In honour of Father’s Day, Joanne shares who her father is.
My father is …
Fuzzy. There is a lag between his lips moving and the sound of his voice.
‘Dad, adjust your camera,’ I say.
‘Where’s the camera?’ He fumbles indistinctly on my computer screen. It’s a blur of hands and his big head and I hear something fall on his side. ‘Oh shit, I’ve knocked over a whole lot of pens.’
His work desk is always a bedlam of creativity: books, papers, pens, rulers, paints, brushes, mini figures of cartoon characters, bronzes of Ghandi and James Joyce he’s made. There is an aura of chaos wherever my father is. He loses things, is often not well, in pain, or has a grumble with some asshole or another.
He calls for help. ‘Debbie …’ Debbie is his business partner, responsible for the day to day running of Dov Fedler Cartoon Enterprises, which includes looking for his glasses when he can’t find them, or cleaning them when they need it. My father needs a lot of looking after. He is a big man with a lot of pain in a lot of places. Ten years ago he had to have a kidney removed. We feared for the remaining one. I offered him one of mine. ‘You have two kids,’ he said, refusing. ‘One of them might need it someday.’
A few years ago he had a hip replacement. My dad heaves. He moves slowly and crookedly. He broke his neck as a young man doing judo. He suffered from migraine headaches. He once had a melanoma. He used to smoke but gave up when his doctor told him if he didn’t, he’d have a heart attack someday. My father is always dying. He is not afraid of death anymore.
My father met grief when he was just thirteen and his mother died. ‘I cried myself to sleep every night from when I was eight,’ he once told me. ‘I knew she was going to die.’ His bar mitzvah was a grim annulment of celebration. When my dad was sixteen, his father married his Hebrew teacher, a Holocaust survivor who had lost her son and husband in the concentration camps. My father did not have a happy childhood.
My father used to have a temper. I grew my wounds on his wounds. We now live far away and I can separate mine from his.
Finally he pops into focus. He grins. ‘You look tired,’ he says.
‘It’s nine pm here, Dad,’ I say.
‘How are the kids?’
‘Fine, fine, nothing to report. How are you?’
Once asked, you must have time for the answer.
My father doesn’t finish his sentences. His brain works faster than his mouth, which is an accomplishment. He holds up paintings of African women; of Jacob wrestling with the angel, of Mandela boxing to the camera. He talks again about how the Francis Bacon exhibition inspired him.
My father is a genius. A little mad, a little sad.
My father cries easily like a boy of eight. He cries when he’s happy. Sometimes after too much whiskey. He does not cry when he’s depressed.
My father says that when the doctor told him my sister was brain-damaged, a dark curtain fell in front of him. The doctors were wrong. She was deaf.
My father became Lubavich when I was a teenager, the result of a pact with God and a charismatic rabbi. I don’t believe he thought my sister would suddenly start to hear, but he expected some real happiness for her. My father’s pact paid off eventually.
His insights are sharp and sudden. His political cartoons have found their way into history exams. With a few strokes of his pen, he captures complexity with simplicity. He feels the pain of things in the nucleus of every cell as many manic people do. This he handed down to me and I, in turn to my son.
My father gave me a copy of Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas when I was a teenager. He told me I’d never be a model, but that I would be ‘other things.’ My father meant this as a compliment. When at eighteen, I dated a non-Jewish man, he gave religion up in a huff.
My father still believes in God. He thanks the Almighty for every idea that spins from his nib.
The phone rings on his side. He answers it. I tidy my desk while I wait for him to take his call.
‘So, where was I..?’ he launches back.
I remind him where he was. He is a jumble of stories, complaints, jokes and tellings.
Then he has to go. An appointment somewhere. We kiss the air. We say I love you.
We end the Skype call and I am back in my life and he in his across an ocean it takes fourteen hours by plane to cross.
My father is fuzzy. He lives in the space between my heart and my computer screen.
Even in real life he blurs into me and I into him.
Joanne Fedler – Women’s Voices
Joanne is the author of six books including the international bestseller Secret Mothers’ Business. During her years as a women’s rights advocate, she was made Asshole of the Month by Hustler magazine (one of her proudest achievements). She is a motivational speaker, writing mentor and facilitator and takes women on writing adventures to Bali and Tuscany with Womens Own Adventures. Joanne can be contacted at: www.joannefedler.com
Life Balance = Exercise. Solitude. Cuddles.
Joanne Fedler offers writing retreats for groups of up to 10 women. Her next retreat will be in Fiji in February 2014. For more information please email Katrina at firstname.lastname@example.org . For further details or early bird specials, you can sign up for her newsletter here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Joanne-Fedler/156384901082945?sk=app_100265896690345