Entry for April 23, 2009

QUALIS PATER, TALIS FILIUS (like father, like son)

Today, April 23, is William Shakespeare’s birthday. Born in 1664, he died 52 years later on the same date. Volumes upon volumes were published on the poet’s role in the formation of present-day mentality.

Today is my Dad’s birthday. The contribution of parents to their descendants’ intellectual and/or professional growth may vary. My father’s share in what I am now as a social being cannot be overestimated.

I did not see much of my father when I was a child. His job was putting up electric pylons all over the country. Even if the family travelled after him for some time, he could still be away from the apartment we were renting at this or that moment, because he had to stay “on the line”, i.e. right in the open field where lines of electric transmission were being built. Each time when Dad arrived home was like family celebration for me.

The first thing that I owe to my father is, probably, my openness to knowledge. “It’s so interesting to learn”, he used to say. Whenever I complained of some school subject being boring, he immediately sat down with me at my desk and spoke about the “dull thing” with so much gusto and enthusiasm that the next day I attended the tedious class with my eyes shining and my heart brimming with love for the course and for the teacher. Incidentally, he always said that the personality of the teacher should have nothing to do with my attitude to the subject proper. “The teacher is always good if you have the subject at your finger tips”. That was another maxim which was accompanying me all my life – when I was a student and – later – in the capacity of a teacher. More globally, the maxim also taught me not to shift blame on someone else if the fault was my own.

Mathematics was highly esteemed in the family. Even though I was the best mathematician in class, a mathematical problem given by the teacher as home work was sometimes really hard to solve, and Dad considered it to be his duty to “help” me. It was no trouble for him to sit over the problem all night through and explain the solution to me in the morning when I got up and was getting ready to go to school.

Regardless of where he was gone, Dad used to send me parcels with books and foreign newspapers. Were there many kids in remote villages who could read the “Daily World” or “Berliner Zeitung” — the latest you could get in Ukraine? I was one of such children (if there were any other kids so much blessed).

If I am proud of being a Ukrainian, speaking Ukrainian, respecting Ukraine’s culture and its history, that was also due to my father’s influence.

He was a good family man. More often than not we were in “dire need” financially, but he always managed to scrape some money from any source accessible remembering that he had a wife and four children to provide for – three sons and a daughter.

It’s funny, but even his shortcomings were molding me positively. Dad was far from being a teetotaler and he was a heavy smoker. All my life I have detested cigarette smoke, neither do I drink — first and foremost because while loving my father I hated those habits in him.

Looking back I must admit that there was one mistake my father made while communicating his experience to me. That was in late August 1956 – just before I had to start my first year at elementary school. Dad took long time to explain the importance of the new stage in my life. “Your new life – the life of labour begins, boy”, he said. “And it’ll go on like that until you retire.” I am about to retire in a few weeks and I see no end to my “life of labour” so far. But then.. how should Dad have known about so distant a perspective? He died of a stroke in his usual work environment (“on the line”) when he was only 49 years old.

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