Pa

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Self-portrait in a group (José Almada Negreiros), 1925, by Pedro Ribeiro Simões on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

I’ve written here about my mom before. I do, in fact, have a mother and a father. My father gets short shrift here. He’s not a social media kind of guy, and I am frankly not sure how he’d feel about all this attention, so I haven’t written about him a lot here. (You tell me, Pa, how you feel.) I also am pretty sure I missed writing to him here on his birthday. I’m sorry.

This doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about him, a lot. My dad had a pacemaker put in last week. He’s going through recovery from the procedure. And that isn’t even the first device he’s had planted in his body. A few years back, he had a device implanted which emits electronic pulses to interrupt pain signals. Which means he’s practically a bionic man. As a science fiction aficionado, I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative for him. Perhaps he likes to think of himself as a latter-day cyborg.

Thanks to my father, I developed under his careful tutelage an appreciation for the bizarre. I grew up knowing nothing different, it was just how things were. I remember very early on playing a game in the bathroom mirror with him, called “Who’s Me?” I think the point was to look at ourselves in the mirror and perhaps not really be sure if we were who we thought we were. There was also a family who came up in stories he would tell me. They were the Watkins family (our last name is not very close), but they all had the same first names we did. They were always in close proximity to us, perhaps they’d just been where we were, or were just about to arrive, but not at the same time. They were the Watkins family, you understand – not us!

This is ancient history, but only ancient for me – there’s so much more I could say about my father. The days of remembrance of the Shoah are not idle days for our family, but days we remember real, actual people to whom my father was close blood relation. My grandparents, my father’s parents, left Europe at the right time, as young adults… but most of their families did not. My father was alive, while the letters grew less and less frequent, and eventually letters to them were returned unopened. These losses, these murders, cast long, dark shadows on those who remained, an extended family that wound up scattered across several distant continents. My father’s life work in recent years has been to reassemble his tree. Every few months or years, another fugitive connection, a possible link. Every name, date, place of birth, counts.

I don’t think that these thoughts are far from my mind. My work is different. I’m not typically consumed with the distant past here, in this writing I’ve been doing. But I feel it is, somehow, related. There is the very fundamental feeling that documentation is important. I am not sure what I am documenting right now, but like my father, and his father before him, we are consumed by the need, the work, the effort.

When my grandfather died, a friend and mourner who came to visit heard me talk of my connection. I said I felt genetically connected to my grandfather, because we both had the need to write. Back then, I didn’t know what my writing would lead to. I didn’t know it would lead to a sort of act of self-preservation in the face of mortal danger. (At least, I’m hoping this is what it is. It may not be up to me to say.)

The mourner seemed to want to tell me, because she was a scientist and she needed to school people, that it wasn’t actually genetics. She wanted to be very clear on this, even though it wasn’t the place for a science lesson. How sad, I thought, years later, when I walked behind her family that was walking behind her own coffin (after she was stolen, too early from the world, by the cancer she researched), that she couldn’t just have comforted me then, and told me that I was right.

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