I had two fathers: Stanislaw Zebrowski, my birth father, and Frank Uzarowski, my step father.
One I never knew; one I knew as well as he would let me know him. One I never heard from; one said he loved me. One abandoned me; one raised me.
Daughters have father issues as much as they have mother issues. I had two remarkable fathers bonded by their love for my mother. Both left their mark on me.
Stanislaw was a soldier in the Polish army. He was captured by the Nazis early in World War II and spent six years in German prisoner of war camps.
Tata was a Polish freedom fighter, living in the woods, living on his wits, helping Jews escape. The Germans caught him once, but he escaped.
The two men survived. After the war, Stanislaw met my mother in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. She'd been a slave worker in a German factory. They married and I was born in the camp. They planned for a future in Canada, but it took years for the paperwork to be completed.
While we waited, Tata showed up at the same camp. The inevitable happened. Two strong-willed men, one beautiful woman. Tata and Mama fell passionately - but secretly - in love. Shortly after we all came to Canada, Mama and Tata ran away with me, leaving Stanislaw in Timmins, Ontario. I was four years old. Too young to really remember. I never saw, or heard from, Stanislaw again.
I discovered Stanislaw was my birth father when I was around 13 years old. Once I knew, I couldn’t understand why he never came looking for me. Didn’t he love me enough? I got angry. What a selfish bastard not coming for his little girl. Or was it my fault? Did I do something wrong? These feelings swirled in my heart for years.
Meanwhile, Tata did love me, in his way. He raised me as best he could. But he was consumed in the complex drama of loving my beautiful but selfish Mama. There wasn’t much time for me.
Tata, Stanislaw, Mama are all dead. As an older adult now, I understand. They lived in an extraordinary time when the world went mad. They were survivors. Tata lived a life on the run, dodging German patrols and eating what he could find or catch.
Stanislaw endured the deprivations and the diseases that took the lives of so many prisoners in the POW camps.
Mama's childhood ended when she was abducted by the Germans and forced into slavery.
As we approach Father's Day, I think of Stanislaw and Tata.
To have survived that war was more than enough. Looking back, it's easy for a child born in peace to see the flaws in men who were shaped by war.
But this I do believe: they did the best they could. I love them both unconditionally.