When I was a young girl, whenever we had a family party or gathering, my father, Dumit Ghantous, would always come up to me and say, “It’s time for you to go thank all the people who are here and let them know how much we appreciate and love them.” My dad loved giving speeches, and he loved to hear his children give them. He would want me to come up here today and thank you.
I could stand up here and talk for hours about my dad, and so could most of you. But today, I would like to tell you about the three most important lessons that I learned from my dad.
The first lesson I learned from my dad relates to his faith.
First and foremost, my dad was a man who always trusted in God to lead him. Dad and Mom came to America in 1956 looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. My dad told me once that before he boarded the airplane to come to America, he prayed, “Oh my God, I have only you, my wife, and my daughter. Whatever you direct me to do, I will follow. Please go before me and show me the way.”
When my parents arrived in Peoria, they could not speak, read, or write in English. The only person they knew was my mom’s uncle, Tony Romanous. The only forms of long-distance communication at that time were very expensive phone calls and air mail. Air mail often took up to two weeks to deliver a letter to Lebanon.
In addition to having to adapt to a new language and culture, my dad had a more immediate problem he had to deal with — my mom’s loneliness for her family. Because of her immense sadness, my dad mailed several handwritten letters each week to his brother-in-law, Fred Khattar. Fred was married to my mom’s sister, Jeanette.
In his letters, Dad painted a beautiful and compelling picture of America. Being a fast learner, Dad even used a common phrase that he had picked up. He told Fred that “the streets of America are paved with gold.” He actually used those words in one of his letters. The one thing that my dad conveniently left out of his letters was the fact that he was working 18 hours a day to provide for his family.
Three months after my dad started sending letters, Jeanette and Fred arrived in Peoria and moved in with our family. My mom was thrilled that her sister was living with her. Jeanette and Fred were the first family members to follow my dad into the land of opportunity.
And so began the wave of Lebanese immigrants who were related to my parents. Most of them lived with us for several months and in some cases, for more than a year, before they were able to support themselves. Dad helped every family member who came here find a job. He also eventually helped each of them get a driver’s license, purchase a car, and buy their first home.
What was the lesson I learned from my dad through these experiences? That like him, I could also be a leader and mentor to others, but in order to do so, I had to trust that God would always go before me and show me the way.
The second lesson I learned from my dad relates to the way he treated his family.
Dad showed unconditional love toward every one of his family members. When I say every one of his family members, I mean his wife, children, grandchildren, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and the spouses and children of all those family members.
As you probably know, Dad had a genetic heart condition that caused his heart to become enlarged. Perhaps it was because of Dad’s enlarged heart that he had the capacity to love more than anyone I’ve ever met. He loved us for who we were, even though we weren’t scholars, athletes, accomplished musicians, doctors, or engineers.
Although he had high expectations for all of us, when we didn’t meet his expectations, Dad still loved us for who we were and was always very proud of us. He never stopped telling us how much he loved us. When we did something wrong, he made us feel ashamed and would tell us that we were wrong, but he always ended the conversation by telling us how much he loved us.
My dad was known as “Jidu” to all his grandchildren. In Lebanese, that’s the word for grandfather. When my daughter Maria was a little girl, she once told me, “Jidu loves really hard. When he loves, it’s with all his heart, all his strength, and all his soul.” She was right. He loved God, his family, and life itself with all his heart, strength, and soul.
As a consequence of the love Dad showed toward his family members, he was, in return, respected, honored, and loved by all his family members. Whenever he parted company with any of us, his parting words were always, “God bless you.”
What was the lesson I learned from my dad through these experiences? That like him, I had the ability and obligation to love my family unconditionally with all my heart, and that I should ask for God’s blessing on everyone I came into contact with.
The third lesson I learned from my dad relates to his work ethic.
The day after Dad arrived in Peoria, he walked to several local clothing stores and, with the help of my mom’s uncle, Tony Romanous, he introduced himself to the owners of the stores. He was offered a job at Magic Tailor and reported to work the next morning at 8:00 a.m. His pay rate was $1.25 per hour.
After working full time at Magic Tailor for three weeks, Dad was offered a job at Schradski’s Clothing Store for $1.75 per hour. He settled into a schedule of eight hours per day at Schradski’s and an additional four hours a day at Magic Tailor. Before long, he was also picking up clothes from other stores to take home for him and my mom to work on.
Dad purchased his first car in 1964, eight years after he arrived in America. Until that time, he walked up to five miles a day — from his Jefferson Street home to Schradski’s downtown location, then to Magic Tailor on Knoxville, and then back home in the evening. When the weather was severe, he rode the bus.
Both of my parents always worked late into the night sewing clothes for their customers. Most nights when I went to sleep, they were working at their sewing machines. When I woke up the next morning, they were still at their sewing machines working. I’m not sure when they slept.
I can’t count the number of times that my dad gave someone who was in need some money (we’re hearing more stories now), or how many times he dropped everything he was doing so he could repair something for someone — a button, a broken zipper, or the lining of a coat.
Just last year while he was at his doctor’s office, Dad noticed that the doctor had a tear in the lining of his sport coat. He asked the doctor to give him the coat so he could repair the lining. Dad drove home, sewed the lining, and then immediately returned to the doctor’s office so he could personally hand deliver the coat to the doctor.
Dad would often leave home on a holiday so he could help someone who had asked for his assistance. There were several occasions when my mom reminded him that he didn’t need to work on the holidays — that the work he was asked to do could wait until the next day. He always responded by saying, “As long as I’m here on earth, when my family or friends need my help, I’m going to be there to help them.”
What was the lesson I learned from my dad through these experiences? That like him, I could be a good example to my family and serve others by developing a work ethic that far exceeded the work ethic of anyone I had ever met.
The three lessons that I learned from my dad that each of us can take away with us today are: (1) trust that God will always go before you and show you the way; (2) love your family unconditionally with all your heart and ask for God’s blessing on everyone you come into contact with; and (3) always be a good example to your family and serve others by developing a work ethic that far exceeds the work ethic of everyone else.
The one thought that kept repeating over and over in my mind while my dad was in the hospital was, “How can one man have so many brothers and so many children?” Everyone who came to see us kept repeating, “He was my brother” or “He was a father to me.”
On January 19, 2016, my dad, a man who loved God and his family with all his heart, strength, and soul, left this world for the Divine Kingdom — a kingdom where the streets really are paved with gold.
May his love continue to shine down upon all of us until we are able to see him again.
Thank you for taking the time to be with us today. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the love and support you have given to our family. Please continue to pray for us.
God bless you.
Georgette G. Williams
January 23, 2015