Finding My Father Through Letters From World War II

by

Finding My Father Through Letters From World War II

by

So, this Father’s Day, I may not be able to give my father a tie or even a crayon-colored handmade card as I did so long ago. But I can give him a greater gift. I can offer him the daughter that I have become – one that I hope he would be proud of.

As Father’s Day approaches, many daughters and sons begin the search for the perfect gift – the proverbial tie, new power tool, golf club, techie gadget, or bottle of Scotch. It’s the one day of the year that Dad gets his moment in the sun and we children get to reaffirm our love and gratitude for all that he has given us. But what happens when we grow up without a father, and that holiday only reminds us of the lifelong pain that we’ve carried due to that absence?

I understand all too well that giant hole in the heart that never heals. My father passed away when I was only six years old. I caught him sneaking out of the house early one spring morning on his way to the hospital. He thought he was just getting some aches and pains checked out, and promised that he would return before I knew it. Instead, it was the last time that I ever saw him. He died in the hospital from cancer six months later.

When you grow up without a father, you miss out on one half of the parental love and guidance that is your due. You miss out on learning the full extent of your family legacy. Who am I – what did I inherit from my father? When I look in the mirror, what characteristics of his stare back at me? The physical traits are clear; I have photographs to remind me that I am indeed his daughter. But I never had the opportunity to know the man – his story, his dreams, his character, or his heart. All I had to hold onto was a little girl’s image of that bigger-than-life hero, the first man who ever loved me, and remembering the safety I felt in his arms.

But then, I received an unexpected gift from my mother before she passed away – a box of all the love letters Dad had written to her during World War II. Since the day that my father died, she rarely spoke about him; this was her way to make up for that deafening silence. It took another five years for me to have the courage to open that box. Once I did, however, the letters led me on an amazing emotional, physical, and spiritual journey that resulted in my book, Love, Bill: Finding My Father through Letters from World War II.

How many of us ever have an opportunity to get to know our parents through the intimacy of their love letters? At first, I felt that I was intruding into the most private recesses of their lives together. But once I acknowledged that it was Mom’s intent to have me read them, I was able to put on my art historian’s hat and discover all the answers I had been searching for my entire life. I learned that my father was a good and gentle man. He was learned, always reading, and found the beauty in words, art, music, and even in an African sunset. His capacity to give love and friendship was boundless, and only eclipsed by the love and friendship bestowed upon him by others. His absolute conviction that it was his duty to protect the Jews and his faith from the Nazi scourge, along with his deep connection to a Jewish-Moroccan family that he befriended, brought me closer to my own Jewish heritage. His dream to be a writer and own a bookstore was no longer a secret. The uncanny coincidences along the way convinced me that divine (or perhaps, fatherly) intervention was guiding me on my journey. In the end, I realized that my father had never left me after all. I just had to learn how to look for him in different places.

So, this Father’s Day, I may not be able to give my father a tie or even a crayon-colored handmade card as I did so long ago. But I can give him a greater gift. I can offer him the daughter that I have become – one that I hope he would be proud of. One that I hope inherited just a small fraction of who he was. I can also continue to offer him the love that could never be diminished by his untimely death. In all honesty, I think that I’m the one who received the gift this year. And for once in my life, I can finally be able to say without sadness, “Happy Father’s Day.”

Jan Krulick-Belinis the author of the memoir Love, Bill: Finding My Father through Letters from World War II She has more than four decades of experience as a museum and art consultant, and art and jewelry historian. Krulick-Belin has served at institutions such as the Denver Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and Corcoran Gallery of Art. Krulick-Belin retired as director of education at the Phoenix Art Museum but continues to lecture and consult, and serves as guest curator at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum in Phoenix. The New York native has a master’s degree in museum education from George Washington University. She and her husband, Jim, live in Phoenix, Arizona. Visit her at jankrulick.com.

 

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