Dear Dad is the story of my life told in the form of letters to my father, Walter Michael Jaworski, who died of a heart attack when I was five and whom, therefore, I never got to know. It is not a maudlin story of regret, but the tale of how one’s entire life — conscious and unconscious — can be shaped by the defining moment of a parent’s death, and how my own fatherhood lifted me from a lifetime of pain.
I don’t know who you are, and so, I don’t know who I am. They tell me that I look like you, that you were a factory worker, a veteran of World War II, an amateur race car driver, a good husband. I know none of these things for sure. Here is what I do remember:
- An image of you and Mom arguing in the kitchen, you in anger rushing out the back door.
- A rain shower. You and I are standing in the garage waiting together for the storm to pass.
- My first ride on a two-wheeler bike: you letting go and I trusting.
Not much to build a relationship on, these three memories. I’m lost, without anchor or direction. Who is to blame?
Our family and neighbors who knew you well say that I look like you. I respond to these statements with curious detachment, as one might react to someone who says you look like someone whom you’ve never known — with remote interest.
I wrote this poem, “On the Edge of Time,” a long time ago to record my feelings of loss and abandonment:
I lost my father.
Can one lose what one never had?
permanent, engrossing and sad
that I never had him
to retrieve those few memories
of a rainy afternoon in the garage,
of arguments uncertain or
I forgot to question:
Why it is that
the sun remains without
the photograph without the joy,
the feeling without understanding
On the edge of time
Facing neither inward nor
outward, past or beyond,
without a hand to point
to the paths and places of lost time.
My favorite line of the poem is, “Why is it that/the sun remains without the sky.” The son remains without the father. I have classic “survivor guilt:” why you and not me? Whose fault is this? Another memory told and retold by Mom — perhaps not a memory at all but an image brought by the story — brings the answer. It is Mother’s Day, 1959, the year of your death. You are trying to hand me a gift that I am to give to Mom on her special day. Only, I refuse either to accept it from you or to give it to her. Anger and recrimination toward me. Stubborn resistance toward you. You die some months later. Whose fault is it: It’s mine!