In the end, it comes down to the two things my father gave me: a good name and my education. Each was a small miracle in its own way.
My father was escorted out of his dysfunctional home when he was about 16 years old. He lived on the streets, trying to survive in a society where your name and family were your line of credit. His name did not inspire trust or acceptance and he and his family had come to a mutual decision to despise each other for a few decades. Most people in those circumstances survive by racing to the bottom. My father pulled himself to the top, because for him there was no other option.
He slept in parks, until he gained the trust of a mechanic who hired him and gave him permission to sleep in the shop. A few years later, he was no longer an apprentice, but a trusted assistant. He planned carefully, charming customers with his attention to detail and stories, making friends along the way. Those friends remembered him when he started his own business and supported him. A few of the older customers adopted, fed and advised him. When he was ready to marry, it was these men and women who vouched for his character, spoke to my maternal grandparents and accompanied my mom to pick a wedding gown. It was their affection and optimism that made them forget his rage, temper and stubbornness. Everyone wants to see a happily ever after for their underdog.
By the time I came along, he was a successful young business man, almost cleansed of the name and past his parents had left him with. By the time I came along, he was careful to give me a name that would be a perfect reflection of what he saw in me. He studied the names in the city registry as my mother lay in the hospital. He concluded that I was 'Like an Angel'. And I am.
Over the years, I knew him by his absence and his temper. I was his favorite, but that wasn't a shield against the sharpness of his tongue or the cruelty of his humor. We did not understand each other, no matter how much he loved me or how much I tried to embrace him. He had learned everything he knew the hard way; a self-made man who had no use for books or education. He learned by asking; everything had come to him the hard way. I threw myself into books with reckless abandon, and sought refuge in school--confusing him to no end with my talk of people who only existed on paper. I knew I was going to go university, read great books and think great thoughts. He knew I was going to live in a house close to him, raise a family and organize family gatherings--everything he had ever wanted and did not have.
It was a predictable battle of the wills, with each of us sticking to their own vision of what my future would be. He outsmarted me by bringing me to the US in the middle of my college preparations. I outsmarted him by going along with it. He broke my spirit over a month; I prayed to be left behind. He boarded a plane home, and my prayers were answered. I stayed with the promise to follow him in a week--a promise I didn't keep. I quietly applied to universities and filled our forms, he promised to come back and get me--a promise he didn't keep. In the end, he challenged me in every conversation, attacked my abilities, doubted me, distracted me, threatened me and predicted my failure; yet he continued to pay for my 'madness'.
My senior year he asked me, "What kind of man builds his own prison? What kind of man works as hard as I do to keep his only source of joy away?" And all I could say was, "A man who knows better than to imprison his joy." We both thought my response was ridiculous. We both continued on our chosen path.
In the end, he worked hard to give me what he had wanted his whole life--and what I wanted for all of mine. My dreams contradicted everything he believed and wanted, but he still helped me. I cannot forgive the hurts he has inflicted on me and those I love. Nor can I forget what he has given me.