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How childraising in Beirut worked

Childrearing in Beirut

by Wolf Pascoe on May 8, 2011


Beirut morning childhood

Awake! For morning
in the bowl of night
has flung the stone that
puts the stars to flight:
And lo! the Hunter
of the East has caught
the Sultan’s turret
in a Noose of Light.

— The Rubaiyat of
Omar Khayyam


My friend Hrair (pronounced her EYE er) was raised in Beirut. While I recall TV images of nightmare violence and urban war there, he remembers it a garden city, the loveliest of Edens. Hrair is a man of many nations. His family is from Armenia and he lives in California. He was raised a Christian, and speaks seven languages.

I can’t imagine a childhood more different from mine than Hrair’s. Yet he’s an enthusiastic reader of this blog. He often privately sends me his responses to the pieces here.

Some weeks ago, I told the story of how we got Nick to school on time. To my mind, the story wasn’t really about school, but an agonizing moment when I had to set a limit for Nick. The tale unfolded over six blog posts and generated a lot of discussion here. After the last post, Hrair sent me an email. He said,

“I wanted to wait and see how your story will unfold before telling you mine.

Hrair told me a story about something that happened when he was four and lived in Beirut. He had an older brother who was seven. During the days, they would often play together outside, sometimes wandering away from their house. Their father told them that was all right as long as they were back inside the home by sundown.

One day as we were playing in the front yard we did not realize it had gotten dark. We were still outside. My father came home, greeted me and my brother, went into the house and locked the door. As we were running in after him we were shocked to hear the lock. We also heard our dad remind us he had told us we should always be home before it got dark.

Beirut childhood nightThe two boys started to scream and cry. Hrair’s mother pleaded with her husband, but he wouldn’t relent. The neighbors heard the shouting and came over.

“What are doing to your kids?” one of them asked.

“They will learn to be home at dark,” Hrair’s father said.

The boys huddled together in front of the house. No food from the dinner table was sent out to them. Around midnight, Hrair’s mother came out.

“Hrair,” she said, “You can come in, but not your brother. He’s older and should have set an example.”

Hrair walked toward the house and stopped in the doorway. He wrapped his hands around the door.

I hung on for dear life. I said I either go in with my brother or we will both leave the house. I remember we got physical and my mom must have felt sorry or whatever else you may want to call it and let us both in. She asked us to be quiet because she did not want to awaken my dad. She was doing this unbeknownst to him. The next morning every one behaved as if nothing had happened.

After that neither my brother nor I ever lied to our dad. We were always punctual and obedient.

Hrair doesn’t parent his two children with the old world harshness of this man. He’s a thoughtful, gentle soul. This is what he says about his father:

You also need to know that I worship and adore my dad.

How can I judge the actions of a parent who lived in a world so different from mine? Perhaps being away from home after dark in that place and time was a dangerous matter. Perhaps this father knew things about the city he didn’t want his children ever to know.

What do you think?
. . .



I’m not your house elf



Children the Challenge — A classic work on parent child relations

Art Passions — The illustrations above (“Morning” and “I Saw the Solitary Ringdove” by Edmund Dulac) are taken from this lovely website, which warehouses and merchandises public domain art from some of my favorite artists. Among them are Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, and the Preraphaelites.
. . .


Any thoughts about the this story, or parent-child relations? I encourage, invite, bestir, charge, and exhort you to add your comment below. I always respond here.


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

BigLittleWolf May 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm

What a rich, textured, and amazing story. It is a reminder that we never truly know our parents or their experience, and how much we love them – whatever difficult legacy they bring to us. By omission or commission, absence or presence.

It is also interesting to me how much some of us seek to parent differently from our own mothers or fathers. In the example of this reader, you describe him as a gentle soul. I know in my own parenting, I have chosen a path quite different from my mother in many ways, while holding to some of the tenets of my upbringing, that I’ve been able to see as valuable.


Wolf Pascoe May 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm

It would be so much easier to parent the way this man did, I suppose. At least what he did, he did with no apparent rage, or bullying, or verbal abuse, or mixed messages.


Nick Pascoe May 9, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I’d run away from home. Make him feel sorry that he ever did that.


Wolf Pascoe May 9, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Thus speaketh the son.


Daisy May 10, 2011 at 2:04 am

I sometimes want to act like this man when I’m at the end of my tether, but I doubt I could really do it (for many reasons).


Wolf Pascoe May 10, 2011 at 2:29 am

It’s hard to ignore those screams.


Barbara May 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I think you were right to consider the father’s motives – to me it seems more about making an indelible impression than being a control freak, and in life or death situations, those impressions, harsh as they seem at the time, are what save the day. It’s tough for kids to understand the love behind such actions until they are grown and have kids of their own (Nick 🙂


Wolf Pascoe May 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I think you’re right it was more about his wanting to make an impression than his being a control freak. When I think of control freaks, I think of Dolores Umbrage in Harry Potter, or Nurse Ratchet in Cookoo’s Nest.


Charles Bernstein May 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm

..and yet, this man, Hrair, grew up to be a very good man, “…a thoughtful, gentle soul.” I guess his dad did okay all things considered.


Wolf Pascoe May 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Either that, or parenting doesn’t matter at all. But I can’t make myself believe that. A mystery.


Sirena May 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Clearly there was no CPS in Beirut when Hrair was growing up. Different place, different time, and I agree with Charles, Hrair seems to have grown up just fine. I also like Nick’s point of view, and I must have an 8 year-old mind because I can certainly understand his outrage – Nick would probably have called CPS. All’s well that ends well, as they say in whatever Shakespeare play.


Wolf Pascoe May 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Hmmm. “All’s Well That Ends Well.” I think it was Titus Andronicus.


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