When Your Father Dies, He Takes Your Childhood With Him

When your father dies, a Russian proverb says, he takes your childhood with him. Mine certainly did, as he passed shortly after my seventh birthday. On the other hand, everyone later told me whenever I engaged in this or that misbehavior that he had spoiled me—failing not only to discipline me himself but forestalling controls by others during the years that cancer ravaged his body. In the fifties of course, there were few effective treatments for cancer of any type, including his. I can only wonder now, would I have learned to ski jump as he did, mostly in the years before my birth. Or would I have been an amateur  table tennis champion like him. I never progressed far along the path of any athletic pursuit. I did well enough academically, for a time, in elementary school. But I had behavior problems there as well, a difficulty in “socializing” with others. I had “adjustment” issues no doubt stemming from my father’s illness and untimely (for my family and myself) demise. My mother had her own health problems—asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, ulcers from aspirin and more. Her ailments grew in scope and severity through my junior and senior high years, until her death shortly before my 16th birthday. For the nine years between my father’s death and hers, we lived on Social Security. I didn’t know, for most of those years, how poor we were. I survived though.

By my senior year in high school I realized that if I wanted to fulfill my college dreams, I needed to “buckle down,” as a third grade teacher once told me. So I finished high school with ¾ of a year worth of decent grades. Good scores on the college boards and residency back in my home state of Minnesota got me into the University of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the draft got me first. Whatever vestiges of childhood remained vanished in Vietnam. But once out of the Army I managed to graduate summa cum laude from college, as well as earn a JD from Georgetown. Was it my father’s light, as the Armenians say? Probably not.

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