Happy Birthday Daddy
My mind is scattered of late, trying to stay atop a myriad of appointments, medical needs and life in general. I didn’t realize until late last night that today is July 13th ~ your birthday. I’m amazed that you were born 106 years ago. I’m even more amazed that I don’t hate you and in all honesty, probably never have. As I became old enough to understand, I marveled how you, as a young boy, travelled alone to the United States from Poland on a ship. Then that you returned to Europe a year later only to make the trip back to the US once again. All before the age of 15! At the time I remember thinking how brave you were. When I asked why you only had two fingers on one hand, you told me about the accident in the silk mill where you worked; how the machine malfunctioned and grabbed your hand. I remember being horrified and sitting on my own hands as you talked. You said the company paid the medical bills and saved the job for you. You said they were “Good to do that”. As a child I thought that you were lucky. What did I know? You were in your 20’s when you lost your fingers, long before employers took responsibility for accidents and definitely before OSHA. I would listen at the door as you and friends who’d also immigrated talked of life back in your homeland. I remember being fascinated by the stories of war-torn Poland, trying to picture it in my mind. Always marveling at your strength for traveling four times on a ship alone, your intelligence for being able to find a job at the silk mill while still very young and your strength for what you’d endured. You never knew I listened in but it gave me a glimpse into your life. You were normally very quiet at home, sitting at the kitchen table for hours playing solitaire – a habit I not only picked up from you but passed on to one of my daughters. I yearned to feel as if I was a part of your life but you weren’t demonstrative or talkative unless you were drinking. When you first began drinking with your friends you seemed happy because you laughed, something you rarely did. You would talk and play polka music. But the more you drank the different you became. It was if you were consumed by an intense anger and despite lashing out, couldn’t slay the invisible enemy. I feared you when you were “drunk” because all it took were a few words from Mommy and you would beat me. I can remember you dragging me by the hair along the floor so that you could beat me in front of her as she insisted on witnessing it. I thought pulling me by the hair would “scalp” me much like the Indians scalped people in the television you sometimes watched. I always tried to speak of my innocence but you were so enraged I doubt you heard me. Like the time she told you I had stolen your razor from the medicine cabinet. I kept crying and pleading with you to listen to me ~ that I was too short to ever get to that cabinet and besides “Mommy keeps that door locked”. Yet you never once listened to me did you? Whatever that paranoid schizophrenic said you did. If you were sober you obeyed her meekly. If intoxicated you obeyed in rage. Looking back, the one time I thought you would beat me because I deserved it you shocked me by being kind. We had returned from the grocery store and I asked if I could carry the watermelon into the house; you said yes. I was almost to the kitchen table when I lost my grip and dropped it causing it to break. I ran into the living room and hid behind a chair for I was sure I would be beaten. Instead you found me and told me it was ok because it was an accident. I realize now that I was probably only spared because you hadn’t been drinking but nonetheless I cherish that day. I screwed up and wasn’t punished; an event forever etched in my mind.
I could go on and on but somehow it doesn’t seem right to excoriate your name on your birthday. Instead I need to tell you that I forgive you and have no hate in my heart for you. For many years I was conflicted about how I felt about you. Then came the day in 1998 when that idiotic surgeon gave me a wrong diagnosis and the first thought to enter my head? “Well I’ll see Daddy again.” My conflict was suddenly resolved and I had the answer.
I believe you were the product of a different culture and generation, where parents used beatings to enforce rules or punish those who dared break them. I don’t think you were ever “really happy” but rather, you existed. You were submissive with Mommy despite the role she projected as helpless victim. Whatever she said, no matter how implausible or insane (strangers coming into the house and substituting identical but inferior quality clothing for her expensive things comes to mind) you agreed with her. It was as if you wanted to be left alone but when she insisted you acquiesced to avoid conflict. Hence you drank, to escape whatever demons haunted you. Like most drunks, you became different. For you it was being bolder, meaner and violent. Because we both know how capable of inflicting REAL harm you were. I am often tormented by what happened in the parking lot of the bar the summer before I began kindergarten. Nope ~ I’m not going there. Instead I’m going to think of you today as the happier, kinder person you became following her death. I will always cherish the time we spent together and the impact you had on my family. I was truly happy that my children were able to experience having a grandfather because its important that we have a sense of family, a sense of identity. It was something I longed for my entire life but never felt until the birth of my first child. Yet strangely enough immediately after your death I felt like an orphan. I walked around saying “No one will ever call me Bunny again”. My husband thought he could help me so started calling me Bunny. Gotta tell you Daddy it didn’t work and I nipped it in the bud. Bunny was the child, she was a long time ago. You were the last link to that child, the last person who knew her before she became an adult, graduated college, married and started a family. And now you were gone. I’m just terribly sorry that my young daughter was the one to discover you sitting lifeless on the sofa. No child should have to be in that situation. I take comfort however in knowing that your death was swift as your nebulizer was still running. I’m also comforted in knowing that you really enjoyed what was to be your final outing, your grandsons wedding. I’m happy that my father was there to see my son get married. I love you and always will.
Until we meet again…6 7/8