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The Magazines And I… Memoirs Of A Magazine Junkie. Chapter One, Part Three…

July 2, 2020

My Family Roots

Yep, that’s me at two and a half years of age.

There were five children in my family, my older sister, my three brothers and I. My eldest brother, who was three years older than me, died in 1999 of multiple sclerosis. He was the pride of the family and carried my grandfather’s name – Khalil, like Kahlil Gibran, but spelled correctly. He was the first one in our entire family to have a Ph.D. – it was in English Literature and from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. My sister and my two younger brothers are still in Lebanon. I am the poor, misunderstood middle child and maybe that explains my tendencies to be different from what my family deems “normal.” My wife, Marie, is also the middle child. Possibly the reason we understand each other so very well.

My father was Presbyterian and my mother was Greek Orthodox. They moved from the village called Hakour 20 miles to the north of the big city of Tripoli so my dad could find work. My grandfather was the mouhtar of the village, and we had olive groves and an olive mill to make olive oil. When my parents married, my mom was 14 and my dad was 20. It took my mom five years until she had her first child. It was always looked upon as wrong if you didn’t have a child. My dad was the only son, and he had six sisters. My mom had no brothers. So I had no uncles – just aunts.

Dad found work at the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which was owned by the British. He worked in shifts, and whenever there was a holiday they paid him double. When I was born in 1953, Tripoli was the second largest city in Lebanon. Tripoli comes from the word Tri-po-lis, which goes back to Greek or Roman days, and means the tri-city. The city flooded in 1955 when the river, Abu Ali, overflowed. For some reason, I can remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders and walking in the mud. I was only two, but I recall that he was wearing rubber boots and the mud was high. We lived on the first floor, of the apartment building nd the entire floor was filled with mud.

Our family of seven lived in a two-bedroom apartment. Mom and Dad had a room and the rest of us shared a room. Being Presbyterian, we kids were sent to a Presbyterian school started by American missionaries. From the first day that you start school at age three, you learned to speak, read, and write Arabic and English at the American school or Arabic and French at the French school. If you were Presbyterian, you went to the American school.

We had two American schools: the boys’ school and the girls’ school, run by Presbyterian missionaries. It wasn’t until 1958 that the missionaries gave the schools to the Presbyterian Senate in Lebanon and Syria to be run by locals. The American boys’ school was a good walk away on a hilltop, and the girls’ school was closer to our house, so that’s where I went, the girl’s school, until the third grade.

They were actually called Tripoli Boys School (TBS) and Tripoli Girls School (TGS), but everybody referred to them as American Schools. Today they are combined and called Tripoli Evangelical School (TES). After third grade, the boys and girls went to separate schools. That was the environment that I grew up in.

Words of Wisdom

My grandfather Khalil.

My dad Afif.

From an early age, my dad used to give me what he thought the principles of life were that any employed man should live by: comb your hair, keep your clothes clean and shine your shoes. Simple as that. Before school, he’d shine our shoes. Or if he was busy, he’d get somebody to do it for him. He was so adamant about this, and neither he nor my mom even had a high school education. They did their best to study English on their own because most of his employers were British. Because of this, my parents recognized the importance of education early on, and invested in private schools.

Names carry heavy meaning with them in middle eastern culture. All children carry their father’s first name as their middle name. First born sons have the privilege of naming their own first born sons after their fathers. So after my brother was diagnosed with MS and before his death in 1999, he gave me his blessing and his privilege of naming any son that I might have after my dad, “Afif” (Afif is the French spelling that we Americanized to Afeef, the English spelling for easier pronunciation), because he would never have the opportunity to do so. Sometime after that, when my wife was pregnant with my son, I was on the phone with my father and he asked me when he was going to have his “Afeef.” Until that point, we had not truly considered calling our son Afeef. After that, we knew we had to honor my brother’s memory and my father’s wishes and give him a namesake. When my son, Afeef, was born, Dad said he could die in peace.

That’s why a name is so important – it’s a commitment, a culmination of all things past and present that make up a deeper meaning for all who hear it. Some people have asked me why I would call my son a difficult name like Afeef in America. People don’t understand the importance of that name. My dad’s name was Afif, which means pure, and my mom’s name is Afifi, which is exactly the same thing, just feminine. They were not related, just pure coincidence. In Arab culture, often times people can distinguish what religion you are based on your name. All of the names of the children in my family were genuine Arabic names, not named after any particular saint or prophet. My grandfather used to say all the time that people should know your religion by deeds, not by what you tell them, not by what they call you. Myth has it, or what I heard growing up, that if you are Presbyterian and you appear in court, you don’t have to swear on the Bible because Presbyterians don’t swear. Only one percent of Lebanon is Presbyterian.

The True Beginning

In the ninth grade, I started calling and harassing editors and complaining to them. That was about the time I started creating my own small magazines. Because at that age, we would visit my grandparent’s village in the summer where there were no magazines. I felt like I had magazine asthma without my ink on paper. I started making my own as an idea to kill time. I would borrow my grandfather’s transistor radio and all day I would sit down and create my own little daily. I’d use candles from my grandmother’s house, rubbing the candles on paper and then rubbing the paper back on old newspapers to get pictures. I’m not sure how I knew to do that, how I knew that images could be lifted in that way, but I did. And I was ecstatic.

That was when I discovered the concept of what I now believe in wholeheartedly. It’s what I preach, teach and consult about: the audience of one.

In those early publications of mine, I was the editor, designer, reporter, and the publisher. At the end of the day, I’d sit down and read my own creations. This whole concept of one theory was both an epiphany and also unbelievable to me. I made my magazines for me, to my specifications. Those may have been some of the first niche productions. At that point in time, without really realizing it, I had targeted an audience: myself.

The First Byline

But the breakthrough in my childhood magazine career happened when I had the opportunity to visit Beirut in 1969 and tour some actual magazine publications. I met the publisher of a magazine called Happy Homes, and I told him how much I loved the magazine. On the day I left Beirut, his wife called me and asked if I wanted to be the correspondent from the north for the magazine. I said absolutely.

My first assignments consisted of sending actual reports from our area of the country back to Beirut. It wasn’t long until I was doing “News from the North” with my byline. I would include items like “so and so died or so and so got married.” I actually still have a copy of that. My cousin sent me a copy because I wrote a piece about her when she was christened and included her picture. The combination of doing my own writing and starting to buy every issue I could get my hands on changed my approach to things in junior high and later in high school. At that time the number of titles flooding the marketplace continued to grow, names like Superman, Tarzan, Batman, and even an Egyptian magazine called Magic Carpet, with the title characters Mickey and Samir.

Even having a magazine with my name it continuously didn’t satisfy me. I wanted all magazines in general. During that time period, I was very involved with my church. It was not an option for us growing up. If it was Sunday, that meant Sunday school and church. I remember spending my Sunday allowance, which my dad gave me 50 cents, one quarter for Sunday school and one for a piece of cake from the pastry store next to the church. One time, on my way to church, I lost one of the quarters. It was a big debate. Did I lose the Sunday school quarter or the pastry quarter? I made up my mind. God can see everything. That was his quarter and he knew where it was. My parents didn’t seem to agree. I don’t think my parents ever really understood my magazine obsession. Their dream was for me to either go to seminary because I was so involved with the church and become a preacher, or become a dentist- both noble professions in their eyes.

Math Meets Magazines

In 2018 I went back to Tripoli to visit my high school which is now renovated and used as a public school. TBS merged with TGS to form Tripoli Evangelical
School for Boys and
Girls and is located outside the city limits of Tripoli.

Tripoli Boys School, better known as the American School. An archive picture from TBS Facebook page.

In Lebanon, once you reach the tenth grade, you declare an education concentration: science or literary. And if you are going to dental school, you have to go with science and take classes like physics, geometry and calculus. If you want to study languages, you do literary.

It was a struggle. I had to listen to my dad. I went with the scientific orientation. I’d be sitting in the geometry class, which I was never good at because I never had any patience to sit down and find the area of a triangle or a circle; I’d find myself sitting in class relating the triangles and circles to magazines. What would I create? My entire notebook had more magazine covers than any geometry problems.

I was an average student in high school, but that fascination was always with me. It led me to daydream a lot about this business. Triangles and circles became magazines. And of course, I discovered how this business worked. I learned about wholesalers, distribution, which day they would go on sale, etc. I worked my way from the newsstand sellers to the wholesalers. I tracked the line backwards from how the magazine came to the consumer.

It was at that time that I became acquainted with the wholesale distribution house in Tripoli, which was owned by a family called Jarrous. And because the man had told me to start coming at night so that I could see the magazines before anyone else, I became a fixture there. The distribution house was in an alley near the old center of Tripoli. I remember the first time before he offered me the see-before-anyone opportunity, I would stand sheepishly by the door because I didn’t want them to scream at me. The magazines were unloaded and people from newsstands came to collect them. One day I got the guts to go in and ask the guy if I could take a look. A few days later, I talked to him and he began to explain how distribution worked. It was so fascinating to me that he’d let me see magazines before they were on the newsstands. It was on one of those days when Mr. Jarrous asked me if I wanted to come the night before and he’d let me take whatever magazines I wanted so I wouldn’t be late for school. I would have magazines in my hand before anybody else in the entire city. I don’t think I slept that night.

All the while I stayed on the scientific course I had set for myself. I loved algebra and loved statistics, but I hated geometry. When I took the national test, the math exam was all on geometry. I flunked it badly. But when things were tough, I fell back on my hobby, when things were dark, I’d start dreaming, and when things were light, I kept on going.

The Success of Failure

Since that time, I have thought about one defining fact in my life, if I hadn’t flunked that year, my whole academic career would have ended one year earlier. My life would have been tragically different. I would have graduated before the Civil War in Lebanon began. I wouldn’t have met my wife and I wouldn’t have had a job at the newspaper. So many things would have been different. But there is a reason for everything, I truly believe.

When I was repeating that year, my youth director came to me one day and said, “Samir what have you decided you want to do?” I said that I didn’t know – my parents wanted me to go to seminary or dental school. He looked me in the eye and said he knew it wasn’t his place to disagree with my parents, but, “If you do anything in your life besides journalism, you are disregarding the gift that God has given you.  You don’t have to be a preacher to tell people about God and his love. You don’t have to be a dentist and spend the whole day looking in people’s mouths. God has given you this gift called journalism, and that’s what you need to do.” That year I passed the exam because it was mainly algebra and statistics, and I told my parents that I was going to journalism school.

I had built up these expectations that they were going to be angry. But amazingly, they were resigned to the fact that this was going to be my chosen path. I realized that this was it. What I had been dreaming of the last decade from age 10 to 19 was about to become a reality. I was going to journalism school.  And they said okay. So in 1978, I packed up my life and my wife, and I traveled to the United States of America to pursue that dream where my moniker Mr. Magazine™ was born in May of 1986.

And now, I have the opportunity to share that dream with the entire world and reflect on life in magazines during the month and year in which I was born: March 1953. Please join me in viewing a snapshot of American magazine history that neither Google nor internet search engine can provide.  Those memories are alive and well on these pages.

Chapter Two coming soon… The Year Was 1953

4 comments

  1. Sounds like you have started writing your autobiography! Enjoyed reading about your childhood very much.


  2. Mr. Magazine,
    Thank you for sharing. There is a reason for everything. Indeed!


  3. Interesting history on your background. We need a piece on the value and credibility of reporting. Qualified content providers provide the audience with historical information of all topics to give you data points. Quality reporting allows us to become educated.



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