When I was a young child I had only one experience with my grandfather, Baba Ali. What I remember most was walking the two cows that he owned out of the barn into the garden and field so they could graze on some grasses and weeds. Baba Ali would hold the rope for each cow in one hand and they would walk together very, very slowly. While they walked, I went under the cows and around him and under his legs. He never yell at me or tried to stop me. For me, it was a serene and joyful moment, one I have always remembered.
Today when I ask my father and relatives about Baba Ali, I am told that he was a very kind, peaceful and quiet man who always had a smile on his face. One of my aunts also shared that the moment he got those two cows and was able to sell the milk, his life and his ability to support his family became much better.
His peacefulness stands out in the Tunisian culture, and especially in my own family culture. Baba Ali’s father and his older brother were dominating, loud, angry, and violent. His older brother, even when sick and confined to the bed, would constantly yell at me and my cousins when we were children trying to reach the mulberry tree to eat some fruit. Children were not allowed to pick from or play in the garden and punishments were harsh.
My childhood experiences, with many of my relatives and my own parents, were not characterized by peace and gentleness in the relationship, but rather by harshness and control. By the time I became a teenager I made a promise or vow that I would never bring a child to this life if this is what children must go through and what adult-child relationships must be like.
When I had the chance to do the Arrivals Workshop I chose to connect with Baba Ali. I am not sure I understood why I chose him at the time, but I do know his spirit of gentleness, calm and peace came through to me especially during the embodiment to the point that I was told I fell asleep.
One year after the workshop I fell in love with a woman who wanted to have children. I remember going home after a conversation where I told her I did not want to have children and sat with my thoughts, questioning my old vows and promises to myself about never becoming a father. I realized I’m now such a different person than the one who made those promises to myself, and parenting doesn’t have to be completed inherited and repeated.
My partner and I have two children now and are in Tunisia with them, staying in my parents house, a short walk to the old house of Baba Ali and the land where we walked the cows together. The time here with my children has brought up many of my old feelings about my own childhood sense of powerlessness and lack of freedoms. I feel frustrated and restricted in my being and see how the expectations of children in relation to adults affects my own children. Yet, as I went to my grandfather’s old house and retraced his steps walking his cows, I also reconnected with his spirit and energy of gentle calmness and peace and felt reminded that this way of being lives here too. He is also of this culture, land and my lineage, and perhaps he is an ancestral support in my journey as a father. Just like the cracks in the concrete of the veranda of his old house, my grandfather was a crack in the Tunisian culture and the norms, and that crack supports me in being who I want to be as a man and father. Surprisingly to me, in this current visit to Tunisia, unlike any before, several of my aunts have commented how much I remind them of Baba Ali, that we look alike and even that I sit in similar ways to him.
The video above is me retracing his footsteps when he walks out of his house to the barn to take the cows out to the garden to graze. My son is almost the same age as me when I had that special moment with my grandfather. He is running in the garden with me.