Alexander Naruta, Jr.
My father was my hero—for no heroic reason other than his fine character. He was a man cognizant of and humbled by his beginnings, yet propelled by possibility and a genuinely enthusiastic approach to life. He was a bleeding heart and a robust champion for the cause. He was a veteran, a highly regarded manpower specialist for the Department of Labor, and a public servant, serving on the local board of education and town council, both as councilman and deputy mayor. But he was a farmer at heart, and worked our 20 acres as if it were something grand—and I suppose to him it was. He planted and maintained a large vegetable garden, he grew, baled and sold hay, and sometime in the 60’s, he started raising Black Angus steer, 8 or 10 bulls a season, which he would grain feed, slaughter and sell. It was quite an undertaking, but it seemed to me both then and now, that he could pretty much take on anything. He was small and handsome, a compassionate and charismatic, mighty, little Russian.
He was an alcoholic, along with his father, his brother, one sister, and myself. When my grandfather would visit, the vodka bottle and two shot glasses were placed on the kitchen table, and my father and his father would polish off half a bottle, argue in Russian, make up, drink and argue some more. My father’s preferred liquor was scotch, however, and a gallon bottle was kept under the kitchen sink, easy to get to and as commonplace as dish detergent. He took a hit on his way to catch the bus every morning, and some over ice on his way to the garden every evening. But my father was not a miserable or combative drunk, and other than the squabbles with my grandfather, he was a happy man. If pain lived behind the alcohol he never showed it to me. We never talked about our shared demons, about our independent recoveries, we never really talked about feelings at all—it was a time when you just didn’t do such things—but our connection of blood, love, and liquor, ran very, very deep.
My father loved people and purpose. He loved poker, football, cigars, antique shops, but he especially loved Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I have a FDR souvenir on my bookshelf that my father picked up somewhere—a sweet, little, black statue of the president’s beloved dog, Fala. Many years after my father passed away, I wrote a story for a creative writing class where the Fala statue saves a woman from a physically abusive husband by tormenting and eventually killing the husband in a very eerie, evil puppet kind of way. I must say that I am not and never have been in an abusive relationship, and I do not think that Fala, the loving embodiment of my honorable father, is sitting on my bookshelf to save me from harm, real or imagined. But I do believe that my father’s memory, his deep and lasting spirit, is there to champion and inspire me. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you.
Photo: I sadly can’t tell you anything about this photo. I don’t know where or when it was taken, and I have no idea what my father was commissioner of. My guess is that it had to do with one of his civic commitments, of which there were many.