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There was a moment in my life when I realized that my father used to be a child, just like me.

This realization made me feel more mature but at the same time more vulnerable.  In this moment, I realized that I am following my father’s path of growing up (which meant that eventually I was supposed to become a grown up); but at the same time I felt my father and myself reduced to small and weak beings, like the child I was at the moment of this epiphany.

I don’t remember how old I was when the moment of realization occurred, but I know that since then I looked at my father in a very different way.  He became to me many people in one person: the child from the picture you see in this post (sitting on the right hand side); the stubborn teenager my mother told me about; the strong man who carried me in his arms for hours when I was a one-year-old sick baby and I couldn’t fall asleep; the man who drove himself to a hospital after a car accident while having a fractured spine; the man who smiled at me and my sister, saying, It’s not as bad as it looks, after his right hand was crushed under a heavy lift-fork load; the man who married his primary school sweetheart, my mother, and adored her, and took care of her in trying years with tenderness everyone everywhere longs for.

My dad lives alone, in the house I grew up in, and every time I talk with him on the phone, I am aware of all the people that make my dad the person I know.  Perhaps the phone conversation makes it easy to imagine what cannot be seen.

I see him when he is six years old.  World War II will end in a year, but at this point no one knows anything about it.  No one even knows that the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 is in its full swing.

I see my father going back to his aunt’s house for some more bread skins. His aunt and her husband signed the Volksdeutsche list in the beginning of the war; this granted them food stamps, which meant survival.  My father’s parents refused to sign the list, screaming, We are Poles, not the f**cking Germans, and in the result the family starved throughout the years of occupation.  Every single day my father goes to his aunt in hope of getting some bread skins.

Why couldn’t your parents sign the list? Sometimes his aunt asks this rhetorical question just to make herself feel better.

They were too proud and now their children are starving! she says on a bad day.

We have so much bread, we don’t even have to eat the skin.  We eat just the soft parts, she says on the worst day.

At six years old, my father doesn’t care about any reasons.  All he wants is food and if it has to come with bitter words about his parents, so be it!

He waits for his aunt and uncle to be done eating and then he grabs as many bread skins from the table as he possibly can and runs out the door.  He sits outside, with his back against the hot red-brick wall, closes his eyes and while eating, imagines sausages.

All we ate was potatoes, my father says to me one day.  I had dreams of sausages, white bread, and milk for years after the war.

I see this six year old boy, who will become my father, running through a door with a handful of bread skins.

And immediately after that I see my father, my sister, and myself standing in the kitchen. My sister is probably three or four years old, I am six or seven. It’s summer.  My father is wearing something white but the shape of it is not clear to me.  What is clear to me is his mischievous smile.   My mom is angry with the three of us.  She is walking fast and doesn’t look at our faces.  She gestures waging her finger in the air and in her haste says something she didn’t intend.

She meant to say:

“Put the stools under the table.”

But instead she says:

“Put the table under the cabinet.”

The three of us stay still looking at the table and only my sister’s enormous blue eyes roll up to look at me and then at our dad.  My mom leaves the kitchen.  We can hear her going downstairs and then out the front door.

My father is very calm but I know that he is giggling inside.  He approaches the table, asks us to move the stools, and then turns the table up side down.  My sister and I are excited, even though we have no idea what is happening.  My dad takes a screwdriver from his “little tools drawer” and unscrews the legs of the table.  Then he slides the top of the table under the cabinet and then arranges the unscrewed legs on top of it.

After a while my mom enters the kitchen with an impetus of a still angry person but the missing table puts her steps immediately into a halt.

“What now?” She looks at my sister and me.

We shrug our shoulders and try not to laugh.

“Where is the table?”

My sister and I turn slowly around and point under the cabinet.

My mom looks at my dad and I can see that she is melting, trying very hard not to laugh, even though her eyes are already laughing.

“You asked us to put the table under the cabinet,” my father says smiling.  “So we did.”

My mom looks at my sister and me and we both nod to our dad’s statement.

“Very funny, very funny.” Now she only pretends to be angry with us. “Put it back together or there will be no dinner tonight.” She tries to be stern.

“Whatever you say, honey,” Dad says smiling.

“Whatever you say,” makes all four of us laugh.

The air is light, our bodies are light, the laughs are light, and the summer is light.  Time doesn’t exist, yet.  Everything I experience is contained in a single moment. I don’t see connections between moments or events and it will take many years for me before I would fully understand that the perfect connection, the perfect unity is possible only when we don’t see connections, only when we simply live in a state of pure experience, without worrying about the logical implications of causes and effects.

Today the “pure experience” is impossible.  It has been lost with the innocence of a child I used to be, and replaced with a collage of things that form my life: worrying about health insurance, worrying about my job, worrying about my son’s education, worrying about money, worrying about gaining too much weight, worrying about loosing too much weight, worrying about my relationships with other people, worrying about my friends, worrying about my ill father, worrying about being an emigrant, worrying about worrying.

And then I realize that I see my father the same way — as a collage of my memory and my imagination. I see him when I stare in the darkness of the room and try to feel him close, to know him the way I knew him when I was a child, before I saw him fragmented into many people.

And then I think of myself. . .

What if nothing is fragmented but me?

 

One Response to “My fragmented father, my fragmented me”

  1. […] on this picture; she reminds me of a movie star from the 30s. But I especially like the way my father looks because the corners of his mouth are turned upward. When I look at the picture I feel like he […]