For days now, I’ve been building upon this post snippet by snippet, navigating away from my draft, and returning to it again. At times, I’ve opened it and been unable to do more than read the words therein. My heart aches to share these thoughts, particularly because I would never want anyone to misconstrue my meaning or intentions. I don’t know if I can do this reflection even remotely adequate justice, but I feel I must try.
One of the consequences of my writing in this blog is that I find myself gradually shoveling through the many thick heaps of excrement clogging my mind, clearing my way through to further blockages.
This has been not entirely unlike the spiritual practice of hitbodedut, which involves speaking out loud to God continuously, non-stop for an extended period of time. I have attempted this in the past, and the resulting words that have come forth from my depths have startled me. Try forcing yourself to speak, not permitting yourself even a moment’s break, for an hour or more, as though you were speaking to Somebody who cares. Blogging, of course, is not seamless in that way. Still, if one aims to produce meaningful substance in every successive blog post, he will inevitably run out of lighter subjects.
* * *
My love for Papa was the major driving force behind my ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ creative writing project, which I was intensely committed to for the duration of my first year of mourning – the year during which a Jewish child traditionally recites kaddish every day for a deceased parent.
Following that year I wrote:
In my 2nd year of grieving… I have found myself dreaming about Papa on a regular basis. There have been all sorts of dreams…
Beyond this, I’ve found myself continuously thinking about and recalling memories of Papa. Unfortunately, as I suppose is natural, not all of my thoughts and recollections have been pleasant, and some of them continue to be painful.
* * *
I can’t remember a single instance of Papa telling me that he loved me.
* * *
During that first year of mourning, I didn’t sugarcoat our father-son relationship in my blogging, but I did omit much of what made our interactions hurtful for me. This is not to suggest that all of our interactions were hurtful – far from it. In fact, I have many happy, loving memories of time spent with Papa.
I know my father loved me even though he wasn’t one to say so. He is no longer living, but I remain secure in his love – I don’t feel that it’s absent from me. Somehow, without specific words, he conveyed this to me.– Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #2, Aug. 19, 2018
I wrote this nearly two years ago, and it remains true: I have always been entirely secure in Papa’s love for me.
So why did I need to hear him say it if I knew it to be true?
* * *
The more I reflect upon it, the more I realize that I wanted to hear Papa tell me that he loved me. Perhaps, in all earnestness, this is a flaw in my character, or perhaps there is something simply human about needing to hear that one’s parents love him.
My daughter, unsolicited, asks me and my wife whether we love her every day without fail. She knows what the answer will be before she receives it because it’s always exactly the same, and we provide it with no hesitation.
“Do you love me?”
“Because you are my little Boopsie; and how many little Boopsies do I have?”
“Exactly. So how could I possibly not love you?”
I never, ever would have thought to ask Papa such a question – even today, at forty years old, I cannot imagine him mouthing those words.
* * *
Papa was a product of a particular culture, at a particular place and time: Soviet Moscow in the middle of the twentieth century. I’m sure this played a significant role in shaping his concept of masculinity and fatherhood. For example:
Papa used to say that he couldn’t cry anymore; that he hadn’t cried for more years than he could remember; that tears simply wouldn’t come.– Me, ‘Skeptic’s Kaddish’ #27, Aug. 19, 2018
Further, while I only met Papa’s parents and sister when I was in my pre-teenage years (once they were finally able to leave the USSR), I never heard any of them say those magical words. I never heard one of my grandparents tell the other that (s)he loved him/her. I never heard either one of them tell Papa that (s)he loved him. I never heard my father tell either one of his parents that he loved them. I never heard my aunt or my father say those words to one another. Not once.
And, honestly, growing up, this seemed completely normal to me. I may have had gripes about my parents, as all children do, but I would never have thought to complain about this. As a child, I never realized how much I wanted to hear Papa tell me that he loved me, but now I do.
And I wish this didn’t hurt so much.