We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.
When Dad’s story was published in the historical book, Eine Bucklige Welt, for the first time in my life I could understand him. Where it has become seemingly fashionable for people I know to express their anger and disgust at their parents, Dad’s efforts at making things right were so unabashed, so strong, that my own sense of resentment for so many of his failings was revealed as petty, small and selfish.
Hearing his story, and hearing his own grief at how the demons of his upbringing had shaped his life, it was impossible not to offer forgiveness, and more importantly, understanding. He often remarked, “I didn’t have a very good childhood,” in those last few weeks. That was sheer understatement, and having most of the facts, I could only marvel an respect how good a parent he had been despite everything. I could only feel gratitude, and love.
“I didn’t have a very good childhood,” he said, and in the rasp of his voice, I heard the blood in his lungs, and the phantom tearing pain in his left leg. I heard the hoarse sobbing of the little boy he had been, when he was locked in a cupboard for extended periods, by a member of the village council who served as his legal guardian, as a ward of the state. I heard all of that, and what other choice was there, but to forgive, and to grieve for the little boy that was born into pain, and left it in more pain?
I knew how short our time was, thanks to the bluntness of that doctor I had never met, who baldly told the truth about Dad’s chances of survival as being nil. That action was perhaps the greatest act of healing I’ve been granted. Knowing there was little time, and being galvanised into action is a rare gift. I knew I had to say what I needed to say, and did so.
“I know Dad, it sounded awful. All I can say is that our little baby, your grandson, is getting the childhood we all deserve. Despite what you said about your regrets about the kind of father you were. Despite the monster your own father was. You brought our family from evil to happy in three generations. You did that…”
I remember saying that slowly, because I was on the verge of tears. Dad never responded.
Perhaps he didn’t hear me, lost in the horrors of his childhood.
Perhaps he disagreed, but didn’t want to start a fight, although that seems impossible – Dad loved to argue.
Perhaps it was what he had needed to hear, and he did not want to address the subject- the way you can marvel at the beauty of a spiders web, but to touch it is to destroy it forever.
I like to think it was that last one.