My mother called a couple of mornings ago. When I came downstairs I found her message. She’d called before 7, very unusual for her to call so early. I dialed my voice mail right away. Had my father died? I am always waiting for that call. No, she had called to give me his email address. It’s not his address. It’s his secretary’s. My mother said it’s the one my two sisters use now because Dad hasn’t mastered the computer so emails go to his secretary who brings them over once a week.
One thing my father said when I last saw him nine months ago was that the older you get the harder you work. I don’t know what he meant. I mean, I see it for myself, work seems to keep growing and growing, but I don’t know how my father could say it for himself.
I wonder what his secretary does for him these days. When I get a card or a package from him two or three times a year, it is addressed by her. I’m not sure my father writes anymore at all, let alone the writing he used to be so ambitious about – pages of economic theory on how the world should be run.
A few years ago my sisters asked him to write about his childhood and I received a copy – about ten typed pages covering his earliest years. Although my father seemed to spend much of his time telling me stories of his youth when I was little, I heard stories I’d never heard before in this written version. Last September I asked him to write more. “When I have time,” he said wistfully as if he were a busy man.
What I saw was a man partially crippled by Parkinsons, moving slow from room to room. Yes, he still has his big desk placed diagonally across the room that was once my grandparents’ room. And the long heavy desk is covered in books and papers. There’s a fax machine to one side and a small computer off in the corner.
I think his words about “when I have time” were a cover. I imagine it is too difficult for him to write now. Perhaps he cannot hold a pen. He hasn’t typed since I was a very young child. Then he used to type at home. I don’t remember actually seeing him do it, but I have seen the many pages on onion skin that he bound into black-covered volumes, pages that were mostly about things I wasn’t interested in – like international politics – but which once in a while contained a precious description, like the milk curdling in his coffee in a Wall St. diner, or a child waving to him from a window. He doesn’t name the child, but it must be me.
These journals that my mother threw out. Not exactly on purpose, not totally consciously, but which she allowed to vanish when my father moved back – temporarily he thought – to Hungary and she was left to sort out what was left after the house was sold to pay the bills.
He came back on a visit, partially to get his journals and they were gone. He kept going through the little storage shed my mother had rented, going through box after box, over and over, thinking he must have missed them.
I don’t think they had a knock-down drag-out fight over it. I think my father was furious and devastated that his years of journals were gone, journals from maybe as far back as the war and his years afterwards as a young man with a bicycle in Geneva. But I don’t remember him ever yelling at my mother unless she egged him on so hard he lost it. And even then his fury came out not in words but in gestures – stopping the car, getting out and walking home; yanking the tablecloth so all the dishes crashed to the floor. It’s not that he felt so tenderly towards my mother. I just don’t think he knew how to do it, was terrified of the destructive possibilities of fury and afraid to damage the tentative structure that linked him to my mother – the way she always took him in – not because she was in love with him, but because that was what she knew.