were heckling gently with our father on that mountain it was for us, alone. It was at the top of Stone Mountain that I had my first glimpse of the true nature of my father's character and how it would affect my childhood. That day, I had the sudden and acute revelation of the dangers faced by our family.
“Why do you have to go back to war, Dad?” asked Rita to my father who was lying flat on his back, his head against the stone and his eyes lost in the blue sky.
The veins of his forearms seemed to run on his muscles like the rope rolls on the deck of a boat.
“That I would like to know, my angel,' he replied
With a panoramic view of the surroundings, Alex whispered under my father's breath ” I want to go back home. There's no shrimp here,”
“I'll only be gone for a year. Then we'll go back home,” replied my father.
My mother took out a feast of ham sandwiches, eggs, and potato salad, but she was surprised to see a colony of ants move in close rows toward the food.
“I'm going to miss my babies,' stated my father while staring at her. “I'll write to you every week and I'll put millions of kisses in every letter I write. But not for you boys, you don't care about kissing, do you?”
“No, Dad,' replied Alex and me simultaneously.
“You boys, I'm raising you to be tough. Exactly! I don't want my sons to become pretty hearts,' he mentioned by throwing us a soft, trowel at the back of our skull. “Tell me you won't let your mother turn you into pretty hearts while I'm gone. She's too tender with you. Don't let her put on you the fanfreluches dresses to go have tea with her. I want you to promise me one thing. Don't let a day passes without beating up one guy from Atlanta, one each. I don't want to find some guys in the city who are giving themselves a breath of air when I get back from Ghana. All right? Remember, you're the guys of the country, and the guys of the campaign, it's always tough.”
“No,” pronounced my mother with a tranquil firmness.” My sons will never become brutes. They'll be the sweetest boys we've ever seen. If you want a tough guy, Anwar, you got one right here.” My mother pointed to Rita.
“Yeah, Dad,” applauds Rita. “I'm a real tough person. I beat Charbel when I want to. And I can almost beat Alex when he is using one hand.”
“No, you're a girl, you. Girls, that must be cute. I don't want you to fight. I want you to be all sugar and honey, your daddy's sweetheart.”
” I don't want to be all sugar and honey,' yelled Rita.
” You,” I said. “You're far from it.”
Rita, faster and stronger than me, punched me in the stomach. After this, I began to cry and ran to take cover in the embrace of my mother where she opened for me her protective wing.
“Rita, can you stop bothering Charbel? You're always after him,' scolded my mother.
“Did you see that?' asked Rita while turning to defy my father. “I'm a tough girl, I know how to fight.”
“Charbel, you shame me, son,' said my father, whose gaze passed over Rita, without seeing her. “Crying because a little girl hits you! What a scandal! A boy doesn't cry. Never and under no circumstances.”
” He's sensitive, Anwar,' my mother insists, gently caressing my hair.
My father ironically said. “In that case, I wouldn't want to say anything that might shock the that sensitive soul. But you'd never see Alex cry like a baby for a reason like that. I corrected Alex on the belt without seeing him shedding a tear. He's been a man since the day he was born. Charbel, come here and fight with your sister.”
“He better not or I'll punch him again,' Rita repeated, but I could hear from the sound of her voice that she regretted what she had triggered.
Unexpectedly, my mother went on fire as she disagreed with the way, my father was threatening, teaching, and raising us. The atmosphere gets hot under the collar, and the fight between my mother and father looks like hell. Suddenly, I held my breath, stopped the waterfalls falling from my eyes, left my mother’s arms, stood facing my father, and with the voice of a man I yelled: “I am a man, I am a man!” After these words, silence dominated the chaos, and a painted smile on my father’s face took place, and even more, we could hear at that moment the sound of a dropped nail.
Finally, after this unforgettable day, a day engraved in my heart like stones, my father left for Ghana and disappeared for a year. Before his leaving, and when we were snoring in bed, he gave each one of us kisses roughly on the cheek. Nowadays, when I climb Stone Mountain, my memory takes me to that day when I was a six-year-old boy, takes me to that place where I have been assigned a man, a man who expresses his strong opinions and stand in face of injustices. As my father wants a promise, I promise him I will never forget his word and the word of the man till my last breath.