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Still Riding With the Chappaquiddick Iranian

I recently found some crushed Kleenex tissues in my father’s vest, the one he wore in March of this year. My mother sent me the vest after his death, hoping I would wear it. It’s too large for me, even though I am taller and heavier than my father. Finding the tissues set off a chain of emotions. Something insignificant as old tissues presented the unbearable task of letting them go.

Wearing the vest while clutching the tissues in my hand inside the pocket, I walked some of the land bank trails near my family home on an autumn afternoon. My father was a short, larger-than-life, expressive and somewhat eccentric Iranian man (he called himself Persian) who landed on Chappaquiddick in the early 1970s with my mother. What are the chances that a man born in Tehran in 1932 would find this separate island, an outwash of an outwash? It seems almost improbable. When I think of his legacies, he made a positive imprint on Chappaquiddick. He accepted this adopted land and the people adopted him.

This summer was our first summer without him. There were other losses. No large gatherings or celebrations, no in-person Chappaquiddick Island Association meetings, no end-of-the-season party at Slip Away Farm, and my father’s bicycle remained unridden and stored inside. Many people shared their awkward condolences with me. It is something not talked about much, death, so I do my best to listen and thank those for the effort to say something. A couple of his friends made a more bold suggestion: encase his bicycle in bronze.

I cannot count how many people mentioned that they miss seeing “The Doctor” (one of his nicknames), with a beaming smile, riding his bright orange bike with a low seat. Someone once asked him what he was thinking about when he rode his bike, and he responded: “world peace.” I have come to believe that this was code for him. Riding his bike is where my father found his inner peace. Some would say he was in the zone similar to an athlete.

My father was a thinking athlete, a small man with a big vision. He immigrated to the United States at age 17 — with a suitcase, a passport, and a Persian-English dictionary that I have in my possession. His vision was to study medicine and become a doctor.

He harbored a deeper vision — he wanted to improve the lives of others. He did not talk much about his prior life in Iran with me, but thankfully he wrote a memoir. As his cognitive abilities declined, he talked more about the loss of his mother. At age 12, he was by her side when she died. I feel that experience haunted him. As an immigrant he brought his stories with him. Part of his healing was to recreate a summer retreat on Chappaquiddick similar to where his family spent holidays outside of Tehran. Chappaquiddick became his Shemiran, a summer escape on the slopes of the Alborz Mountain in Iran.

I have boyhood memories of my father, my mother, two sisters and family dog all squeezed in a 10-foot Cape Dory sailing dinghy. None of us knew how to sail. We would brave our way across Katama Bay. It might as well have been the same as crossing the Atlantic Ocean. And that is exactly what my father did. He landed in Baltimore, requesting to study at Johns Hopkins, not knowing English. With such an unusual request, I’m certain the dean had no choice but to say yes.

I believe there are two types of visionaries. One seeks self-aggrandizement. The other wants to make the world a better place.

My father was the second kind.

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