Twenty years later as I was graduating from law school, I took myself to see the resident psychiatrist at the University of Michigan health service, Dr. Kimbrough, a big man in his thirties with groomed premature white hair. Don't want to get into the family business, I told him. Went to law school to avoid it but now I'm graduating.
"Why come to me?" he asked. "That's not a psychiatric problem."
The business wasn't. But Dad was. I had a conflict. Dad's life, his happiness, depended on me . If I rejected the business I'd hurt him. That's what I believed. He was vulnerable. I'd always felt sorry for him, because of his needs, because of his life. Grandfather left for America when Dad was three months old. Eleven years later Grandfather returned, divorced Dad's mother and brought Dad and his brother Louie to America. And Grandfather forbid them from writing to their mother. It would be fifteen years before Dad saw her again. Louie never would. Then, when Grandfather went bankrupt in 1923 he pulled Dad and Louie out of school in the tenth grade and put them to work rebuilding the business. They had to work hard. From all accounts Grandfather was an unforgiving man. In 1928 Louie killed himself with a shotgun. Dad swore it was an accident. But was it? Dad had survived but he suffered. And I became his protector.
"Are you still?" the psychiatrist asked.
I was. Love is care, Dad liked to say. I cared for Dad. But it was the business he cared for. Hamady Bros. was his favored child. Grandfather had an offer-a good offer-to sell the business in 1957. Dad begged him not to. "What if you died?" Grandfather asked, because Dad was running it then, still as a one-man business. Dad offered to insure his own life for $10,000,000 and make Grandfather the beneficiary. Grandfather didn't sell. Thereafter, whenever there was a rumor that the business was for sale, Dad would hunt down the source and threaten him with litigation, or worse.
I knew Dad's grief when he had been severed from his mother. I imagined that Dad saw himself as the business and that he became his mother to it. Then, fearing his father might again separate them Dad had to convince him that the two grandsons were dying to come in to perpetuate the business. My role became clear. I dressed in a suit or in my military school uniform so Dad could parade me around in the stores. I gave everyone a smart handshake and a confident smile, and I spoke to Grandfather and his courtiers like a future groceryman-though I'd never be one-while looking them squarely in the eye. I knew that if I did gravitate into the business I'd be made a vice president and director and be where any twenty-five year old would "give his eyeteeth to be." But at what price? I'd continue life as Dad's packaging with no real product inside.
"I don't know who I am."
"Talk about your family," the doctor said.
My family? Well, America may be the land of the individual but I saw myself as a member of a family, the Hamadys, an extended family of 50 or 60 members at its peak in 1945, a nation unto itself with its own canon, culture and alliances. The men all came from the same Druze village in the hills of central Lebanon and settled in Flint by way of the sugar beet fields in the thumb of Michigan. Uncle Abraham came first in 1888, and Dad and his brother Louie came last in 1920. In between came three Yousifs who became Uncle Joes, as well as Uncles Selem, Ralph, Kay, Jack, Albert, Frank, Sol, Jim... .
There were others who returned to the old country or died before I was born. One, a Charlie Hamady, was murdered in a store holdup in 1919. When his murderer was captured and the whereabouts of his detention became known, Charlie's closest relatives went for their guns. Grandfather alerted the police who put Charlie's relatives in jail for a night to cool off. Otherwise, they'd have killed the man. Blood revenge was a f