A Gift of Grief Recovery - Freedom to Remember My FatherJun 19, 2023
By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav
It’s that time of year. The marketing retail geniuses are at it again with the Father’s Day sales, activities, and all the ways to make dads feel special. They only left out those of us who wish more than anything that we had the opportunity to make a living and breathing dad feel special.
I was a daddy’s girl. I am a daddy’s girl. I fully own it, with pride. I was HIS princess. I cherish this title like a badge of honor.
Before my little girls were born, I worried that seeing them with their daddy would trigger my grief. On the contrary, witnessing them interact with their daddy fills me with joy and actually is super soothing to the gaping hole in my heart. Seeing them have beautiful relationships with him is so heartwarming. Yes, I do get a little jealous (okay, VERY jealous) of the times when my older one wants to go to him first, but it also warms my heart that she has such a special bond with him.
It’s hard acknowledging that MY princesses will never meet my dad.
The best I can do is make sure they know him through all of my memories. My older daughter will always know where her name came from (his nickname) and I hope that she will ask lots and lots of questions about him in the future. I’m so grateful to the Grief Recovery Method and all the grief work that I have done personally around the loss of my father. For a long time, I could not access my memories - it was way too painful for me. But now, due to the work that I have done (and still do), I am able to not only talk about my father, but love doing so!
As I start to think about starting to capture the myriad stories that I want them to know, I remember one of my favorite stories (okay I have a ton of favorite stories about my dad) but this one is entertaining, especially to people who knew him. He WAS a super private person so I know he would not really love me sharing all these stories with the world, but as it’s been 16 years since he died, I think it’s okay to share at this point (in writing). I also believe preserving his memory is really important for me, my mom, brothers, family, daughters, nieces, nephews, and all who care for him.
To anyone that knew him professionally, some of these stories may come as a shock as he was slightly less serious at home than he was at work. Same person, but much more open. These are my assumptions as I didn’t see him at work too much. But when I did, he was super serious. He was one of those people who would NEVER, and I mean never, talk in an elevator, anywhere, about anything. (Yes, it drove me nuts!)
Now, I think all who knew him, knew that he LOVED pizza. Any. Kind. Of. Pizza. In fact, the more carbs loaded on, the better. He also loved Italy. He loved everything Italian and Pizza with Coca-Cola from a glass bottle.
My father was always convinced that we were Italian and in the Federal Witness Protection Program (for those who don’t know him - this part was a joke, the former, I think he kind of believed it in some way though).
The story goes (of course this is how I remember it being told to me) that on one ordinary work day, maybe 30 years ago now, my parents are at my dad’s office and all of a sudden my dad yells and calls for my mom. He exclaims how he found our last name! It was Abondanza. He was going through paperwork and had a referral from Dr. Abondanza and the light bulb went off.
Abondanza. He loved that name and decided it was our original last name. Later on, my father and younger brother broke the news to the rest of us that we aren’t who we really thought we were.
They informed us that Dad’s Italian name was Enrico. My older brother was Tony. My younger brother was Fabio. Mom was Thereasa Maria. I was Maria Theresa.
We were sent to Sullivan County New York to live our lives as a nice Jewish family. Now here’s where the details end or my memory does. I have no idea the rest of the story other than we were an Italian family in WitSec. Maybe there is more to the story. We will never know. And that’s okay.
His favorite shirt said, “You don’t know me,” member of the Witness Protection Program. It all finally made sense.
I’m sitting here laughing as I write this. I’m tearing up with happiness and joy at these silly memories.
Whenever my dad left me a voicemail, he would always say, in a very bad Italian accent with extra emphasis on seemingly random syllables:
“Bonjourno Principessa, this is your papa, give me a call!!”
(Think Roberto Benigni in the 1997 movie Life is Beautiful. That’s where he got it from).
I am so sad that I do not have a recording of it anywhere. I wish I could hear it again. But, in my mind's eye, I can picture him saying it and I can sort of hear his voice and terrible Italian impression. So much forgotten, but so much remembered too.
The memory - and whatever is actually factual or a figment of my imagination - makes me smile and feel connected to him. That alone is worth more than anything to me.
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