When I was not yet three years old, John Richard and Grace Elizabeth Ingram adopted me from an orphanage in southwest London. When I was four, a stroke left Dad paralysed down his left side; he died when I was 18.
I can still hear the cranky squeaks of your wheelchair. And the clicking of the calipers attached to your legs below the knee. There was the incessant wheezing from the asthma that later attended the paralysis. Your body was your burden. Your light relief was watching the BBC news and “being tickled pink,” as you liked to say, by the old classic British comedies. Dad’s Army. The Good Life. Rising Damp. As a child I longed to pick you up and carry you on my back. Far and away from your wheelchair and back to the fleeting memory I had of you as my able-bodied dad. Now as an adult, I believe there are no accidents. You are still my role model and I have found my dream job serving persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Thank you, Dad!
Charming, intelligent, belligerent and very Greek, my father is one of those people you meet and never forget.
When I was little, he would often regale my siblings and me with stories of his childhood in the mountains of Greece. His eyes would light up as he recalled the deep snow that carpeted the land each winter and how every night he used to lie listening to the wolves howling in the freezing cold. I could never quite believe this story. I had visited Greece only in the summer months when the cicadas hum through the trees and the cool Mediterranean offers the only welcome respite from the heat.
But my father assured me it was all true, and he would describe how during these snowfalls Yiayia (my Grandmother) would make Stifatho, steaming hot beef stew. If my father and his brother misbehaved, Papou would threaten to throw the bones from the stew out near the house so that the wolves would come prowling down from the mountain tops. This both terrified and fascinated my father, and he admits he sometimes wanted my Papou to carry out his threat so that he could steal a glimpse of these great creatures.
Whenever it snows now, my father can’t quite contain his excitement and we indulge his boyhood memories by asking him to tell us the story again. Stubborn, impatient and thoroughly Spartan he may be, but show my dad a snowflake and his heart melts.
Ekaterina at Ekaterina Botziou, It’s All Greek to Me!
Even as a kid I knew my father was more fun and affectionate than most Korean men. He differed in another way. Back then, expecting parents wanted a son. You couldn’t have too many boys, but my father never cared. He was one proud dad when I was born. Gifts poured in from the office. He threw a big party on my birthday the next year and danced with me in his arms.
We immigrated to America a few years later. When I was in fourth grade, Daddy joined the ranks of the best drivers in New York City. He became a taxi driver. A classmate from Pakistan approached me one day. “Your dad drives a cab. Mine does, too,” said Rukshinda in the glad relief of a confidante.
“No. No, he doesn’t,” I lied. She looked confused.
I hadn’t known I was ashamed of what my father did until I had to acknowledge it. I also wasn’t aware that he was held up at knifepoint doing it. One afternoon the passenger asked to go to 106th Street, close to Harlem. Before they got there, Daddy suddenly felt a blade digging into his neck. He rubbed his fingers to say money, then pointed to the pocket of his sweat pants. The guy dug in and bolted from the cab. Daddy had been sitting on the day’s earnings, the bills in his pocket just change.
I wish I could write in the sky that no job was beneath my father to keep his kids clothed, fed, and safe. I would tell the world a thousand times over that my daddy was a cab driver.
Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey
I kissed your bones before I immersed them in the water with your ashes. As I watched the river carry them to the ocean, my tears ran, bringing back memories.
You would get into our bed Sunday mornings in England and tell us stories of wonder. This wakened our imagination and allowed us to seek magic in the world. You raised us with iron discipline, and I knew that the army did not impose this on you. It came from within, and I rebelled. You wanted me to follow your path into the army, and yet supported me in my own journey. As I grew older, we spoke of your childhood in undivided India, and I learned how your family lost everything when Pakistan was carved out of India. We managed to get a video of our ancestral home. We watched it together, knowing you would never see your childhood home again.
What I learned from you was to conduct myself with grace and dignity. I learned that people respect us for what we are, and not for the position we hold or the riches we gather. As I lit the fire that consumed your flesh, I looked upon the faces of the people who had gathered to pay their last respects, and I saw that this was true.
We often did not speak much, but we did not need to. We communicated. As I looked into your eyes in the hospital, I knew you were going to die, and I knew you knew it as well. I promised that everything would be okay, and I will keep this promise.
Rajiv at RajivChopra