My name is Sarkis

By Herag Hamboyan

My father was a stereotypical immigrant. He had to work hard to fit in. He had to work hard to make ends meet. He wanted to prove that not only could he survive living in this new world, but he could excel in it.

And he had the audacity and the tenacity to remain true to his cultural background.

When Sarkis Hamboyan immigrated to Toronto from Cyprus, he needed to find work to support his young family. He found a job filing papers at the Ontario Ministry of Health. When he walked in on his first day, they asked him his name:

“Sarkis”, he said.

“What? Circus??” they asked.

“My name is Sarkis,” he responded calmly.

“Don’t you have an English name?” they asked.

“No, my name is Sarkis,” he stated again.

“Don’t you have a nickname?” they asked.

“No, my name is Sarkis,” he replied.

Weeks passed, and no one called him by name, causing him to feel downhearted. Finally, to his delight, they began addressing him as “Sarkis.”

Sure, it’s an unusual name in this part of the world, but it’s not terribly difficult to say in English.

One of the many reasons Canada is such a great country is its cultural diversity and the fact that we are taught to embrace our ethnic roots. My dad was certainly proud of his Armenian heritage and proud of his adoptive country. Canada was his happy place, especially Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where he focussed on his career as a librarian. He loved his job. He also enjoyed coaching soccer and table tennis. During his 25-year stint, he worked two full-time jobs: At the high school by day and at the university at night and on weekends. He missed just one day of work during those 25 years because of an injury he sustained in a car accident.

When he retired, he moved to Oakville, Ontario. He focused on his passions: music, the Church, family, and friends. He made many contributions to the Armenian communities of Nova Scotia and Ontario. He helped establish an Armenian cultural association and a Saturday school, edited books, gave talks, and took charge of the musical component at churches. He also conducted a choir that performed Armenian folk songs, many of them composed by his hero, Komitas. His peers highly respected him, and he became a mentor for many individuals who benefited from his knowledge and wisdom. He was proud of his many achievements in life.

Pride is a funny thing. It helps push us to do our very best. Interestingly, the large amount of pride my father possessed was coupled with humility. Now, there’s an odd couple: pride and humility. He would beam with pride at his accomplishments as an educator and choir conductor but also feel uncomfortable with praise.

My father taught me the importance of hard work, thoughtful planning, and perseverance, not by lecturing but by example. He was an educator by trade but a mentor at heart. Because of this harmonious balance, my sister and I were free to make smart choices in life.

He felt the utmost pride and joy when he was with his wife, son, daughter, and eight grandchildren. When he informed us of his guarded prognosis after being diagnosed with cancer that was slowly creeping its way through his body, we felt profound sorrow and despair. But he accepted it with grace and dignity. And he somehow transferred that feeling of composed acceptance to us. He knew that his life had been a meaningful journey and that he was ready to disembark. He felt deeply satisfied and immensely proud of his legacy.

Soon after he passed away, I decided to embark on a journey I knew would make my father incredibly proud: to climb to the summit of Mount Ararat, the most important symbol for Armenians. It certainly is a beautiful mountain rising majestically more than 5,000 metres above sea level. And its image is on a wall of most Armenian family homes, including ours.

Climbing Mount Ararat took three days and was one of the most challenging endeavors of my life. I discovered the true meaning of audacity and tenacity as I pushed myself to the top. As I took my final step onto the summit, I looked up into the sky and said, “Hi, dad. We did it!” It wasn’t a solo expedition. He was with me the whole time.

It was a proud and important moment in my life, realizing that those who departed are still with us—watching our every move—and part of who we are.

My dad was always a proud man.

And his name is Sarkis.