Dear dad:
This 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. Forty seven years are but a breath,
a single thought, a single wistful tear rolling down my cheek.
Forty seven years of reaching in to find you, forty seven years
of letting you go. The contradiction of you/me, is ever present.

This  apple never fell far from your tree, just as I see in my
own sapling, 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 day, when we lost you.
And I know, that it has never changed for her,
you were the one and only love of her life.
Time does not heal all wounds,it simply grows scar tissue over 
them which dulls the ache,sometimes, allows me to think about
you with some clarity,remember the entirety of your being,
and how you still,47 years later, teach me, guide me, help me
keep my rebel on,with some measure of grace and dignity.

So here we are, July 7th 2018, and I want to tell this story
again. The evolving, always newly told story of a hero, my hero. 
The day never changes, but the story does, as I do. 
Through the never-ending 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 hostage 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, those things which caused harm and pain.

I tell you this because we all have a dark side, a side that side
which 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, 
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 piece of us housing the belief that 
we will get through anything, not necessarily with less 
suffering, but through, if we are diligent and ethical 
in our work. 

That piece, the hero in all of us, lets us know that 
love and abuse cannot co-exist in one environment, and is the 
piece which informs every act of kindness and compassion we have 
ever given freely because that is what gives us the most true 
happiness.It is 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, because even 47 years in,this day, is the day that
informed the rest of my life, like no other.

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 in 2014; 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.

And then 2015: I waited 44 years to go back, to the places we had 
you last. The place we loved so very much. It was so wild then, 
so gloriously out there in the mountains between BC and Alaska, 
it still was 3 years ago. Just like you, just like me.
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, often astray, but always back, to the true
hero inside me. 

Forty seven 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 47 years later
I come full circle to face my own imperfection and humanity,
in a way more painfully profound, than ever here-to-fore.

Thank you for the continuing lessons. We have done well.
And although my dark side comes out to play and wreak havoc in my
heart and life periodically, I believe that my hero generally
triumphs in the end.

I miss your person every day, but you live on, in me, 
every second.

Always yours, and with all the flawed humanity I have,

July 07, 2018.

Writing and photos: All Rights Reserved.