by Mara Shelly
Do you ever wish you could have chosen your parents?
I was six when my dad left for the first time. I grew up thinking that he did so because of me, because he did not love me. I remember watching him walk away, and I often wondered why he didn’t look back even once. My mom used to tell me how he stayed home for nine months (he used to be a sailor) just to make sure that I would be born. So, I kept asking myself what I had done so wrong that he left me?
What I didn’t know was that he wanted to leave the country illegally, on board of a ship. Unfortunately, he was caught and accused of high treason against the Communist Party. There were two trials and both sentences were the same: twenty-two years in prison. This happened when I was too young to realize the meaning of it.
My mom told me that he would be in the hospital and that we could go see him after a while. I had to find out from a boy at school, a year later, that my dad was in jail ‘because he was a common criminal’. I still remember I went home that day and hid under the table for three hours, refusing to speak. When I finally opened my mouth, it was only to start screaming that everyone had lied to me and that I never wanted to see anyone again.
In 1989 he was released because of the Revolution. There were several appeals after which the sentences were reversed (or something technical like that). He left again in 1990 and divorced my mom from the foreign country he went to. If I was old enough then to understand he had not left because of me the first time, his leaving a second time was an even heavier blow. It was when I realized that maybe he really did not care about me at all. His reason for the divorce was that he would marry a foreign citizen, stay with her until getting the citizenship and then divorce her, so he could bring us over there. It didn’t work that way.
I have seen him maybe ten times since then. My mom did see him recently; she showed him pictures of me and told him that I wrote a novel. Then she e-mailed me to let me know how the meeting went. She said he cried the whole time they talked about me; that she could see in his eyes how sorry he was for not being there for me; that he was glad to know I had turned out better than he had thought and in spite of growing up without him; finally, that he said he hoped to see me at least one more time before he dies.
I realized that I still love my dad. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t, no matter what he did. I can never change the fact that I have his blood and his eyes, and his taste for good whiskey. I will always remember the way he used to put me on his back and pretend to be a horse I could ride; his stories about India and South Africa, after nine-month long voyages; his visits when I was in the hospital with tuberculosis, at 5. Also, I will always remember the only time when I visited him in prison, and he had chains around his legs, waist and hands because he was considered to be dangerous by the Communist regime.
I will always regret that I did not have more time with him, and that now, being so far away, there’s even less chance of seeing him again. I would like so much to hold him and tell him that he still is my dad, no matter what he did, no matter what people say about him, no matter how little time we had together; that I see his face every time I look in the mirror; that I hope to see something of him in my children; that I wish my life would have been different, but if that means having a different dad, I would rather go through the same hardships all over again. There’s nothing more to it. He will always be my dad.