My Father’s Autobiography, Written Through His Son’s Eyes

Thanks for stopping. I found this one of the most difficult things I have ever written. Yet one of the most freeing. Although I have been informed that there is allot of discrepancies from my vantage point to older siblings. This is about freeing me from the wounds my father carried. So please take all this with a grain of salt.

It’s a bit long but I hope yoru enjoy what comes up in you as you see yourself in your father’s shoes.

Autobiography of my father 1923-2004. Through his son’s eyes. 

I was born in Serbia in January 1st 1923.

It was a simple life with my mom, dad, brother and two sisters. We lived on a farm and pretty much grew or raised everything we ate. We had pigs and chickens mainly and an orchard where my dad grew apples, plums, pears, apricots, cherries and plums. Mom would make pies, preserves and can much of that fruit for the winter.

Dad had other ideas with the fruit and what was left after mom was done with it. He made wine and brandy!! That was his passion…drinking. I had no idea at the time what an impact my father would have in my lifetime.

My brothers, sisters and I went to a small school where there was only two classes. Younger and older kids, I do not remember the dividing line between the ages. We learned all the basics needed to function in our environment. Not much more because there really was not much of a future for many here than we were currently living.

When I was seven the Great Depression hit. It devoured an already depleted landscape of hope in our village. My father could not get work in the local mill any more and he starting drinking heavily to coverup his sadness.

One morning I woke up when I was eight to a distraught mother who informed us all that our father had left. And the night before turned out to be the last time I would see my father for a very long time. I remember feeling betrayed and abandoned. It was around that time that I too discovered the effects of alcohol when I was left to tend the barrels in the cellar. I could have never imagined what that first sip would turn into.

I loved my father and I could never understand why he left. I blamed myself since I could never get things right nor do enough to help out around the farm. It was endless. He was always putting me down for some reason. Verbally berating me. It saddened me because all I wanted to do was help.

I remember him yelling at mom one night and also blaming her and all us kids for his wasted life. That there was so much more waiting for him, he would say. So much that we were keeping him from getting, money, power, fame. I was too young to comprehend what that all meant then. But as I look back I can see how I thought and felt this same way. But I kept it hidden and numbed all my life through alcohol. Oh it would erupt from time to time. I usually did not remember when it did, but my wife Margaret would let me know in no uncertain terms the next day!

In the later 1930’s things started changing. Germany annexed the Czechoslovakia and Austria. I heard men speaking in the village about what was coming. They somehow new the devastation that awaited us. I was scared and knew that I needed to protect the family. The other men convinced me that we needed to side with the Russians. Especially since the Croatians were siding with the Nazis. Wow what a choice to be handed! Communism or fascism!! In the end I really didn’t have much choice. The Germans were moving our way and the Russians were giving us weapons. I fought. I was 18 when it all began for me. I was a Partisan, a freedom fighter against the repression of the Nazis!

In a way this gave me a new lease on life! I forgot about my father and directed my anger and hatred at the Nazis. The stories of the atrocities came funneling in. The raping, murdering, firing squads, men being forced to dig their own graves before they were mercilessly massacred. This all filled the endless hate vacuum. It made killing so much easier.

I had never killed anyone until 1940. There was a company of Germans and Croats coming up the mountain into our stronghold. We knew they were coming through a tip from some locals down in the village. We could hear them coming. I was so scared. Knowing it was going to me  or another who would died that day. As the shooting started I got separated from the other men and I was being chased by three Germans. They shot me! My god I was shot! My mind raced but I kept running. It was only my arm I thought. Keep running! The next bullet knocked me down but I got up quickly now limping. Keep running I told myself. My leg seared with pain each time my foot landed on the ground. But my mind was still sharp. I knew this area and there was a small hill up ahead. I reached it and collapsed. I waited as they came running after me. All that I remember was me firing my Bren gun at the soldiers. The fear ripped through me liked a jagged edged knife. Slicing and cutting as the edges severed chunks of my flesh along the way. Then it was over. I laid their covered in blood. Mostly mine but one of the soldiers managed to fall on me as I shot him dead. I had killed three men in an instant and took another bullet to the stomach. My god, would I die?! The gunshots ended and I was finally retrieved by my comrades.

It took 3 months before I was able to come back and fight again. The thought of killing someone was so much easier now. The fear of taking another’s life was gone. I was a killer. Nothing could change that. And I did it for my country. My people. My family. Why couldn’t my father be strong like me. Where was he I wondered. No bullet ever hurt as much as the pain my father caused me when he left.

The war was ending for us in early 1945. The British came to liberate the area. I remembered being strafed by a British Spitfire. It’s 20mm cannons shells raining down from the sky. As I laid on the ground the shells landed on either side of me. Boom…boom….boom…boom…deafening me as they exploded. My body literally bounced off the ground as each shell hit and exploded. I have to say this was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Not knowing. Would they come back for another pass? Would more planes come? Would I die today?

In the end the British took me prisoner. They did not know which side I was on and they took the way of caution. I ended up in a prisoner of war camp back in Austria. Once the war was officially over I was released. I was given a medal and offered to move to any country in the British Commonwealth. That was when I realized the perfection of this being taken prisoner. What I first thought of as bad and a misfortune turned into an opportunity for me to find my father. I heard that he was in Michigan in the US. I took out a map and saw that Michigan was right across from Canada! Actually Windsor! So I decided to take the British offer and head to Canada.

It took two weeks to cross the Atlantic and it was cold! The winds were icy and relentless. It was hard to be on the deck with that weather. Reminded me of some of the bitter cold I had experienced during the war. Laying on the ground in the icy partially frozen water. Hardly breathing for fear my breath would be seen. Sometimes for hours! I want to forget this time but I cannot. I will never forget the men I killed, the men that were killed around me and the horror of war. This would haunt me for a lifetime.

Ah Canada! I was here! A new country with stores, cars, trains and new languages! What a treat. I ended up getting a job washing dishes in a diner in Halifax. This would allow me enough money to get to Windsor. I met other men and women from Europe and from my country and we socialized together. Ok we drank together! We partied hard! We celebrated being free. We celebrated having everything we could possibly want! No one watching us, no one listening to what we were saying or needing to be quiet for fear of being abducted in the night! What liberation this truly was!

I wanted to find my father so I left a few months later and headed to Windsor. There was a large Hungarian community there and that was good for me since I could speak Hungarian. You see the town I grew up near was on the Hungarian boarder and that language was taught to us as a second language. Similar to how French is taught to English speaking Canadians.

I crossed the Bridge to Detroit Michigan and set out to find my father.

After several days I discovered him in a bar outside of Detroit. He did not even recognize me at first. I felt angry but more so sad. Sad that my dad was still the drunk angry man that had left the house almost 15 years ago. What came to me in that moment was you can run away from your problems but you still take yourself with you wherever you go . There is no place to hide.

In that moment I could have made a huge change in my life. I could have held sympathy for my father, realized I was on the same path and make better choices in life. Instead…I got drunk with him. We celebrated our reunion with booze. Beer, wine, brandy all the favorites. I learned that he was working in a car body shop. He said they needed help so I decided to learn that trade.

I stayed for 3 months learning how to work with metal. My father picked at me constantly. No matter how good I did a job it was still never good enough. I felt like a kid again. Resentment built, anger flourished. I numbed it out until one day it went too far. One night at the bar I was talking to this cute blond. My dad came over. At first it was ok but he started trying to impress her. As she responded positively to his remarks it seemed to fuel him. That’s when he started berating me in front of her. It was humiliating! He brought up things when I was very young. Pooping my pants. Peeing the bed! And even how my penis was too small! That was it! I punched him in the face! Ran out and the next morning returned to Windsor.

I found a job doing body work quite quickly when I returned to Windsor. I also met some new friends and a beautiful women named Margaret. We dated several times and I really like her. During that time there was also another woman. A woman who was the party girl! We drank and had sex regularly. She was part of the group that I went out with. This was not a group that I wanted Margaret to know I associated with. I kept that quiet!

In one of our drunken weekends a bunch of us decided to go on a road trip! A trip to the Rocky Mountains! It took a week to get there on the train. We drank all the way there!

Wow what a place! We could feed bears right on the road! Elk would wonder over for a look and a lick of whatever we had to offer. Apparently they liked beer! It was a rugged land and one that I felt called to. I also felt called to Margaret. My beautiful Hungarian Girl! I vowed in that moment standing in the majesty of the mountains that I would return to Windsor and marry that girl!

Six months later we where married. I was scared. I had never been in a relationship that was anything close to this before. Margret was a beautiful bride and that even deepened my fear. Fear that she would leave me. Fear that I was not good enough. Fear that she would one day see the real me under all the facades of booze, charm and good looks.

Margret was a strong women. She knew what she wanted and when she wanted it. Truth is I believe Margret picked me long before I ever realized I wanted to spend my life with her. Despite my fears.

Marg’s father Steve was a good man. Another hard drinker from Hungary. He got his wife and two daughters out of Hungary just before things really started getting bad. The local communists, with the aid of Russia, took power after the war. They did not even have enough votes to do so! Five years later the tanks rolled in to squash the revolt. What a terrible mess the Russians caused to all those areas. We all somehow knew things were going to get really bad after the war…and they did.

Steve lived in a duplex house. He rented out the one side to Marg and I. What a great life we were stepping into. I started my trade as a plumber, Marg was working for the local paper and Steve worked a Chrysler’s with all the benefits and a union to boot!

Marg got pregnant in 1951. How exciting and scary! My thoughts went to my father and how he ran away. I vowed I would never do that to my children! Never!!

She was born on May 12 1952. My little baby girl! All fears dissolved away every time I looked into the eyes of God’s gift. She was so small, so fragile and so precious. I never imagined being a father felt so amazing and so frightening. Now this little soul depended on me! Both of them depended on me. What if I failed them? What if she get’s sick? What If I got sick? So much love and so much fear all wrapped up in the same moment.

Before I knew it Marg was pregnant again!! Wow That was fast! She was already scheduled to give birth in late May! Pretty much a year after Gloria was born. I was so excited again and so fearful! I just nearly came to grips from Gloria’s birth and how I was showing up and now this! But it was a blessing and Marg wanted to start a family. I guess there is no time like the present! Boy that was an understatement!

He was born on May 26 1953. A boy!! My little boy! Wow was I thrilled! This was real cause to celebrate!  I don’t remember what happened that night but there was some broken glasses that I needed to clean up the next morning. I have a little boy! One thing that is for sure I will not treat him the way my father treated me! I will love him, be there for him, nurturer him and never yell or spank him. I learned what not to do from my father. I will be a good dad!

I worked a lot over the next few years. Thank god Marg was there raising our children. We were the perfect family. One girl and one boy. Mommy raising the kids and daddy working to bring the money in. It all seems perfect.

I felt myself becoming less and less involved with my kids. It brought up too much pain to interact with them in a loving way. I did not know how to do this. Which in the end turned out good in an odd sort of way. Marg was the teacher and I was the punisher. You know the old line “just wait until your father gets home!”. Yup that was me. So in a sense the distance I created with them made it easer to fulfill my role as the stern father.

We had a relatively quiet life. I worked and drank. Marg preached at me and the kids to be better than we were. In a way I was just another one of the children. Perhaps that is what I needed in a relationship…mother. Because that is what I got.

It became harder to hide my drinking, as my daughter and son got older. But I had stashes all over the place. In my workshop, fruit cellar and the garage. Safe places for me to be “busy” in when I was home. Oh I longed to be back at work when I was home! I was in charge at work! I had all the answers. Men respected me. I felt in control. When I was home it was a different story. Marg was always on me for something. Fighting became a lesson in repression for me. I could not defend myself against the accusations she was hurling. It was pointless anyway.

Our lives went along as the perfect family, mother, father, daughter and son. The perfect mix. We had outings here and there. Point Pelee was a favorite destination. Kids could play, Marg could lay in the sun and I could barbecue and drink! Life was good!

I had little thoughts of my father then. Not sure if he was even alive. The last time we had contact was that awful fight. I did not even invite him to the wedding. There was a piece of defiance in me around that. But underneath the defiance was profound sadness. A sadness I would take to my grave.

Things moved along “normally” at least from the eyes of the outside world. It became pretty predictable and controlled. Just the way I like it. Then one night, after an outing with Marg to a dinner at the Hungarian club, Marg and I had sex. Something we were not doing a lot of. Two months later Marg informed me that she was pregnant. Damn! that’s all I needed to deal with! Was it not enough to have a 10 and 11 year old!? Now you want me to start all over again! diapers, puke, shit and vomit! No!! there must be a way to get rid of it. What is this I hear about abortion? That could be an alternative! Marg would have none of it. I do love her and I want what will make her happy. Little did I know that I would fall even farther down the list of people she wanted to take care of. Sadness…..

In July 18, 1964 Richard Alexander was born! How could I have ever imagined not wanting this beautiful little boy!! What a gift! We named him after two kings, Richard the Lion Heart and Alexander the Great! He is definitely due for greatness!

But it was still a challenge, Marg stopped working which meant I needed to pick up the slack. This went on until Richard was ready for kindergarten. All that time we wasted not bringing in more money. We needed more to be able to feel comfortable. More to feel good about the future. More to feel good about myself. During this time I hit the bottle harder than before as I attempted to cope with the lack that I perceived. If only I knew that their was plenty of everything that I thought there was not enough of. 

During this time I felt Marg and I growing farther apart. Her life revolved around Richard. Every waking moment was devoted to him. Funny I did not feel the same way when the others were born. It was more of a shared experience. Now I found myself on the outside looking into my family. Two teenagers, a toddler, a love giver and me. What was I to do. I could feel the resentment building inside but there was no way I could allow that to take hold. I held it down with self pity and booze. It was wrong to feel that way. I loved my family. I wanted to run! Wow the same thing my father did. Not me…I would never do that. I would repress all the unpleasant feelings and stay. It was the right thing to do. Thank god I have my brandy!

In 1969 we all piled in the Buick and drove down to Florida, well except for my daughter. It was quite the journey! It was a family vacation the likes we have never experienced before. Spending that long together driving for days to get to Ft Myers was challenging. It was worth it. Marg and I bought our dream property in Cape Coral. We would retire there and vacation there as often as possible before then. Wow! This was really something to look forward to! This gave my life meaning again. A place to escape to. But now I had to come up with the money to build. It was just an empty lot. There it was again. That feeling of fear. Fear of not being able to make my dream come true. Fear of not having enough money to afford the house. Fear that I could not support our dreams and was not enough as a man.

My daughter left home shortly after this. It was a terrible night when Marg found the needles in her purse. All I could do was stand their and support Marg as she yelled at Diane. Screaming to get out of the house. I could only imagine what Richard was experiencing cowered in his room. But there was a huge bright side to all of this turmoil. I was becoming a grandpa! My grand daughter came along a couple of a years after my daughter moved out.

It was not long after that maybe 2-3 years that Marg started to get sick. First breast cancer was diagnosed. But she was acting weird even before that. The doctor prescribed valium to help keep her calm. There always seemed to be a new pill she was taking. Hey it’s what the doctor order, it must be helping.

The breast cancer was to be treated with a double mastectomy. My wife would no longer have breasts! This was a revolting thought to me. But one I could never share. Now she would be broken for the world to see. Somehow that was a reflection of my brokenness. But wait! the doctors say they can give her chemotherapy! Anything to save her breasts! Yes! Let’s do it!

The next year was hell! The chemo took it’s toll on Marg and me. I was scared all the way along. But again I could never let anyone know that. I’ll just go into my workshop and fix something…

Marg survived and was declared healed by the doctors. But I felt there was something more going on. She was not right. She kept complaining of headaches and the doctor kept giving her pain medication. This went into a spiral that ended up seeing her taken to the hospital with a nervous breakdown. Finally a doctor decided to do a brain scan. There was something there. A tumor. I was so scarred. I didn’t know what to do. None of the tools I had could fix this. Terrifying is the best word to describe the uncertainty around what I was experiencing! What next…how was my world going to change…if I only knew then what I know now.

Marg died in June of 1975. My world as I knew it died with her. All the plans, dreams and certainty they provided were now all a myth. A thought, in someone else’s mind, in another world far away from the reality that laid ahead. Who was I to raise a 10 year old boy myself. What did I know about that. All I knew right now was the pain I was experiencing as everything I knew dissolved into fear.

My daughter was gone, my older son has also left and now it was just Richard and I. I think back to how much fear I really must have been feeling when I asked Marg’s sister, to marry me as she laid in a coma. How awful that must have been received by her and anyone else who knew. My fear leaked out in an inappropriate way and I regret that. But there is nothing I can do but stand in that place and try and comprehend the impacts of that fear driven decision.

Now what? What of my life. As I contemplate that I keep hitting lonely walls and my drinking has increased to cope with that. I even started going out and meeting new women in an attempt to find a mother for my boy. I partied hard over the next few years as I searched. Coming home late on the weekends. Never sure what I would find with Richard. He was young and I know he was dabbling in drugs and booze. Who was I to complain. He is a smart boy and more often than not a smart ass. So much like his mother. His stubbornness reminded me of Margret’s. I worried about him. But my loneliness and my fears trumped his needs. I was trying to find him a mother wasn’t that enough?!

I met a lovely woman named Anna. Richard seemed to like her and they got along. Probably because she fed him wine at dinner quite often! I stayed guarded and never really let her in. I was afraid she wanted my money. That when I died, she would take everything and my family would get nothing. She stayed in my life to the end. As an ongoing friend to a closed and guarded heart. Looking back now I wish I had opened to her and let her in. The unbearable loneliness may have been lessoned. Or perhaps not…

Richard graduated high school and went on to College. I have to admit I’m sot sure how he did that. It certainly didn’t happen from my end. I avoided as much as possible. I know his brother Steven helped to set an example but other than that he did it on his own merit. I am grateful for that. Richard moved out when he was 20. Now I was truly alone.

A loneliness that was always there even when others were around. I did not really notice that until I was completely on my own. It didn’t seem to make that much difference. Only thing that changed is I did not have to hide my drinking. Which also increased. Especially as the pains in my body did. The doctor put me on painkillers. Little did I know I was taking the strongest ones available… Morphine! What a combination those and booze were! Many times Steven had to bring me to the hospital when I woke up laying on the floor with my head split open, or arm broken and many other physical injuries suffered at the hands on my addictions. But the morphine was ok…the doctor prescribed it.

I had two really good sons and a wonderful daughter. Problem was my daughter hated me. She could never get over what I attempted to do with here Aunt and her grandmothers will. All I wanted was to do the right thing for my family. I wish she could see that. I’ll take her distain for me to my grave.

My son raised three beautiful sons of his own! He brought them over often and they helped me around the house. The basement was like an adventure into lost treasures for them. I so loved when they came! My grandsons, ones that did not leave me and loved me for who I was in the moment, not what I was once.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my oldest son and his wonderful wife. They bore the brunt of my frailties as my health deteriorated. They were always there for me. Something I can say I had not done a very good job of through the course of my life. His wife always made sure I had the best the hospitals had to offer. She even rubbed my feet several times. God bless this angel sent by heaven to protect my son. They always stood by me. With every drunken episode to the final curtain call they were there.

Richard had his own life in Cambridge. I am very grateful that I was able to come to his house one weekend for a pig roast. I was so proud of him. Lord knows we had our differences over the years. From screaming and yelling at each other to a fist fight in the breeze way. But he was all grown up and I did not have to worry about him anymore. He was a man. A fine man. I wish he would get married and have children. But then again I want what he wants in this lifetime. So if he’s happy I am happy.

We never talked much about the terrible times growing up. That would have been difficult for me. But we knew and told each other often how much we loved each other. I loved the way he would call me to share an achievement in his life. Knowing that I was on the top of that call list made me very happy. Even though I wished he was closer I love the depth of our connection over that last 10 years of my life.

So this is it. I’m dying. Laying here with a blood clot from that damn hip replacement. I knew going in that this was going to be the beginning of the end with that damn operation.  Wish Richard would get here soon. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. I love them all so very very much. I only wish I could have….

2 replies
  1. Christine
    Christine says:

    It takes great strength to write your family story and even greater courage to share it. Thank you for sharing your story Richard I very much enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more of your blogs!!!!Bravo!!



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