Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tribute to a Father, Part I

George Myers is my dad. I want to share his story as a tribute to him, an acknowledgement to a man often overlooked by the people around him. My father's always been a simple, unassuming man, whose mere existence invoked few accolades. As a human being, he's had a lot to offer: a strong work ethic, a sense of humor, and a kindness towards others. As a father though, he showed another more personal and not so pleasant side to his personality. His influence has had far reaching consequences for those around him, namely his wife and his six children. At the moment, he's fighting for his life in the hospital, and it doesn't look good. It's clearly the latest, and most serious, of what seems like a lifetime of setbacks.

My relationship with my dad was very tumultuous during my formative years. In younger days, he and I clashed often, so often that for many years I wholeheartedly despised him. I used to pray to God nightly that mom would divorce him so that we could all be happy without the misery he brought to all of our lives. Growing up, life was miserable whenever he was around. None of us ever received the fatherly love that those around us always seemed to get. Looking back all I can remember is resentment towards his children that we all felt as the source of the financial burden he lived with for many years.

Life is the greatest teacher, and one of the things I've come to learn in subsequent years is that we all tend to mellow with time. Problems fade from memory and are no longer pertinent to our daily lives. My relationship with my father is no exception. As I grew older and eventually moved out on my own, things warmed up between him and I. As he began his long suffering bout with diabetes, his acrimony towards his family began to diminish. For the first time in my life, in my mid-twenties, I was able to have personal conversations with my dad, all the while looking him straight in the eye.

Over the years I came to realize a lot about my dad, and I began to understand the circumstances surrounding our tumultuous childhood with my father. I've come to recognize that in many ways the mistakes he made were not his fault, but were derived from the circumstances of his own upbringing. Here's some of his story:

George Myers was born on April 2, 1941 in Trieste, Italy. Trieste is a small city located in the northeastern tip of Italy, and has had a chaotic history of war and occupation, much like my dad's life. Though no one, including him, knows the true story of his birth, we believe he was fathered by a Hungarian soldier passing through the city during World War II. Whether this man was killed in the war or simply was an anonymous donor of sperm none of us will ever know.

Dad's early childhood years were marked by War. Nazi's occupied the city for two years, and my grandmother Vittoria, did what she had to do to survive. Eventually, once the tide of the war had turned, Allied troops moved in, and Vittoria met an American soldier, Norman Myers. Norman fell in love with Vittoria and eventually brought her back to the States along with George, whom he adopted. Dad was seven years old when he arrived in the US.

For the next ten years or so, the Myers family lived a soldier's life, moving around from army base to army base in various parts of the country. I recall photo albums of happy, albeit brief, times spent in places such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Alaska (one of dad's favorite places!). Apparently, after several years of marriage, Vittoria, for reasons none of us may ever know, began to have extra-marital affairs. The result was a bitter divorce from Norman. Once again, Vittoria and George were on their own, settling in the Bronx, New York. The bitterness of the divorce had been so deep that Norman never contacted my father again.

To this point in time, although there had finally been a father figure in dad's life, daily living still centered mostly around George and his mother. Dad was left to learn life's lessons on his own, as Vittoria tended to her own needs over that of my father's. The consequences of this childhood led to an adult life full of heartache, financial trouble, and hardship as the head of his own family of six children. He unwittingly created a difficult life for himself and his family without the valuable foundation needed to raise a family.

As I watch his lifeless body in the hospital, I feel remorse for all he's been through in his life. He never deserved many of the pains he got in life. The past twenty-plus years of his life have been filled with a lot of anguish for him, his family and those around him who love him. Much of the mental pain experienced in the past is now nothing but a distant series of insignificant memories. We're all here with him now, giving him the love he deserves.

To be continued...

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