Inventing My Father

For most of my life, my father was nothing more than a cut out in our family album. 

An empty hole. 

A reminder of what wasn't there. 

I have few childhood memories of him. 

In one, we are dancing together in our tiny apartment in Moscow. In another, he is leaving.

My father would disappear for months at a time. Then, unexpectedly, he would come home. 

Until, one day, it was our turn to leave.

The year was 1996. 

My mother woke me up and told me to pack my belongings. She said we were going on a trip, and the next morning we arrived in our new home, in California. 

We never said goodbye to my father. 

For my mom, the solution to forget him was simple. She cut his image out of every photograph. But those holes made it harder for me to forget him. 

I often wondered what it would have been like to have a father. 

I still do. 

2013-2014

 This was the closest thing I had to an image of my father: a cut out in our family album.

This was the closest thing I had to an image of my father: a cut out in our family album.

 It took me 15 years to travel across the world to be standing in the courtyard of his home. You could say I’ve come home. But that’s not how it feels.

It took me 15 years to travel across the world to be standing in the courtyard of his home. You could say I’ve come home. But that’s not how it feels.

 I was seven years old when I last saw him. The Soviet Union had long collapsed, and by then so had my family.

I was seven years old when I last saw him. The Soviet Union had long collapsed, and by then so had my family.

 We became desperate overnight. I don’t remember much about my father then.

We became desperate overnight. I don’t remember much about my father then.

 When I would ask my mother about him, she would look at me, disappointed.  “Forget him.”

When I would ask my mother about him, she would look at me, disappointed. “Forget him.”

 I eventually did. It was easier than trying to understand why he was not with us in America.

I eventually did. It was easier than trying to understand why he was not with us in America.

 15 years later, I found him standing just how I left him. In a doorway, neither fully in or out of my life.

15 years later, I found him standing just how I left him. In a doorway, neither fully in or out of my life.

 I listened to him speak about the past and his feelings towards my mother. It’s strange to look at images of them together. They look so happy, so in love.

I listened to him speak about the past and his feelings towards my mother. It’s strange to look at images of them together. They look so happy, so in love.

 He told me he had been looking for me. He opened a suitcase filled with newspaper clippings, undelivered letters and a shirt for my brother’s future wedding.

He told me he had been looking for me. He opened a suitcase filled with newspaper clippings, undelivered letters and a shirt for my brother’s future wedding.

 In the classified section of a local newspaper my grandfather wrote:  “My grandchildren are missing. Anyone with information, please help me find them.”

In the classified section of a local newspaper my grandfather wrote: “My grandchildren are missing. Anyone with information, please help me find them.”

 Hundreds of letters sent to homes in America.  None made it to our doorstep.

Hundreds of letters sent to homes in America. None made it to our doorstep.

 One of the only images of my father and I together.

One of the only images of my father and I together.

 But that was the past. The man standing across from me didn’t recognize me. I felt out of place.

But that was the past. The man standing across from me didn’t recognize me. I felt out of place.

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 Not too long ago, my father had another child. I should be happy for him, but watching him play with her,  feels like a bruise someone keeps pressing.

Not too long ago, my father had another child. I should be happy for him, but watching him play with her, feels like a bruise someone keeps pressing.

 His writing told me what he couldn’t. There’s pain there I understand. A longing for more. That’s something we share.

His writing told me what he couldn’t. There’s pain there I understand. A longing for more. That’s something we share.

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 There are moments when he seems to open up a little. But then, all at once, he is not there, as if those moments had never even existed.

There are moments when he seems to open up a little. But then, all at once, he is not there, as if those moments had never even existed.

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 He’s not the only one who is distant. Sometimes he watches me brush my hair or reaches to embrace me. When he does, I pull away.

He’s not the only one who is distant. Sometimes he watches me brush my hair or reaches to embrace me. When he does, I pull away.

 I still don't know what he is to me or what I am to him.

I still don't know what he is to me or what I am to him.

 I keep looking for him. I think I always will.

I keep looking for him. I think I always will.