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My father's face

Updated: May 2


It was much like any other Sunday morning. I was cooking eggs for breakfast. While the eggs fried, I absently scrolled through my messages. One caught my attention. I opened it... and I burst into tears.

This is happening three weeks before I am due to leave for Poland to meet, for the first time, my birth father’s family. My mother had left my father, Stanislaw Zebrowski, when I was 4 years old. I never saw him again. She cut him out of all the pictures we had. I desperately wanted to know what he looked like. What sort of a man was he? Did I look like him?

My mother died without telling me anything about the man she once loved, the man who was my father.  So I began searching for him. I found his grave in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. I found he had been in a nursing home there, having suffered a stoke which paralyzed his right side.

I found Sonia, who had cared for him in the nursing home. I sent her an old photo of my mother in a group at a Displaced Persons' camp after the war. Mama had her hands on the shoulders of a man kneeling in front of her. Surely he was my father. 

The man in that picture was much younger than the man Sonia had nursed but she and another women felt he might be Stanislaw Zebrowski. So I proclaimed him to be my father - even though, deep down, I wasn't sure.

After I found my father’s grave, the real research began. I found many family members in Poland. Second and third cousins. One of two had pictures of a man they thought was my father. But nobody was positive. It was too long ago. The family was too big. I hoped by the time I got to Poland someone would have found something conclusive.

To prepare my family to meet me, I sent them a short video of my story. I included a picture taken at Christmas 1947, in the Displaced Persons camp in Germany. On the left side of the photograph a man who later became my stepfather sits looking at the camera. My mother is beside him with me, 10-months old, on her lap. The right side of the picture was cut out.

The email I got that Sunday morning as I was frying eggs was from Janusz Zebrowski, my first cousin, a man I had no contact with until then.

“Good morning. We will be pleased to meet you. The missing part of the photo is attached.”

 

And there it was. The uncut Christmas photo. A clear shot of my father Stanislaw sitting to the right of me and my mother.

I burst into tears. I couldn’t stop sobbing. I discovered later my father had sent a duplicate of the picture to his brother, Janusz’s father, with whom he'd always had a good relationship.

I can’t stop scrutinizing the picture. It’s the eternal love triangle. Frank, the man who became my stepfather, gazing innocently at the camera with his arm around my mother. Stanislaw, my father, the older man, looking out warily. And me squirming to get off my mother's lap. 

An answer found. A mystery solved. After more than 70 years, I can look on the face of the man who married my mother in a camp in Germany after both had survived truly hard times in World War 2. The man who, like my mother, turned his back on homeland and family to make a new start in Canada.

Finally I can see my father's face.

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