Saturday, June 20, 2015

Something Better

The following is a brief excerpt from a story I wrote a few years ago about making peace with my father's memory while dating a guy who was not involved in his son's life at the time. I experienced through his lens, and through his heartache, that it is possible for a parent to truly care about a child even if they are incapable of showing it. Relationships are complicated and forgiveness can be a powerful act of kindness not only for the other person, but for yourself.

I'm opting to publish this snippet for Father's Day as it is the emotional center of the story, a tribute to those who show up to do the work. It's also a gift for Joanna, who recently gave birth to her fourth baby, Charlotte.

I decided I needed a break from my regularly scheduled life, so I headed to suburbia. I always love to drop in on Joanna’s family parties as they are exuberant celebrations full of perogies and sausage and pastries, free-flowing vodka, and oldies blasting from the stereo.

Joanna is a Polish immigrant; she came to Chicago as a teenager in the early 90’s. My worries faded as I stepped into Joanna’s world, her house full of children’s toys, the starchy smells of comfort food, and people talking enthusiastically with their hands. 

Joanna’s father, Grzegorz, had been in and out of the hospital struggling with liver cancer for a good part of the year, and I was pleased to see him well enough to attend the party. Grzegorz’ arms bore scars from all of his recent medical procedures and he looked pale and tired, but his face beamed with contentment. He gestured for me to bring my wine glass and come sit with him, and I was pleased to oblige.  

He asked, “How is your work?

I told him airline life was treating me well.  

He pointed to Alex, his grandson, and said, “I like to take Alex to O’Hare. We watch planes take off. Sometimes we do only that for the whole day.”   

“That sounds like a wonderful adventure,” I replied.  

His smile took a more serious turn when he faced me, gesturing out into the lawn at his blond grandchildren running in circles. To the living room, to his sons and their wives, and to Joanna, who he calls by her Polish name, Asia. 

He said, “Here is what I know. When I grew up, when I was bad, I was beaten. When I was good, I got nothing. To see my children treating their children with such love and kindness, this is my joy. This means that they are made of something better.”

I smiled. “Yes,” I said, “something better.”   

We basked quietly in the moment. Smokey Robinson’s falsetto playing in the background, everyone swaying to the music, talking, laughing, the screams of the children without a care on a warm summer night.

His family was his proof that even though he had come from darkness, he had made his own light. It was the last gathering Grzegorz was well enough to take part in before he passed away.

Fond wishes to all my friends who are wonderful fathers. Enjoy your day.

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