Like Father, Like Son––The Purpose-Driven Life of Bejan Esfandiari
“A tribute to Antonio’s father, The sacrifices he made for my brother and I, we love him very much.”
Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari has a reputation as a pro who came up “at the right time” during the poker boom and made a name for himself as a tournament force, online brand ambassador, and color commentator for high-profile events such as the WSOP Main Event. What many do not realize is that Esfandiari was highly influenced by his father Bejan, who possesses a strong entrepreneurial determination and has a story just as compelling as that of his son.
Studying civil engineering in San Jose, California, in the early 1970s, Irani native Bejan Esfandiari felt an inexorable pull back to his home country. He belonged to a prominent family with close ties to the leadership of Iran under the rule of the Shah. Unlike many of his relatives who stayed in the United States, he preferred to return to the culturally rich life in Iran’s historic capital Tehran, rather than make a future in a fast-growing American suburb.
One consideration was that Bejan’s family ties gave him a promising future in his native country. His uncle held a leadership position in the Iranian military, with oversight over the strategically important Southern region, which encompasses the Persian Gulf coast and significant oil deposits. Arriving by airplane in Shiraz on one memorable visit, Bejan was greeted by a limousine and given VIP treatment as he took in sites surrounding a historic city in the heart of an ancient breadbasket region. The famous Shirazi wine grapes that flourish here were reportedly brought by traders from France’s Rhone valley centuries ago, and renamed Syrah.
In 1979, the fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini came to power through overthrow of the Shah and began an economically disruptive reign as Supreme Leader. In the process, he established a restrictive, Islamist rule of law that curtailed human rights and brought much international business to a standstill.
As the years progressed following the fall of the Shah, life became increasingly difficult for Bejan Esfandiari and his extended family. His life up to now had been one of steady, work-driven success. Given seed money by his family, Bejan had started his own company in the early 1970s and focused on producing an innovative type of filing cabinet that operated along the principles of a dry-cleaning hanger. Just one cabinet efficiently stored documents that would otherwise have filled several filing cabinets, side by side.
Bejan had begun producing this innovative design through an exclusive license to distribute the cabinets from the German firm that manufactured them. Not content to be a supplier, he reverse engineered the cabinet from a provided sample. The project required detailed calibration to make sure the cabinet’s mechanical underpinnings worked just right.
When Bejan presented the finished product to the German licensor, the manufacturing company could not believe what he had accomplished. Their hand was forced and they allowed his company to fully manufacture, under license, a product that they had expected to simply export and have distributed throughout Persia. Bejan worked tirelessly and built successful enterprise that employed hundreds. Together with his wife, he started a family and they had two sons.
As with many in Iran’s middle class, life deteriorated sharply for Bejan and his young family in the early 1980s. Production came to a standstill as businessmen saw demand drop precipitously. Bejan was forced to dip into savings amassed during the previous decade simply to keep the company afloat One year, ordering just five uniforms for his workers, he was confronted by a flabbergasted apparel maker, who remembered orders of hundreds of uniforms a couple of years before.
More than simple economic deterioration, there was another powerful impetus for Bejan taking his family out of the country––at nine years old, his oldest son Antonio was only five years away from an age where he would not be allowed to leave the country. The high school years, from 14 to 18, would be followed by mandatory military service, which at the time involved fighting at the front lines against Saddam Hussein’s entrenched military along the Iraq-Iran border. Bejan was determined that his son would not meet the fate of the more than 1 million Iranian soldiers, many still teenagers, who lost their lives in this protracted conflict.
Moving to his family to San Jose, where Bejan had family and school connections, required extensive preparation. He spent a year apart from his family, preparing the immigration process, which took three years to fully cycle through the U.S. government. When Bejan’s wife and sons finally arrived in the late 1980s, it was a bittersweet reunion––his wife only lasted a couple months before returning to Iran. During Bejan’s long, unavoidable absence, she had become romantically involved with another and ultimately could not stomach the idea of life in a new country, even if it meant living apart from her boys.
This left Bejan responsible for raising the kids alone, as he built a successful restaurant business in downtown San Francisco. Fortunately, the extended Esfandiari clan was tight-knit and Bejan’s parents took care of Antonio and his brother on those frequent days when he worked late. On the weekends, Bejan reserved the time for his kids and took a role as a supporter and confidante––giving advice as Antonio took a paper route, worked as a busboy and waiter, and ultimately discovered a passion for magic that led to another sleight-of-hand––a successful career as high-roller and poker ambassador.
Life is meant to be shared and better when you share with people you love.
About Damon Shulenberger
Having earned a Guinness World Record in poker for winning a 49 hour continuous tournament in 2013, California native Damon Shulenberger is an inveterate traveler and cloud novelist. Currently in the Philippines, he is conceptualizing an innovative travel platform “fabric” and publishing his cloud novel Arisugawa Park at endurancewriter.com. Shulenberger is also working on a trans-Pacific tribal flute field recording and studio album project Chasing the Sun.
Hyperlink for “Arisugawa Park”: http://www.arisugawapark.com
Hyperlink for “Chasing the Sun”: https://soundcloud.com/endurancewriter