Tomáš Mrnka, October 24, 1935 – July 07, 1971

Dear dad:
Father’s day has rolled around once more, and almost 5 decades, in this moment, feels more like 5 seconds, for I will always, and forever, miss you.
This apple never fell far from your tree, and for better or for worse, some bits are still hanging on. I get my rebel, my power, my wisdom, my intense and sometimes impulsive from you, as well as my ability to see the truth, and my stubborn-never-give-up. The fragility and dandelion fluff inside, the stuff that we both hid/e from the rest of the world, so that they cannot damage our oh-so-vulnerable human core(s), are also saplings of the gnarled old apple tree I see, the one that represents you in my visual mind, in my heart, in my very core.
It never changes for me, this Hallmark holiday, and that day in July, when we lost you. Time does not heal all wounds, it simply grows scar tissue over them which dulls the ache, allows me to think about you with some clarity, remember the entirety of your being, and how you still, almost 46 years after your untimely departure, teach me, guide me, help me keep my rebel on, with some measure of grace and dignity.
The evolving, newly told story of my hero
I want to tell you this story. It is the evolving, always newly told story of a hero. It changes as I do, through the process of growing up. He, my hero, had to be seen, by me, as human, before he could be my hero, for real for real. He was my first and biological father, Tomáš Mrnka. He was born in the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia on October 24th 1935, and died, under extremely curious circumstances, in a mine shaft in Stewart BC, on July 7th, 1971.
It was 12 days before my 10th birthday. He was 36 years old, and when he died, everything I ever hoped for, and dreamed of, died with him. For a while… a very long while.
I held him on a pedestal of my own making for many, too many years after his death, and only ever thought about him in a haze of golden glory and undeserved persecution. I only ever told stories of his heroic actions: his undeserved imprisonment in the old country for a democratic cause, his valiant battle to get us, his children and wife, out of the clutches of communism following the Soviet invasion of our original home and native land, and into the country that he wanted more than anything to provide us a new life in. I knew this story so well I could recite it at the mere whisper of his name, and expound at length on his virtues and sacrifices; for his beloved country, for his beloved family.
The parts I left out of the story, the human bits, are as important a contributor to the true nature of his hero-status as his me-created perfection. He was the first man of many, to hit me and tell me he loves me in the same moment. He did not do this because he was evil, he did it because that is how children were disciplined; it is what he learned in the environment and culture he grew up in.
He was unfaithful to his beloved wife, my beloved mother, and considered somewhat of a Casanova. He was a catch: he had one of the few motorcycles in the country at the time, and a full set of leathers, a rebel with a chip on his shoulder, but he had a cause. He had attitude and the inimitable grin, wit and charm of Rhett Butler, and all the girls wanted him. My mother got him, and forgave him, over and over, to keep him.
She had endless discord and conflict with her beloved mother because of him. He was not only imprisoned for voicing his political beliefs against the status quo, he was imprisoned for shooting a law officer. I tell you all of this not to be-smudge his memory; I tell you this to illustrate the full context of his humanity, he was so imperfect, so human, but still a hero not despite it, but because of it. He worked very hard to redeem himself when he brought us here, to make it right, to atone, to take responsibility for the things he did not do well, the things that harmed.
I tell you this because we all have a dark side, a side that requires constant work and effort to keep in check, to make certain that it is not given more priority than the hero in all of us. The side that makes poor decisions based on fear rather than the belief that we will get what we need if we act accordingly; the side which is driven by the outside, all the world’s influences, rather than the inside, the core of our humanness, our hearts and souls. The side of us that ignores our innate intuition, even when the warning bells scream like the sirens in a big city. The hero in all of us, the piece that knows love and abuse cannot co-exist in one environment, the piece that informs every act of kindness and compassion we have ever given freely because that is what gives us the most true happiness. The piece that would die for the people we love, and sometimes for those we don’t even know, but feel true human compassion and empathy for. That piece, is the one we must nurture, nourish, and encourage to grow and empower.
I could not see my father, Tomaš Mrnka, as the authentic hero he was and is, until I could see the full extent of his humanity, without judgment, or the childish notions I carried about the perfection of a hero. I tell you this story because I have experience with imperfection and humanity, and because I miss my hero today.
Back to you dad:
Despite myself, my atheist and anti life after death beliefs and world view, I could not help but feel your presence, when my own off-shoot and I visited the places from which I have some of my strongest and fondest memories of you; Karlovy Vary, Boží Dar, Plzeň It was one of those trips, the journey of a lifetime with your widow, my mother Marcella (with two L’s ;) and my son, your grandson Thomas. We told him stories about you that he has likely heard a thousand times before, but it was different, for you had walked these streets that we were walking, you held my mother’s hand there, you held mine, my big brother Tom‘s. You came back to life for us in moments of memory so vivid that they caught our breath, and we all got to know you, and ourselves, a little better than we did in the days, the moments prior.
Rest in peace my beloved dad, and know that the lessons of your life, your imperfect self, and your true heroism, have followed me, taught me, led me, sometimes astray, but always back, to the true hero inside me. Almost 46 years ago, my life and world changed in a way that I spent too many years trying to numb, to feel, to figure out, to forget, to remember; and almost 46 years later I come full circle to face my own imperfection and humanity, yet again.
Thank you for the continuing lessons. You did well, and although my dark side comes out to play and wreak havoc in my heart and life periodically, I believe that my hero always triumphs in the end.
I miss your person every day, but I feel your presence, every second.
Always yours, and with all the flawed humanity I have,
June 18, 2017