My Father's People

April 10, 2017
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Every story is true and a lie. That’s something my father would used to say but I never understood what he meant--especially with the stories he told. My father would spin these mystical  people that felt incredibly and blissfully far away from the real world.


The Ice Skater:

“Long ago, the ice in a lonely a shimmering girl was born out of the ice with the ability to glide across it. As winter swept across the town, she would circle the ice, always with the same routine: a run, a spin, a leap, and a finish, her left leg on the ground and her right blade cutting through the air. Because she was the only ice skater for miles away, people would flock to this pond to marvel at her. It really was gorgeous, especially when it was snowing, and everyone would bear the cold to watch as her beauty lured the snow into following her leaps and runs. But the thing is, she wasn’t the only girl born out of the ice at the time. There were other girls who had natural abilities and routines that jetted around the world to compete with each other. This girl would often be asked whether she would compete, but she’d always say no. Why? I think that she didn’t want to lose her otherworldliness, that being the only ice skater in town was all that she ever was, and she didn’t want to lose it. I’m not really sure whether the ice skater made the right decision. I just know that she was happy, and rejected the chance to be better, which could have made her happier. But anyway, there was one summer when no one could find the ice skater anymore and legend has it that she melted back into the ice.”


The Pigeon Man:

“There was this pigeon man in an against-the-odds patch of grass in New York City. He was about 60ish, with red blotches on his face and white eyebrows. The pigeons would stand all over him and eat the bread crumbs he threw to them. They clawed at any patch of skin, which would hurt a lot, but he didn’t mind because he knew they didn’t mean it.

The pigeon man was the pigeon man because he was very sad and did not want to talk to anyone about his sadness. No one talks to a pigeon many about anything other than pigeons, after all. Anyway, the pigeon man would just sit on this green bench, thinking about how his best and his love went in the wrong direction. He wanted to cry, too, but he was too embarrassed so he would hold in his tears, and they would throb in his head.

You see, his heart had been broken, in the most terrible way: he had not done anything wrong yet this girl still thought there was something wrong, something undesirable about him. Do you see why he befriended the pigeons? Do you see that he gave, and they stayed? That there had been a time in his life when he had given and given and given, and there had been no one to stay with him?

But don’t worry about the pigeon man. He left the pigeons and went to face uncertainty, eventually. “


The Toy Maker:

“In the corner of a meadow sits the toymaker’s shop. It looks like a one-room church, and in a way it kind of is, because this toymaker worshipped his toys. Inside the workshop were dirty and old tools that seemed to be constantly clanging against each other even when no one moved them. All the gray and brown of the building process was mixed with the bright colors of thousands of ribbons hanging down from the rafters. If he can’t find any paper, the toymaker will scratch a toy idea onto one of these ribbons.

The toymaker is showered with ideas but he pours all of them into these three toys. These toys are melds of colorful sounds and sporadic movements that don’t serve a specific function. Their behavior can be unpredictable, even to the toymaker, and sometimes they end up jerking towards the toymaker’s equipment and inadvertently destroying some of it. But trust me, any kid would love to play with them. But for more than a decade, no kid was even able to glance at these toys, for their construction required much effort and time. They were extremely hard to work with, as their behaviors would change through the years.

I know what you’re going to ask: Did he eventually make millions of dollars off these toys? No, because even though he thought his toys were the best in the world, there were other toys that people liked as much as his. He was never sure why he started making and improving these toys; he just knew that he really wanted to. And it was nice, waking up every day with a goal to fulfill. Trust me. Every day he woke up believing there was something to be done that no one else could do and that is enough for almost everyone. ”


One day, when my father was eighty and I was fifty, my father found a stack of old photos that he thought had been lost forever. We looked through pictures of him playing as the star quarterback in high school and after I closely examined one photo of him holding up an enormous trophy, I swear I saw an ice skater’s glitter in his hair. He spread the photos on the floor. There was one of my father hunched over a computer as if he was throwing himself at it and I could make out a pigeon’s claw marks in his shoulder. The last photo that caught my eye was one of my father and my siblings and I, and I thought about how our hair looked like toymaker’s ribbons.  

“Hey, when I was--” my father used to say.

“Dad, your life is boring.” we used to reply. He would respond by spinning a story because we only listened when there was magic, animals, and toys. And so it goes, all of us telling our true lies for little moments of being listened to.

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