Today is my father’s 74th birthday, and because I can’t be there to feast him, I will write about him (which I hope will make up for the fact that I have not yet sent him a birthday card).
He lives too far away: all the way across the pond in London, when really he should be close by, ready to babysit my daughter at a moment’s notice (ha ha, just kidding…sort of).
I miss him. And I have too many friends whose fathers are no longer with them not to realize how lucky I am to have him still.
He is a child of war, born in Geneva as his family fled Poland in 1940, during the Second World War. He was a refugee and was defined by that word even at the very posh boarding school he went to in England at the age of 3. Strange that after all these years of living around the world, he ends up in England.
He is a fantastic soup maker. I suspect that my daughter is part lentil because I consumed so much of his lentil soup when I was pregnant. When I was a new mother in Dublin, he would fly over to take care of my newborn daughter and I for a week every month, because my (now ex) husband had to work late. He did everything he could to help and even ironed my husband’s shirts. He souped us, he made us go for walks, and he hid his insomnia in order to help me get through the days with my new baby sleeplessness.
He and my mother split when I was 7 years old, so spending time like this together without a special occasion - without Christmas or Easter to justify it - meant a lot. When I took my first trip alone with my 1-month old baby to visit my family in Paris, he came from London to meet me because I was terrified to go alone (these things are scary when you’re a new mother and your breasts are your child’s only sustenance). I remember thinking, wow, so this is what it’s like to have family.
He’s a true Virgo and follows recipes to the last detail, unlike me. Not a pinch of salt will be forgotten. My dad is a black and white kind of man - the in-betweens, the greys have never been his thing, and although this drives me nuts, it’s taught me to be less that way, and more accepting of the grey areas of life.
My father should weigh 300 pounds, because he is a gourmand. He is incapable of eating three After Eights and putting them away. His style is eating half the box and then putting them down til next time - this is perhaps why he also makes the best brandy butter at Christmas time. The oinky gene runs strong in our family, so guess where the other half of the box of After Eights ends up?
He loves to walk and drags the family on long walks that we whine about for the first kilometer or so, and then enjoy. Now I do the same to my child. Through him I learned that I need to move often to be myself, rather than a cranky wench.
My father was a journalist and covered many wars in many places. My brother and I spent crazy holidays with him: if he was posted somewhere dangerous, his company would fly us to meet him in the destination of his choice, like Sardinia or Zermatt - a luxury which has ruined me for all-inclusives forever. But if his posting wasn’t so bad we would inevitably spend family holidays in places others would avoid, like Communist Poland or post-war Lebanon.
(This is us in the forests of Kashmir, India)
I admire him for being so fearless about exploring wherever we ended up - not for him the planning ahead - he would simply pack us up, open up a map and drive until we hit a village he liked the look of. Tourist towns were avoided like a rash and so I feel lucky to have seen the tiniest villages of the Turkish coastline, and to have spent one New Year’s Eve dancing in a Lebanese mountain chalet, mortified at the fact that ohmygod, my dad and stepmother were dancing.
(Central Beirut, 1994 or 1995)
Less fun are moments like when he took our Jeep along a cliff road overlooking the sea in Cyprus until it narrowed to the size of a goat path, with nowhere to turn around in order to come back. We still talk about that one, and he still gets annoyed that we do.
He has made me curious about the world outside my world, and the intelligence I see in him makes me want to heighten mine. He taught me to love reading by reading to me whenever we were together and by sending me books from wherever he was - Daphne du Maurier blew my mind, and Princess Prune Face will forever be a favourite of mine. Now I do the same for my daughter.
(and he still does it for my brother and my kids)
I love that despite his intellect, he feasts on silly action films. The more monosyllabic Arnold Schwarzenegger is, the more my dad enjoys the film. The more bullets and bulk, the better he rates it.
My father is a beautiful man. Inside and out. One of these he has had to work for, the other he didn’t. It has paid off. Happy birthday my grand poobah. Stolat.
Sister: “I wish I had cheekbones”
Dad: “You will when the baby fat goes”.
Sister: “F*ck off Dad”