My father writes with grace and grace with care and patience. His Parker ink pen is a treasure in his collection, just like anything he owns. When he opened that box and replaced the empty ink cartridge with a full one, it was a ritual. He handled that pen with collector’s elegance. As soon as he touched his little notebook, he wrote in Arabic and French, with wonderful movements, as if every letter had to be carefully arranged, and every word played like a musical chord. His writing has the skill of calligraphy, and his brushstrokes are outlined in intimate and harmonious lines. As a child, I was attracted by the sound of his pen falling on the page and the sound of his hand moving peacefully with his thoughts.
My father is not a writer. He just likes to write with his ink pen. I never asked him what he was writing or why he was so focused on writing. I glanced at his notebook vaguely and realized that his words were reading notes, thinking at will, perhaps trying to record a life marked by the dream of miscarriage, and was interrupted by a long and terrible illness. I will never know. My father passed away more than 30 years ago and my family lost his notebook. I only remember his handwriting and the mystery of the words I didn’t care much about at the time.
I was 10 years old when my father was diagnosed with oral cancer. Moroccan and French doctors believed that he would not survive for a few months, but he defeated a terrible disease for 10 years. The cruel treatment never cured him. His pain was hardly relieved, because his energy gradually weakened, half of his face was frozen, and over the years, he was left with terrible and obvious scars. It’s hard not to notice how this ruthless disease ravaged his body. Frequent hospitalization, extreme fatigue and gradual blindness made him exhausted. The people on the street turned their heads, the expressions of fear and pity must make him miserable. I remember that he was weak, but he had an unyielding determination to live. He reads and writes in the long pain, even if one eye faints, his will will never be dimmed.
I knew that if it were not for the overwhelming interference of his illness, he would tell me more about his writing and what it means to him. Perhaps, he wrote to escape the painful life after diagnosis. I want to know if he wants to pass on some wisdom to his children, he is too bad at words to personally provide. Perhaps, he reached out to interrupt the dullness of his life as a civil servant. Or, perhaps, drawing letters on paper provided a soothing meditation he couldn’t find anywhere else. I will never know.
However, my memory of my father is full of vivid hints. A literati suggested that before he studied philosophy at university, his eldest son was forced to drop out of school after his father’s death to support his family. His own descriptions of that period often carry a trace of regret, an unfulfilled passion and a loss of filial piety. His family library witnessed a dream of premature cancellation. The beautiful blue Arabic Islamic interpretations are carefully arranged with French books by Descartes, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Zola, Hugo, and Maupassant.
I did not ask why these authors, why such a lineup of books, whether the series is harmonious, but I later understood that, in addition to his courses in the Koranic school, my father’s Moroccan education in the 1930s and 1940s was in the hands of French tutors during the colonial period. . He often talked about a stern tutor who insisted that everyone repeat the deceptive colonial slogan “La France est ma nouvelle patrie” (France is my new home) at the beginning of each class, and call them “petits indigènes” “‘S tutor (little local) and gave them a French name. As a child, my father’s education was to serve the empire, an indoctrination force disguised as a benevolent endowment. “When France colonizes you,” he will tell us, “They colonize your mind.” That’s right. There is a heavy meaning in the shortest statement. I had to read it myself a long time later to understand the disharmony that my father must have felt between the corporal punishment in the Koranic school and the deceptive kindness of modern colonial education. Learning is either imposed or a two-faced proposition.
But despite the sinister calculations of the empire, my father still maintains a true fascination with French philosophy and literature. He speaks fluent French with an elegant accent, which may be a deliberate sign of a reverse appropriation of colonial language. As the Algerian writer Kateb Yacine said, we keep French as a “trophie of war” even if it contains words of our own conquest. Perhaps this is why my father tried to beautify French words with soft calligraphy. His memory of dehumanizing school education had to be appeased by the soft feather pen of his ink pen. In this way, he regained the voice tamed by the violent transaction of colonial education in his early years in the humblest way.
Whether it’s due to disease and stunted growth, or frightened by the darkness of colonial memory, my father rarely talks about himself, his past, or his dreams. Sometimes, his silence made him feel helpless because he was just exhausted, but in hindsight, his speech was restrained because, like most people in his time, he did not want his children to bear a period full of pain. And a history of humiliation. Not everyone has the talent and tranquility to echo the past and understand it for themselves and others. My father is not one of these people. His story has no life-changing wisdom and no clue as to how I should “know myself”. Perhaps, his works hide a kind of talent or regret, because he has no language ability or physical strength to be the guiding voice of his children. I will never know.
Looking back, I hope to be able to say, like Borges, that my father’s library taught me more, and the books on his shelf and his cherished works planted seeds in my heart. I don’t know why my father wanted to be a philosopher, why he read Descartes and Hegel, why he kept reading the Quran and its interpretation. I am too young and upset to ask him these heavy questions, but maybe something profound is tormenting him. Perhaps it is obsessed with finding harmony between his deep beliefs and the conspiracy of philosophical suspicion. I want to say that I am realizing my father’s dream of becoming an educator and scholar. His cautious love for reading and writing is the source of my early awakening, or I speak for his quiet existence today. Maybe all of this is true. I am an extension of my father’s broken destiny. Even if it is short-lived, his life dream has not been stifled after all. This is a wonderful feeling.
But I cannot prove this connection. If my father had any writer or scholar’s wishes frustrated, he could hide it well. I frantically searched for his traces in his belongings. He now lives in a dull garage, looking for his notebook, hoping to find clues or hidden notes in one of his books, but my insistence is only It turned into frustration and anger. The things I cherished most in my father’s memory are gone forever, and only my imagination can save him from forgetting. His handwriting enveloped me like a whisper, an empty memory dripping with subtle but painful brushstrokes.
Perhaps this is why writing as an Arab or Muslim is neither easy nor peaceful for me. My words as a kind of confrontation, a kind of destruction, a kind of elegy, a kind of spectacle, confronted another spectacle of my identity, my history and my culture. Unlike the serenity I imagined in my father’s work, my feeling was irritated and assigned. It was a call made by the pain of letting too many insults fail to respond and too many prejudices to be exposed. “I use rocks to construct my language,” Martinican poet Édouard Glissant said. I built mine while throwing stones at me, and I wonder why some people can write for no reason, while others think their writing is destined to make a permanent response, painfully calling for showing pain and assessing damage . I want to recover from the ugly task of always waiting for writers at the bottom, the tranquility that is forbidden in my writing. I don’t want my pen to become a sword, and I don’t want its ink to serve vulgar purposes. My language should not feel like bleeding that is destined to stop, lest it cause too much damage that cannot be repaired. My words are not to throw like a dart in an instant hostile world. I don’t shirk the struggle for justice. I believe in wild language and the talent of a powerful pen, but I don’t want my writing to be always uproar, armor, and lament in the face of pain and injury. I long for my pen to balance with my father’s quill pen.
I must believe that I am obsessed with the inaudible beauty of my father’s handwriting, a poem without words, which I try to remember in order to liberate my own writing and save me from the prohibition of pleading, defense, and violence. The imposed answer. On the day of his death, my father’s eyesight recovered for a few minutes, just to see us again. Before the unspeakable grief, it was a wonderful moment of fleeting joy, but now I still remember it, just as I can still imagine the gentle brushstrokes of his pen. My father’s notebook is full, maybe that is a memory enough to survive. His words are not for readers and editors, but for himself. As Gloria Anzaldúa urged us to do, he kept writing, not to let the ink freeze in our pen. “Use your eyes to write like a painter,” she would say, “Use your ears like a musician, and your feet like a dancer. You are the one who tells the truth with a quill and a torch.” I may never I know what my father wrote, or whether he intends to make his writing a torch for anyone, but he left me the most important lesson. Never give up your pen to write for others.