Sunday, March 25, 2012

A New Story to Share: My Father's Memoir about His Life & Hard Times

I have written about my dad on this blog and I have shared some information about him. He was the son of a doctor who worked for the World Health Organization. Opa Doorenbos discovered phages and was stationed in Egypt where my father was born. During World War II they opted to skip returning to Holland due to the Nazi occupation. Instead, they went to Indonesia, once a stronghold and Dutch colony. During their stay in Indonesia, the Japanese took over the country and made it part of their base of operations. Dutch military/navy members took to the seas and fought in the Pacific War effort during this time. The women and children and civilian men were incarcerated in Japanese concentration camps. Both my parents were in the camps. My mom was 4, her sister 16 and Oma de Vries was about 50. My Opa de Vries and my uncle went to war. Opa came home. My uncle died in battle. On my father's side, all were incarcerated. Dad alone in a boys' camp. My Tante Hetty and Oma Doorenbos in a camp. My Opa Doorenbos in another camp and my uncle in a prisoner of war camp because he had sided with rebels and was captured.

Dad wrote a brief history of his life before he was incarcerated, the time in the camps, and the reintegration of his family back into Dutch society. A lot was lost during those years. Most importantly, his youth and his father's descent into anger and bitterness. Shortly after my dad's mother died, he met my mom. I think what called them to each other was this shared "otherness" of having experienced the camps.

They married and along came my brother and me. They were ill-equipped to parent having little or no understanding of "normal" kid problems. My mom more so due to many issues arising from losing important developmental bridges from child to teen to adult. They muddled through--failed on countless levels--but with the perspective of my own age and a reflective looking glass, I do believe they gave the best they could give given what little they had to work with themselves.

The greatest gift to me was their long marriage. The gift of showing that despite everything that can and will go wrong in a marriage, if you work hard you will stay together and have a rewarding relationship. Another gift to me was their intense cultural awareness and curiosity. I believe that curiosity has undergirded my writing. Finally, they gave me an intense education in the diversity of human nature and character. That these two individuals survived the camps, went on to become productive members of society, raised two children to the best of their abilities, and had the capacity to forgive their captors is an inspiration.

No they weren't heroes, nor were they perfect, but they did try. And that's all any of us can do. Try.

I've wondered what to do with Dad's Life & Hard Times Memoir. The American history professors hadn't much use for it when I first brought it to a professor at the local university. This wasn't an American story so not worth following up. But what has always bothered me about that response is that it is an American story. It is MY American story. My parents might not be alive today ergo I might not have been born had it not been for the American government deciding to bomb Hiroshima.

So after sitting on this story for many years, I have decided (with my brother's permission) to share my dad's memoir on this blog. I will include memories my Oma de Vries shared with me as well as insert my comments about how certain events might have impacted my upbringing and family life.

Maybe no one will read Dad's story, but finally I feel I have a way to share this piece of history and that's all that matters to me.

Stay tuned.

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