English / 07.06.2019 / 2719

In the times of Father

Nikolay Mokhov, author from the Dark Side of Business

My father played a mean joke on me. Our discussions, though rare, always left me in a state of slight to heavy confusion. For example, when I was five years old, he told me: “A man could never imagine two things: infinity and eternity”. My mind, young and inquisitive as it was, decided to test that statement. I sat down in my room and tried to imagine the supposedly unimaginable entities. This led to intense drooling.

My father was the first reader of every issue

And I did not stop at my first attempt. My mother found regularly found me staring into blank space, flexing my imagination as hard as I could. She had no understanding of my methods, nor of my goals. She fruitlessly tried to force me to socialize and play with other kids on the street. I had no interest in such affairs. On occasions like birthdays they would constantly whine about how bored they were.

I, one the other hand, was never bored. The time I spent training my imagination was not spent in vain. I gained the ability to sometimes see the infinity and experience the eternity. And when I succeeded, my soul departed my body, it exited my room and traveled toward the great world beyond.

To be admitted to the first grade I had to go through an interview with the school counselor. She was a plain woman, a woman with a massive hairdo, a woman with an insincere smile, a woman with many disjointed questions. That's when I found out I was mentally challenged – such was her verdict.

Thanks to fathers' efforts, my handicap did not interfere my ability to study in a normal kids' class. And despite some initial resistance on my part, I was able to get accustomed to studying, especially after realizing I could continue my infinite and eternal endeavors during class. All to the detriment of my performance, of course.

I lived in a family of avid readers. Every book and newspaper was sought after, causing fierce competition between family members over who will be the first in line to read it. I saw the heavy demand and decided to start my own newspaper. It was called “The Familee” (later rebranded to “The Family”). Moreover, I created my own literary almanac which I used to publish stories and novels.

My father was the first reader of every issue. He also became my proofreader, finding numerous spelling and grammatical errors in the early days of the newspapers' existence. He was very professional, marking my mistakes, never scolding me for them, always eagerly awaiting for the next issue.

He would put on his reading glasses, light a cigarette, pour himself a cup of coffee, sit down in the kitchen, and open the paper, which told the latest news of our household, some of them completely fictional. The same kitchen would become a discussion club for wild ideas and theories, many of them extremely unorthodox.

Our discussions weren't idyllic though. The older I got, the harder it became to understand father's messages. They ran contrary to school lessons. I once had to write an essay on Caesar, and there was no biography at home. The prospect of visiting a library – a municipal building – frightened and disgusted me, so I asked my father for help.

“Read the Shakespeare's play.”, father said.

“But it's not his real biography. I need to know his date of birth...”

“And what's the point of that? You'll learn some numbers. Doesn't mean you'll learn about Caesar.”

“But I'll get an F!”

“What's more important to you?! Good marks or understanding?!”, he said with anger and disappointment.

I was angry and disappointed too. I was nine years old, and at that age I wanted to conform, to get good marks. My father heavily disapproved of such desires. He had no care for school performance, no care for approval by any system. Ten years after his death I was digging through some old paperwork and found out he had received a government award. He never told me about it. He valued ideas, their understanding, much more than awards and marks.

When I was ten, I read the whole Castaneda. Naturally, he became the topic of our next discussion.

“Dad, do you think all of that actually happened?”, I asked.
“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters! Was it true, or is it all a lie?”

“To paraphrase a wise man: if it was a lie, then it was the biggest lie of the twentieth century...”

My father puffed more of his cigarette, then said:

“You need to read the Bible. Then we can discuss Castaneda.”

Such a frustrating request for me. The Bible seemed like a dreadful book, a book which required great amounts of patience to read. Too many names per page. One wouldn't expect to read a book for long in our family, considering the demand, but with the Bible my reading speed dropped to a page per day.

Instead we discussed religion. After finishing the Old Testament I became an atheist.

“No problem, son, take your time. It's better to gain an understanding than it is to simply read through the book”, father said. We never got around to Castaneda again. Instead we talked about religion. The Old Testament brought me to atheism.

“You know, famous physicists would sometimes be atheists in their early life”, my father made a pause to take a sweet puff of his cigarette, “only to agree with the possibility of God's existence at its end.”

He surprised me there. Father always struck me as an atheist, and I was proven wrong. His religious views became another topic for our debates and discussions. So did literature. One of his favorite books was Dostoyevsky's “The Idiot”. I read it. I hated it. The writing was very painful. I preferred Tolstoy's heroes, who had vigor and vitality.
As I grew older, my views drifted apart from father's. I couldn't bear his nonconformist attitude. When buying a new car, he chose a new Lada over a foreign model, claiming he had more experience with the former. He brought home a gift, a Parker pen, which migrated into my possession and was used for school homework. The pen ran out and required a refill. That's when I found out the kind of pen it was. Three refills would've cost as much as a new bicycle.

When I wanted a new computer he told me I would have to start with earlier models and work my way up to the latest ones. To acquire modern hardware I would have to study DOS, Basic, learn the command prompt, basic maintenance. He hired a programmer to help me.

Of course such treatment was irritating. Rich kids were playing first person shooters while I was learning difficult commands in English. The deep understanding my father sought demanded time and patience, something no teenager is prepared to give up. The conflict was building up, preparing to erupt.

Finally I passed the test and was promised a new computer. I was preparing myself for Windows by listening to friends' tales and reading books about the OS. All the time and work would pay off when the computer finally arrived. No CD-drive. Black-and-white monitor. At least it had a fresh installation of Windows 3.11. I had foolishly bragged about the upcoming gift to my friends, which I now regretted. I was offended, hurt to tears. I was angry at my father, at his careless attitude, at the way I spent my childhood.

I was angry at the times he forgot about my birthday, the times he failed to deliver a fitting celebration.

My friends were commended when they got good marks. I never was.

I was even angry at his favorite joke:

“God, what's a thousand years for you?”
“A second”

“What's a thousand dollars for you?”

“A dime”

“God, give me a dime”

“All right, just wait a second”

It irritated me, it felt wrong. It brought me back to questions of eternity and infinity. All this built-up anger erupted, I blew up.

“You don't understand anything. I don't want to be like you.”

That was the last thing I ever said to him. Five days later he died. At my thirteenth birthday.

He was far from an ideal man. An alcoholic, his stashes were found around the house long after his death. A workaholic, who created and carried his own business in the eighties. He would often forget my sisters' age, my school grade. He never attended school events, be it a parent-teacher conference or a school play. He would come home late, sometimes far into the night, spent a lot of time playing cards with friends. Nevertheless, I don't feel neglected.

When I was seventeen, I had to present a term paper. My academic adviser refused to believe I wrote it myself, since I usually got very bad marks at the university. The deanery was assembled to rule judgment on my authorship.

“This work could have been written by someone with a PhD in philology”, they told me.

“The philology is in a dire state, then”, I parried.

Nonetheless, it was concluded that the paper was genuine. A conclusion which required me to spend a few hours reproducing the logical process by which I was going. Time consuming, but not difficult, because my father taught me understanding. He would never see my published articles, my books. But he was my first reader. He taught me that an imaginary world is more important than biographical details. He taught me that to value thoughts independently from the thinkers.

My mom would later tell me that father was born and raised in a small village, that he was an avid reader and got teased by his family for that. He used the strength of his intellect to build himself a career back in the Soviet times. To build a business that endured the post-Soviet chaos of the nineties. He achieved that because he did not look back on the society. He attempted to instill the same principles in me.

We had our last talk sever years after his death. In my dream we were in the middle of a lake, sitting on a boat. The water was dark, almost black. The shore was covered by fog. We were talking about the same old eternity and infinity.

There was a young father who told me he wished to spend more time with his child. I thought back to my school friends, who spent much more time with their fathers than me. But what was this time's worth? Could it be measured? How could one 'weigh' the phrase about eternity and infinity? And our argument about Caesar? Discussions about Castaneda? His favorite joke? I doubt there are scales fit to weigh them.

--- This is free part of Nick Mokhov's books "Father's time", which soon you will see here...

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Father’s Time

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