Missed, Proud, Devoted: A Father’s Day Celebration in Turkey

No matter how patriarchal Turkish society is, mothers are apparently revered more than fathers in culture and social life. This is rightly the case for their double burden as household members doing all the household chores, while pursuing careers, or in rural areas, helping their fathers working in the fields. In such circumstances, the stories of bonding fathers and children with their fathers, living or not, are the highlight of Father’s Day marked on Sunday.

For Şefik Ayceman, Father’s Day is just an ordinary day when he tends to the needs of his family of four. The 66-year-old man living in Bingöl province in eastern Turkey is the only one caring for his three mentally disabled children and his paralyzed wife. Ayceman’s life changed in 1993 when his wife became paralyzed due to multiple illnesses, leaving him to care for her children, now aged 32 to 41. He quit his job at a local factory and devoted all of his time to the four, from hospital visits to household chores, cooking, cleaning, and taking them to the hospital for treatment. Despite his advanced age, Ayceman is resilient and full of vigor, always with a smile on his face. “I’m always at home if I’m not in the hospital. My days are spent taking care of my family. It’s been almost 20 years but I never complained,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA) ahead of Father’s Day. “My wife can barely walk and I have to attend to all her needs. Only my eldest son Ferhat can work well and he helps me sometimes. My kids are fine and I tell all other parents not to complain no matter what situation their kids are in,” he said. “It’s my destiny and I’ve accepted it and I hope all fathers have this passion for their wives and children,” he says.

Being with their fathers is a blessing for Ayceman’s children, but for refugee children forced to be separated from their fathers, it’s a different story. “I miss him a lot and want to hug him,” 8-year-old Milana Luilka said. It has now been four months for Liulka, her mother and siblings being away from their father, a Ukrainian engineer who remained in his war-torn country. His wife and two children took refuge in Turkey, in the western town of Kuşadası in the province of Aydın, along with other expatriates fleeing the conflict. Since setting foot in Turkey in March, they have been eagerly awaiting good news from Ukraine and looking forward to reuniting with their fathers. The occasional video call is their only connection. Anatolii Liulka told Anadolu Agency (AA) that she is marking Father’s Day away from her husband and father in Ukraine. “He is a world to me and I never thought I would leave him. But it was his decision, to stay and serve his country. We are still in touch but my children miss him a lot,” a- she declared.

Yuliia Siurenko also left her father and husband in Ukraine and fled to Kuşadası with her 4-year-old son. “It’s our first Father’s Day away from our fathers. It’s very moving. I’m afraid I won’t see them again. I pray for them all the time. We talk on the phone but I want to talk to them. to touch, to hug them. I want my son to hug his dad again,” she said.

Ahmet Karatağ is ready to accept his father’s death but all he wants now is to find something that belongs to him. Karatağ, who lives in Istanbul, spent years away from his father who lived in his hometown in the central province of Sivas but never thought he would ever disappear. There is no sign of the 80-year-old man who disappeared nine years ago without a trace as he returned home on Father’s Day. Since then, Karatağ has devoted his life to finding his father, putting up “missing” signs on all roads connecting Sivas to Istanbul.

Ahmet Karatağ touches a poster of his missing father, in Istanbul, Turkey, June 19, 2022. (AA Photo)

“It’s a tragedy if you are born without a father, but it’s another tragedy when you lose your father. My mother recently passed away and we buried her. I know where she is now but I despair of knowing where is my dad. If only I could find something of his, be it his cane or something. That would give me some comfort,” he told AA. “Father is everything to a child. I would like be with him on Father’s Day,” he said. Karatağ and his siblings set out to search all possible places he might have gone to after security forces exhausted all means to locate him. When the search proved fruitless, they started posting missing persons notices everywhere while a large poster with a “missing” note covered the window of Karatağ’s shop in Istanbul. father liked to walk everywhere and frequently visited his parents and friends in other villages and towns. He left to visit a friend nine years ago and we haven’t heard from him since,” he said.

For fathers who have lost their children, the day is a solemn occasion, like Ismail Kayadibi. Kayadibi’s son, Şükrü Can, was a 28-year-old policeman when he was martyred by terrorists in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa in 2019. “I always get excited, thinking he comes back every time the doorbell or the phone was ringing,” Sabah told the newspaper on Father’s Day. “It’s like he’s still working and coming back from his job,” he added. Kayadibi is one of thousands of “fathers of martyrs” who have lost their children in Turkey’s counterterrorism operations. “It’s something I can be proud of, but my heart can’t bear to lose it,” he said. Osman Kızılırmak, who lost his police son in a 2016 Istanbul terror attack, said his pain was “great” and finds comfort in seeing his son’s name given to the police station where he worked. “I don’t have a Father’s Day now, but he will always be remembered. I’m proud, just like I was proud when he became a policeman,” he said.

“He would never forget Father’s Day and would always call or visit. Now I visit him on Father’s Day,” said Mahmut Duran, father of Yunus Emre Duran, who died in a 2016 terrorist attack targeting soldiers in the central province of Kayseri. He visits Duran’s grave every Father’s Day and hopes “no father will lose his child in such attacks.”

Pride is the common Father’s Day theme for fathers. Metin Gazoz is feeling it more this year. The father of Olympic champion archer Mete Gazoz told AA he always hoped his son would make him proud and that it would happen. “I think that’s what fathers expect from their children only,” he said. A former archer himself, Metin Gazoz said he only had a few goals for his son. “I wanted him to have a good education and to be happy. I wanted him to do something that would make everyone look up to him proudly. When I was an archer, I always dreamed of attending the Olympic Games. One day I was talking to Mete about my dream and he told me that he had found “a way” to make it happen. He was about 8 years old at the time. “I know how we would do it. I will be at the Olympics and there will be the name ‘Mr Gazoz’ on my jersey and you will be there to watch over me'”, recalling his memory with his son. Still, his son’s success requires a strict training regimen and the father says he barely sees his son now. “We always talk on the phone and I don’t think it’s important to be together as long as we have a strong bond. He has a difficult life and we have to accept it. We are happy to see him happy and to see him smiling after winning the tournaments makes him happy,” he said.

Another proud father is Erdoğan Demirezer, a specialist sergeant who found the rare opportunity to work with his son, in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). Demirezer and his son Sezer, a non-commissioned officer, are proud to serve the army at an air base in the western province of Balıkesir. “It’s a nice feeling. We spend most of the day together, going for a picnic or swimming after work. Also, I’m proud to serve my country with him. I have two other sons and they aspire to to be military officers. I’m proud to instill that love of country in my sons,” he told AA.

Father Yunus Şimşek (left) and his son Sami clean up a park in the capital Ankara, Turkey, June 18, 2022. (AA Photo)

Father Yunus Şimşek (left) and his son Sami clean up a park in the capital Ankara, Turkey, June 18, 2022. (AA Photo)

In the capital Ankara, Yunus Şimşek accompanies his son Sami on a daily basis as the two sweepers enjoy working and earning a living together. “I am so proud and happy with him. I like this job and my son helps me when I’m too tired. In turn, I help him,” he told AA. “I’m glad my supervisors assigned me to the same place as my father. It’s nice to feel your father’s support in your work. Even better, I can see my father more during the day,” said Sami Şimşek.

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