For my sister Ruxi. And for our half-sister, whom we never met.
For the past few months, I have been struggling to write about my father. I have been very private about him to all but few friends and I have always been confused about my feelings. I still am. For better or worse, I felt the need to bring to light my feelings. I am nervous, and I hope my first attempt to articulate who he is to me will be just.
Dad was born on April 4, 1939 in Bacau, Moldova. He was a brilliant student and was the only one in his blue collar family to go to college. He quickly made his way up to becoming lieutenant colonel in the Internal Affairs Ministry, or the now-deceased Securitate. He also taught German and English at the Police Academy and was a tough but encouraging teacher. He was handsome, charming, witty and generous. He was an erudite. To this date, for some of his friends I seem to fail making my own mark, as I am still addressed to as “Ghinet’s daughter”. He was a ladies man and has been married three times. He had three kids, myself and my sister Ruxi, –whom he barely knew, but who is his spitting image– and a half-sister, out of the wedlock, across the continent, and someone whom my sister and I never met.
My first memory of my dad is the two of us walking in the dark from the bus station to our first home, in Drumul Taberei. He was dressed in a black suit, and was wearing a beautiful 3/4 quarter jacket on top. I remember holding his hand, my right in his left. We stopped by the little icecream shack. I remember very clearly the old shopkeeper, who was just about to close, who had saved the last icecream for his granddaughter, but who gave in to my insistance and sold it to us instead. Dad and I sat on the sidewalk while I savored (it was vanilla) my desert. We went home and mom never found out the reason for my sudden “tummy ache”. I love and cherish that memory. For it is one of a handful of happy memories.
For as charming, smart, witty, generous he was outside the home, he also had a vice that destroyed us and which ultimately led to his untimely death. My father was an alcoholic. If the problem would have stopped at just that, maybe I would not have been so challenged. But unfortunately, my father was violent when he drank. For the sake of his memory and for my own’s, I will not go into details, other than to say having a black eye, a split lip was a common state of affairs at the house. Both my mom and I met the wrath of his sudden, drunken anger. I remember not being let into the house, or him sitting in the armchair in front of my room to make sure I was not going to open the door for my mom when she came home late one night, after passing her driving exam. I remember-with pride- standing up to him, looking him in the eye, shaking but firm, passing him in the hallway and opening the door for mom. That day I got away without a beating. My mom was not so fortunate.
I know it will sound surprising, but communist Romania did not have Social Services. And given his status, my teachers were afraid of the consequences of complaint. I desperately buried my head in books and was spending a lot of time at my neighbor’s and outside. Finally, when I was 14, after one serious beating, I ran away from home. I left a message to my mom at the neighbor’s and told her I will not be going home. She finally gathered up the courage, filed and went through the divorce. I had a ticket to freedom and happiness. Or so I thought. I was wrong. But about that some other time.
My mother never forgave my father for his failure to leave alcohol behind and for his failure to love her. To this date, my mom never dated and never remarried. Two years after the divorce, I saw my father for the last time. I did not recognize him. His hair completely white, walking with a cane. We spent some hours together. I remember being shy but happy.
My father died in his sleep on September 3, 1993. I was in the midst of my exams to enter Bucharest University. For those who don’t know, getting admitted into Bucharest University was a very hard, intense and painful affair, it required incredibly tough examinations. I managed, the next day, to pass my oral Chinese examination, and went through three more written examinations, making the cut for the only 10 admitted that year in the Chinese language department. I have a phenomenal memory, and yet, those days are a blur. I was alone at the funeral, my mother away in China, my sister who was living with my grandmother never wanting to attend. I remember looking at him before they closed the coffin and having mixed emotions. He got full military honors.
Last year, for the first time, I went to see a therapist. I quietly told him my story. He asked if I hated my father. He was surprised when I said I didn’t. I feel sorry. Sorry for not having a father, for destroying himself and I feel sorry that I never got the chance to know him. I know without a doubt he would have loved my son. Although I failed to be the son he wanted, I know before his death he was proud of me.
I recall one morning after yet another brutal beating. He came to my room, all sober, took my face into his hands, looked into my eyes. I didn’t say one word. Neither did he. But I saw his eyes, I saw the raw pain and the deep regret. And the tears. If only I was older and wiser, I like to believe I may have been able to help him. I don’t hate my father.
I am my father’s daughter in certain ways. I like to believe I am as smart as he is, that I will be the erudite that he was, and that I took after his generous side. I like to drink when going out, and I enjoy a glass of wine couple of times a week. I got drunk four times in my life and I remember each of those instances. But I am not and will not be my father. I owe it to him, to me and to my kids to be the best person and best parent I can be. I am not my dad. I am not my mom. I am my sister a little, my friends a little and my kids a little. But most importantly, I am me.