After Baghdad

Farris Hassan, not done with his 15 minutes of fame, is up to his old tricks again

"He looks like he could be my father," Atiya remembers thinking. "It was not a love story."

The arranged marriage took place in Syria, and Redha Hassan — exiled from Iraq — began his residency in Baltimore. In 1979, Saadi Hassan, Redha's brother and a 24-year-old architecture student, was kidnapped by Iraqi secret police and later executed. Redha took his brother's death hard.

"He went into a severe depression," Atiya said. "But he's the kind who covers it up and doesn't want to show it. He vowed to get back at Saddam Hussein."

On the plane home from Baghdad, Farris Hassan figures out just how famous he is.
photo: Seth Extein
On the plane home from Baghdad, Farris Hassan figures out just how famous he is.


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A photo gallery

Redha became a Fort Lauderdale anesthesiologist, and the family began to grow. Farris, the youngest of four children, was born in 1989.

As a parent, Redha was lenient, Farris says, hoping that reasoning with his children would keep them out of trouble. His mother's parenting style was different — "traditional irrational mom: 'Do this, do that, or I'm going to smack you,'" Farris explains.

But Atiya says she was actually as hands-off as her husband. When her children were young, for example, Atiya would take them to Publix and give them their own carts. "Go get what you want," she'd tell them.

Four years after Farris was born, Redha's life changed radically. A table holding an obese elderly man began to collapse, and when Redha tried to help, he sustained multiple slipped discs. He was left in constant pain and was prescribed an arsenal of medications, including Percocet. He has not worked as a physician since.

Devastated that he couldn't work, Redha fell into depression and became addicted to his pain medication, according to his wife. And he stopped opening the household's mail, which became a problem because he refused to let anyone else open it either.

"They shut the power. They shut the water. They shut the phone. Nobody has car insurance," Atiya remembers. She begged her husband for permission to pay the bills, but he wouldn't allow it. Rather than letting his wife take care of things, he eventually hired a secretary.

It wasn't the only privilege Atiya says her husband denied her. For years, she wished to go back to school, but her husband told her he wanted her to wait until the children had gone to college. She enrolled herself in classes at Broward Community College and Florida Atlantic University and studied in secret.

While reading for school — an activity Redha strictly forbade — Atiya made sure to have a women's magazine nearby to conceal her textbook.

Farris remembers things differently.

"My father wished she could have taken care of the kids to a greater extent, but he's not against her education," he says.

When they filed for divorce in 1999, 9-year-old Farris was relieved.

"Well, finally," he remembers telling them. "You guys are not compatible."

Soon after, Redha had two more accidents.

First, he sliced his left palm with a razor. Then he passed out and sliced open his right hand. When he came to, a rare infection had entered the wound that required daily surgeries for a month.

After he recovered, Redha moved out and Atiya was awarded custody of the children. But Farris didn't want to live with his mother, and he didn't want his dad to be alone.

At age 10, he called a taxi, sneaked out through his window, and went to live with his father. Atiya, in yet another example of hands-off parenting, didn't interfere.

"I told him, 'I love you to death, and I fought for you,'" she says. "If that's your decision, that's your decision."

Living with his father was almost like living alone — but with the added responsibility of taking care of his dad, he says. When high school approached, Farris applied to Pine Crest School all on his own. He took taxis to and from school for most of his freshman year, costing his father about $2,700.

Home life was still a struggle, as Hassan's father continued to neglect his daily tasks.

"I would beseech him to open his mail and take care of the things that are going on in our life," Hassan says. "I'm 14, 15. There's all this craziness going on in the family. He needs to be a father and provide for me."

Still, Farris very much enjoyed their conversations abut philosophy and politics, and his father, a man who created his own fortune through investing and real estate, also ensured that money was never a problem for his son.

It was that steady cash flow and the permissive parenting style that made it possible last Christmas for Farris to take himself to a war zone.

"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction."

After writing those words in an essay about his decision to skip town, Farris Hassan left for Baghdad on December 11, 2005, ready to miss five days of class and to see the war for himself.

He flew to Kuwait City and tried to enter Baghdad by taxi, but the border was closed for elections, and Hassan didn't really have a backup plan. It was at this point that he first informed his father of his whereabouts, he says. And he denies what Lourdes Cowgill, president of Pine Crest School, told the media — that Redha knew about Farris' trip from the beginning.

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