Dad The Dauntless This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 10, 2013
Ever since I was nine, I've thought my dad was brave. When I was nine I learned that my dad was an immigrant and that he had come to America all the way from Russia. It had fascinated me. The idea of moving at that age, and even now, is petrifying. I had an interview assignment and, that's how I had learned he was an immigrant. My little nine year-old self sat next to him on the couch, my mom and brother in the background, completely oblivious to the fact that we were trying to conduct an interview. As my dad talked more and more, I became more and more interested in his story, hearing it, and being able to write it down. So this time when I interviewed him I was ecstatic. I listened again more in depth since I was older and with my phone I recorded it all, I was still as interested if not more in hearing his story as when I was nine.

In my father's words, “When my parents sat arguing in the kitchen arguing on whether to leave or not, I was probably about eight and a half. When we got here to the US, I was about ten.” At eight and a half, my dad was in third grade, living with his entire family in Russia. By entire family I mean everyone with the last name Filanovsky, his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and so on. He had friends there, his entire life was there. Before his parents had wanted to come, it wasn't really something he'd thought of; he'd heard good things about America, though, and once his parents did want to come, he knew they were smart, and trusted their decision. To him, it was an adventure.

Good thing they left as fast as it did. Once you apply for immigration out of Russia, you become an “enemy of the state”. Adults lose their jobs, kids get treated terribly in school, and they're sometimes expelled. In my own opinion, the idea of that enough would scare me enough to stay in the country. Luckily, the time they left, was a time they were allowing Jews to leave (there were only narrow windows when they did). The one ironic part is, that my dad didn't know he was Jewish; his parents had never told him since there was a lot of discrimination against Jews in Russia. They didn't want him to know, which I think is a bit weird, I mean, you are who you are, you can't change it. They didn't have to wait long at all, they applied and left basically, their hardest problem was the financial part, they had to sell the grandfather clock in their house, which they got $400. That $400 is how they got here.

The entire family started getting together and took pictures as the time neared before they left, just in case they never saw each other again; my dad never did see his grandpa Zalman, who he was very close with. One of my dad's fondest memories of his grandfather waving goodbye to him as he got on the leaving Russia plane. My brother's middle name is Zalman now in memory of him. When they left, they could only take a certain amount of stuff, so his mom had layered on as much clothing as she could when they went to leave. From Russia, they went to Vienna, Austria. They stayed in Vienna for two weeks. It was cramped. There were six families living in a one bedroom apartment. Thank god it was only two weeks, because that's a lot of people in a little bit of space.

From Vienna, they went to Italy. There they stayed there for three months. They got financial assistance through Jewish Family Services, but he still didn't know he was Jewish. This was where he learned though, in the immigration office, he learned that he and all the people he had stayed with were Jewish, and then the pieces fit together. When they were still living in Russia, he had come home singing an anti-Semitic jingle he learned at school, and his mom had hit him on the back of the head; hard, with no explanation why. Learning he was Jewish, now he knew why.

Also when he was in Italy, he learned to swim. He's told me stories of the hot black sand burning his feet as he walked back from the beach. But, slightly toasted feet for the chance to swim are a pretty good trade in my opinion.

From Italy, they were assigned to Toledo, which is where my grandparents have lived ever since they moved here. Various people sponsored them; they would live in their houses for a few weeks, jumping from sponsor to sponsor until they found an apartment. He remembers landing and seeing the cars two and a half times the size of the small cars he'd seen in Europe. Since the late 70's he has called it, “the years of the giant land yacht cars”. Being a male, of course, he found the size of cars intriguing.

When I asked him about the culture switch, he told me the story about his first Halloween here. He thought it was some sort of organized event, a strange one at that. He thought it was even weirder when the kids went around the neighborhood and asked strangers for candy, since kids are raised to never take candy from strangers. But he went along with it; he used classroom paint to paint his face for his costume.

The biggest obstacle was the language barrier. When he came here, my dad did not know a single word of English. So his mom made him study out of an old textbook. He swears to this day he learned more from watching TV, reading newspapers and what not, but his mom, being as stubborn as she is, would not let him stop working in the textbook. But it's her stubbornness that was the reason they immigrated.

Once he learned English, it was pretty smooth sailing. Kids are kids, so making friends wasn't really a problem. Math was a breeze for him; he had been learning algebra when they left. He literally fell out of his chair laughing when he saw what he was going to be learning here. He ended up being a teacher's assistant in math; he already knew everything.

He adjusted well. He didn't know everything, like he didn't know what Prom was in high school, but he still did fine. He made the varsity team for soccer in his freshman year of high school. He went to college. He met my mom, and had my brother and me. When I talked to him for a follow up interview he said, “Everyone kind of follows a script for their life. I just didn't really follow that script, but I turned out fine.” It's true, he kind of had to improvise, make due, and he always has since then. He's good at improvising, making due, not always following the script of life, dodging obstacles, making sacrifices for those he loves, standing up for what he believes in, doing what he thinks is right, which makes me think he's a brave man even more.

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Joboogi said...
Feb. 16, 2013 at 11:09 am
xizzio, i never knew your dad was an immigrant, it's another thing we have in common.  goes to show u that after 3 years u still really don't know a person. I gave your article 3 stars, because of several reasons. the idea and concept was great, but i think you were trying to share so much that you forgot that we don't know you or your dad. Like said he was 10 1/2 in 3rd grade but I had no idea what country you were talking about. I got seriously lost in the blur of information,... (more »)
Xizzio said...
Feb. 16, 2013 at 7:48 am
they had to sell the grandfather house in their house   should be:   they had to sell the grandfather clock in their house   SORRY!!!
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