Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fooled Again

I didn't even realize that Tuesday, when I posted that picture of Em, was my Dad's birthday. He would have been 69.

Nice segue, that, into what I wanted to talk about: All of the emotions I've been dealing with, which have been hitting me in incrementally stronger waves over the past couple of weeks, over his birth certificate, the one his girlfriend handed me after his memorial service, along with a copy of his death certificate.

Why the hell is his birth certificate upsetting me? Shouldn't the DEATH one be the one causing upset? Well no. But I can explain.

First of all, I swore, many years ago, well before he got his bipolar diagnosis, that I was done with being taken in by my dad--financially and emotionally. No more handouts. No more putting my faith in him. Nothing.

I stuck to the financial vow--well, frankly, I didn't have a choice on that one--but after his diagnosis, I became less and less vigilant about the emotional stuff, the believing in him, the believing him, period. I should have known better. I mean, I know how hard old habits die...and for my father, lying was the oldest of habits. He lied to make himself look better; he lied to get himself out of trouble. He lied...well, it would be hyperbole to say he lied every time he opened his mouth (though here my Mom is protesting, "No, it wouldn't be"), but let's just say he and the truth were not close friends and leave it at that.

"TC," you are saying, "this is interesting and all. But what the hell does it have to do with a birth certificate?"

Well, remember that story I told in the post about my dad's memorial? The one about how he came to be named Jack after being born Chaim? Here. Here's a closeup of the name line on his birth certificate.

Yeah. It says Jack. Or some Germanic version thereof, possibly. Certainly not Chaim. Not even close to Chaim. (It also seems to have a z thrown into the middle of the "stein" portion of my maiden name. Sztein. Or maybe that's just another of the calligraphic flourishes of the day? Because I'm pretty sure that i that looks like a j is just a flourish.)

It's a little thing, this name thing; it's a stupid thing. But it makes me unutterably angry. I believed him. Again. He first told me this tale after his diagnosis, after he'd been on meds a while, once I was beginning to think that maybe he was stabilizing. So there's that...the proof that I was wrong to trust him. And trust him, on this one little thing, this one little story, I did. And this is my reward. Not only did I fall for his bullshit, but I fed it to other people, many other people, you guys included. Which makes me look all that much more foolish now. It's infuriating. Won't get fooled again? Not so much. I don't even want to KNOW about the rest of the 'escape from Nazi Germany' tale. I don't want to know what is true, because then I'll know what isn't. And each 'isn't' is going to screw with my head just that much more.

I know that, when it comes down to it, this is my problem, not his. And I'm overreacting to it. I didn't base anything in my life on this information. I didn't name one of my children Chaim after him. It's just a name. It's just a birth certificate. What the hell does it matter what he said his birth name was?

But the truth is, I'm totally, cringingly embarrassed. I just feel like an idiot. I think that's the source of most of my anger, actually. I hate looking dumb. I hate feeling dumb. Plus, it opens up that whole can of worms--a can which I have no hope of closing--about why he lied about such things. I mean, seriously. WHY? Why did he need to tell me some cock-and-bull story about his name? What did it do for him? What part of his fantasy about himself, what part of his grandiosity, was satisfied by telling a tale about a name change that never was?

When his girlfriend handed me that document and I saw what what was written there, I looked at her and said, "I'm gonna kill him. He lied to me again. I'm gonna kill him." Even she, one of the few people who was really his champion to the end, who really DID believe in him, looked at me with pity, and said, "What did you expect? That was how he was."

That was how he was. How stupid of me to have forgotten.


Of course, if you divorce yourself from my private little poor-misled-me fest, this document is utterly fascinating. And bone-chillingly scary. Check out this close-up of the bottom left of the birth certificate, with the swastika-betailed stamp and the location of his birth, given as Berlin, Israel-somethingorother. (Dang old, many-times-over-photocopied documents.) I've gotta guess it was a ghetto. I don't know. But I can't imagine that, in 1938 Berlin, that was just a place named Jewishly by happenstance. A birth certificate marking him as a Jew. That's drama enough, name change or no name change. Every time I look at it, it just makes me shiver.


Anonymous said...

I dunno, I kind of say "god bless him" and his fantasies/stories that if you are close you call lies but otherwise just seem colorful. He lived a hard life (dragging you all along for the ride) so it doesn't seem to me to be such a crime to have wanted to embellish/make the story more interesting and lively. My own dad is another one filled with flaws and a challenging personal history, so I can relate a little bit, and in the end I guess I come down to give him a break. He tried his best (lame though it might have been), and that has to be enough because that's all there is!


Debra said...

Whether he intentionally embellished this one (I forget how old he was when he came to America) or genuinely believed a story he heard about his name, who knows. The truth is that he did start life in a time that was scary for jews. Whatever the reason, that's how he coped. You have nothing at all to be embarrassed about, why wouldn't you have believed it? It was just another layer of who your father is and was.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely correct, TC! I am saying EXACTLY what you said I would say!

I am just very very sorry that you are struggling with this. I hope you will truly work on it and let his demons leave you once and for all! Otherwise, he keeps on winning and winning. SIGH!

I love you!


Anonymous said...

I don't want to open up a bigger can of worms for you, but Sztejn is an actual name, so that j may actually be a j rather than an i with a flourish.

Ambre said...

Yeah, maybe he meant to say that they change from sztejn to stein? He just accidentally said he change from Chaim to Jack ;)

Don't be embarassed. And why is this all about you and not about him? Of course it's about him- about having to grow up with a parent who had all these issues. How is that your fault, or something you should have to deal with? Just be angry with him and forgive yourself. Being angry with yourself and forgiving him seems very backward.

Green said...

You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You believed a man who you should have been able to trust. A man who should not have been lying to you.

Feel sorry for him? Sure. Feel relieved that you no longer have to listen to new bits of information and figure out whether or not they're true or part-true? Sure. But not embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

Delurking to say that -stejn is the Yiddish version of the German -stein.

The place of birth is actually Juedisches Krankenheim which means something like Jewish Hospital (Krankenheim being an old-fashioned word for hospital in German). It was not named by the Nazis, but founded in 1909. A (German) link is here:

Anonymous said...

Your description reminded me of the book Jacob the Liar by Jurek Becker.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant that the name of the hospital in German reads Israelisches Krankenheim.

po said...

Sadly this shows us how complex and bewildering relationships can be even after one person in the relationship is gone. Yours with your dad was more complex and bewildering than most, and I'm sorry it continues to be so. You're the type of person who needs to UNDERSTAND and KNOW, so of course this drives you nuts.

Wishing you peace, dear friend.

TC said...

Thank you, my delurking friend, for the link to the hospital. That makes so much more sense, since all I could assume was that they were living in a ghetto, and that was something nobody had ever mentioned to me...

Also, Jacob the Liar is now on my to-be-read list. Thanks for that, too!

Swistle said...

This reminds me of the book _Big Fish_. Sometimes things seem colorful and interesting, and sometimes sad and unstable.

When I feel foolish, I go straight to weeping rage. It's my least favorite way to feel. But it would be hard for anyone to call a daughter believing in her father "foolish." I don't think even frequent experience to the contrary can completely break that natural inclination for a child to believe its parent.