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Deena ElGenaidi
Deena ElGenaidi is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her work has been featured in Electric Literature, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, and other publications. Currently, she is an editor for Hyperallergic and is working on a novel. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @deenaelg

The Secrets We Keep

Markus Spiske / Unsplash / Getty Images, collage by Katie Kosma

Deena ElGenaidi | Longreads | November 2018 | 11 minutes (2,651 words)


My dad pulled his car over — the Jeep Wrangler he’d bought after divorcing my stepmom — to tell me that he’d gotten secretly married a year ago.

“M said you think I’m a hypocrite,” he’d said a few minutes earlier, just before putting the car in park.

He’d come to New York for the day to see me.

“I didn’t — what did M tell you?”

I was sure my aunt hadn’t betrayed my trust fully, that she couldn’t have told him what I’d found: the women’s bath products in his bathroom, signs that he was still dating the woman 20 years his junior. I was 28 at the time of the discovery, which would have made her 35. I knew that despite his Islamic religious beliefs, he was likely having sex before getting married.

“She said you think I’m a hypocrite because she’s not Muslim,” he said, the second “she” referring to Alexa, the woman whose name we both avoided saying out loud.

My dad had been twice divorced — first from my mom when I was 4, then from Anne-Marie, the woman he married when I was 10 and stayed married to for about 15 years. Now, he’d moved on to someone younger, someone only 7 years older than me.

I told him the truth, that about a year earlier, I’d gone into his room to see if he had any suitcases I could borrow for my trip to Southeast Asia, and spotted the flowery body wash, the women’s deodorant, the pink razor.

“I don’t care what you do,” I said, with the knowledge that I also kept secrets.

Still, though, I felt anger at my father’s hypocrisy. He claimed to be religious and was often judgmental of those who weren’t — judgmental of me. For years, I’ve kept my own secrets from my parents. I grew up in an Egyptian, Muslim home, and in many ways, keeping secrets has been my mode of self-preservation, as it is for many children of immigrants. My family is conservative — not politically, but in their everyday lives. They don’t drink or believe in sex before marriage, and if you are dating someone, it is with the intention of eventually marrying them. They expect their children to uphold the same Islamic values, and they’d prefer us to marry within our own culture, if possible. In this sense, it’s ironic that my dad has been with two white women — Anne-Marie and now Alexa — whose cultural backgrounds are starkly different from his.

I’ve talked to other children of immigrants, and children of religious parents, and have found an almost universal experience among us all. Though the values vary depending on culture, there is the same sense of understanding between us. Our parents, unlike many white parents, absolutely cannot know about certain aspects of our lives. A part of me is afraid to disappoint and disillusion them, but now knowing of my dad’s secrets, I wonder if I even care about their finding out about mine anymore.

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