Op-Ed

Honoring my Uncle A.F. — and an American success story forged in love and civility

The Dawahare clan, front, President A. F. Dawahare; second row V.P. of Stores Harding Dawahare, Womens’ Buyer Selma Dawahare; third row, Mens’ Merchandising Manager Richard Dawahare, Womens’ Merchandising Manager Jimmy Dawahare, Buyer Mark Dawahare (middle, back), Corporate Counsel Joe Dawahare, and Merchandising Manager Michael Dawahare (far right) were photographed in front of the Dawahares corporate headquarters on Alexandria Drive in Lexington on May 26, 1998.
The Dawahare clan, front, President A. F. Dawahare; second row V.P. of Stores Harding Dawahare, Womens’ Buyer Selma Dawahare; third row, Mens’ Merchandising Manager Richard Dawahare, Womens’ Merchandising Manager Jimmy Dawahare, Buyer Mark Dawahare (middle, back), Corporate Counsel Joe Dawahare, and Merchandising Manager Michael Dawahare (far right) were photographed in front of the Dawahares corporate headquarters on Alexandria Drive in Lexington on May 26, 1998. Herald-Leader File

This is to honor my family. We just laid to rest Uncle A.F., the last of the Dawahare family’s second generation. A.F. was the youngest of Srur and Selma Dawahare’s eleven children. As a eulogizer observed, he was a composite of his elders, embodying all their best qualities.

Harvard-educated, yet humble, he was a savvy merchant, astute horseman and an even better humanitarian. Like his siblings, he loved people, and was genuinely interested in whoever crossed his path. His friend marveled at A.F.’s ability to discuss anything with anybody. Were Americans to follow his civility and desire to truly understand opposing viewpoints, how much better our country would be, he concluded.

Indeed! So, to help make this happen I will share this brief history about our family. Along with my parents, and other uncles and aunts, A.F. reflects the one-word summary of the Dawahare heritage bequeathed by my grandparents: “Love.” Our personal Greatest Generation loved all, respected all, and sought to serve all. Black and yellow, red and white, rich and poor, immigrant and native-born, those of any religion or of no religion, their love alighted on whoever providence placed before them.

They had good role models: a mother who bore eleven children and swept the home with love while their father tended the stores—first on his back, then a small dry goods shop, a bigger one, another, then another, all by himself until his children could help.

It was Srur’s profound love and appreciation that fueled his passion and inspired his children. He was so grateful for America, the land of his salvation. Around the turn of the last century he came as a boy from his native Syria to escape religious persecution. Because the Ottoman Empire was crumbling the Turks issued an edict to dispatch all Christian political leaders, including Srur’s father who was the mayor of a small village in what is now Syria. By custom they were looking to also dispatch his oldest son. Srur’s mother hid him in a well, and when the Turks left town he got out and immigrated to America, via Mexico.

Damascus, Beirut, Marseilles, and Mexico before finally making it to New York. (Uncle Willie used to joke that Pancho Villa chased his dad across Mexico). Srur worked in the garment industry and as a busboy at a hotel. It was there that he met his future wife. Selma’s father was holding a dinner for eligible suitors, but it was the young busboy who caught her eye. The coal rush was on, drawing people from the world over to the verdant mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Selma’s brothers had opened a successful store in Wise, Virginia, on the Kentucky border and Srur sought a similar opportunity on the Kentucky side.

He began as a pack peddler serving those in the hollers and coal camps of Letcher County. Srur cared for them and worked hard to satisfy their needs. In short, he loved them, and they him. Imagine that: America’s most isolated backlands embracing this dark-skinned foreigner from half a world away. Proof positive that the human heart trumps everything--every preconception, stereotype, trait or tradition. Love indeed conquers all.

So great was Srur’s love for American that he named three sons after presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Herbert Hoover. He infused his children with his love of family, community and country and taught them the value of unity. He gave each of them a stick and told them to break it, which they easily did. He then gave them eight sticks bundled together, which they could not break. The lesson: if you stick together you will never be broken. They did, and we do.

The Dawahare family values mirror those of our nation. We are the United States of America; we follow Kentucky’s own motto “United we stand, divided we fall.” And so, to honor my family’s heritage and Uncle A.F.’s eulogizer I humbly propose that we follow the love-forged path of unity and reconciliation taught by my grandfather and carried forth by his children.

First, we must find a way to feel love/affection/human compassion for all, especially those who oppose us. Pray for it, work at it, concentrate on it. It may help to realize that we don’t know what’s going on in the other’s life, nor what burdens they carry.

Second, we must change our approach to the issues now dividing us. We must stop digging in our heels for our position without a care for the other side. Instead we should see these issues as opportunities to build unity. Like Uncle A.F. we must be eager to learn the other’s viewpoint, empathize and work for win/win compromises. Above all, we must strive for civility and treat others as we want to be treated.

This “Love” is nothing new for America’s democracy. Our nation’s laws, starting with the Constitution on down, are infused with “love,” developed only after open dialogues of competing interests leading to compromise. Love is what keeps our nation United.

Whether for families or our nation, love truly is the only real path to peace, joy and freedom for all.

Richard Dawahare of Lexington is an attorney.

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