My father, a doctor, came here from Syria, and he, like countless other immigrants, worked hard, helped others and became America’s multicultural backbone.
I’M glad my father didn’t live to see these days.
My father, Dr. Ahmad Younis, devoted his life — and by extension my mother’s life and much of mine, my brother’s and my sister’s — to providing health care in a small town in Michigan.
He would get up early in the morning to do surgery, often after having gone to the emergency room in the middle of the night, hold office hours in the afternoon and almost always come home late.
My mother and I rarely had dinner with him. My mother would get up and sit with him while he ate at whatever odd time he returned home. Then he’d go to his recliner, watch as much news as he could, and inevitably fall asleep in his chair. And he did that over and over and over. Day after day after day.
My childhood is filled with memories of his angst and his love for his work, for his patients and the nurses and other doctors he worked with. I remember how he worried about hospital policies, and the time he temporarily served as the county medical examiner and how hard that was for him.
There were times when he would hold other doctors in the state accountable for negligence and fraud.
He also was the physician for the local convent as well as the high school football team (he loved his purple and gold varsity jacket), and he made house calls for elderly people who couldn’t easily get to his office. He would bring home fruits and vegetables, Danish strudel, crocheted afghans and Christmas ornaments, all gifts from his patients.
I remember only a little talk about moving to a bigger city where he could make more money. That he barely considered. He came from a working-class town and was the only one of seven children to go to college. He felt at home where we were, even though there was exactly one Arab Muslim family in town — ours.
Among his patients was a Catholic family who would ultimately have 10, and maybe more, children. His first encounter with them was when he treated one of the sons in the emergency room. He asked the mother why they’d never come to see him and she replied that they couldn’t afford to. So he told her to bring all the children to his office for checkups the next week and that he’d only charge her for one. They became his lifelong patients after that. Decades later, at a high-school reunion, one of the daughters tearfully told my sister the real reason her mother had never sought out my father before was that she hadn’t wanted to go to a Muslim doctor. People may not have gone to him because of his religion, but he would never have turned them away because of theirs.
My father died in 2007. I’m glad he’s not here to see that the country and the very county where our family landed after he and my mother immigrated from Syria elected a president who would look at my father and people from seven countries and say, “You can’t come here.”
The message we hear is “you can’t come here until you prove to us that you’re a good enough person for this country.”
I’ll tell you this: This country needs to prove it’s good enough for the likes of my father and the millions of other people who — with or without being doctors and devoting themselves to others the way my father did — are just as decent as he was. They don’t need anyone else in the world to prove it.