Friday, July 25, 2014

Dad, boys, men & me ~ In Memoriam André Hunkar - 08Aug1931 - 25Jul2013

Dear Daddy,

Yesterday, one year ago, I was on Skype with Elma, discussing my monthly administration. The phone rang. It was your and Mom’s number so I picked up with a big smile and a cheery voice. I will never forget the sinking feeling of certainty I had when it was your friendly neighbour Corrie’s voice I heard. Without her even telling me, I knew something was very, very wrong. After five minutes of being briefed by her, I packed up some essentials and drove to Radboud Hospital in Nijmegen. There, you moved to the Other Side shortly after midnight.
beginning of July 2013
It’s been a year now… Let me start by saying we are coping with our huge loss. Mom is stronger than maybe even you knew after almost 56 years of happy and fulfilling marriage. She misses you a lot but has picked up her life again and continues to bring joy and comfort to many others.

I too keep trying to make the most of life. I’m sure you know, up there in the Great Assembly in the Skies, that your last wish for me was granted shortly after you passed; I DID convince the Ministry of Economic Affairs and made it to Rio de Janeiro for that large filming assignment you were so excited about! Being back in Brazil after so many years since we lived there was the most special treat and a way for me to feel very close to you. After Rio, many more opportunities have come my way and I always feel you’re there, guiding me along. Unfortunately, I still pick up the phone to call you every now and then… Maybe that will pass? Maybe it won’t?

I used to tell you that you were the only man in my life who had never disappointed me in any way. Sure, we had our differences once in a while, but your principles and straightforward outlook on life made you that solid rock we could all build on, as Mom stated in her eulogy to you. Your love for us – for me – was always indisputed, making it difficult for anybody else to fill your shoes. This time, while telling you the same, allow me to illustrate it with examples from my own life and my less than perfect association with the male species, starting at a very tender age. The stories will hopefully take you back to all the wonderful places you took your family to, enriching our lives in ways that to me are still evident every day.

At 4 yrs - Suriname
My first crush was E. I think he went to school with my brother, but I’m not really sure. Nor do I remember what it was about him that I found so fascinating at that young age. Obviously, he never knew. Haven’t seen him since, but these days we share Facebook likes.

My memories of you at that age are purely based on what I perceived as your heroism. You were my big, strong Dad, working with cows, killing boa constrictors, wading through mud. Somehow, the handkerchief you used all day in those sweaty circumstances smelled delicious when you came home. Your gruff voice was loud in my ears but your eyes were always loving as you taught me things with rope and glue.

At 7 yrs – Malaysia
Young A from Australia was the heartthrob of all the girls in my class. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. He set a pattern that was to be repeated in later years, telling me he liked me for my brain but not my looks. We were friends, meaning that I admired him from afar and stuttered whenever he spoke to me.

In those years in Malaysia, your work took you away from us during the week. You led a team of cattle experts on a location 4 hours driving from Kuala Lumpur. We used to visit your little house during holidays and waited for the sound of your diesel car every Friday, when you came home to make our weekends complete. You were even more of a hero to me than before, as you filled your days with very male, outdoorsy things I only knew from books.

At 9 yrs – Suriname
J was in my class. He was cool, popular, wore the latest fashion, had green eyes in an olive-skin face. What young girl would NOT fall for him? It was a very full classroom with over 40 pupils. Don’t think J even knew my name…

It was becoming clear I was the class geek in those years. I got teased a lot and didn’t have many friends in school. The headmaster thought it was wise to single me out affirmatively because I spoke English at that age. Idiot! No wonder the other kids hated me! You, on the other hand, explained to me that having something that others lack, would not make life easier, but it would make me stronger. You encouraged my geekiness, probably. And you taught me to persevere. I’m still thankful to you for both!

At 10 yrs – Brazil
I attended the very small American school in Recife in those days – only 156 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Everybody knew everybody. Had eyes for C only. Years older, good in sports, blue eyes and floppy hair – I thought he was the most beautiful creature ever to walk the face of the Earth. I knew it must be love when I woke up one morning after dreaming of him. I daydreamed about him for years while he went steady with a blonde. He never even spoke to me.

As you might remember, the only way to make any kind of impression on kids in that school was to be good at sports. I wasn’t, except for athletics. I preferred having my nose buried in books. However, the need for social contact was strong, so athletics weren’t the smartest choice. You showed me how to throw and catch a ball. Then you told me to keep practising, day in day out. I did. I made it to the school handball team and made friends. I even made it to the selection for the Pernambuco State Youth team, but that’s when our family packed up and left Brazil for another country.

At 13 yrs – Tunisia
I was the only one in my class who admitted she had never yet been kissed. I just wasn’t interested in what I perceived to be yucky business and no boy I knew was worthy of my love. When N pursued me for months on end (or was it weeks or even days?), I finally allowed myself to believe him. He gave me my first kiss – didn’t think much of it, except that I found it sticky. The next day, he pretended he didn’t know me. I saw his picture on Facebook last year… He’s a creep with a harsh and wicked face!

You explained to me that NO, this did NOT happen because I was ugly but because the boy was stupid. In fact, any boy or man your daughters talked about has always had to prove to you that they were NOT stupid. I guess that goes with being the father of four girls? You told me I was much too clever and precious to even give any boy who couldn’t keep up with me a second glance. I think I might have taken that very literally, because I do believe I still expect more from a man than is reasonable or even fair. After all, they have to measure up to you and your selfless love, even to this day.

At 14 yrs – Tunisia
By this time, I was searching for my roots and started writing to everybody I knew from my childhood days. A answered my letter and we struck up a correspondence that lasted quite a while. He was very romantic and sent me pictures of himself. I swooned and spent all my free time and pocket money on writing him back. After many moons, I was on vacation where he still lives. I was so excited about meeting him again but only then found out that, despite his romantic letters to me, he had had a girlfriend for over a year. He might even have married her at some point, but I didn’t wait around to find out. All I remember is the broken heart that lasted for over two years.

You asked me if I had REALLY believed those letters I received. You also asked me if I thought I had been very smart to let myself get carried away by young love. You teased me sometimes, trying to make me laugh despite my broken heart. I wonder if you were secretly thankful that the experience kept me off boys at that age?

At 16 yrs – Tunisia
I fell fully and completely for F, who was much older and wiser. He was kind to me and honest. He helped me with my maths and spent hours talking to me and teaching me about life. All in a purely platonic way, as he had a girl in Italy he was in love with. Of course, his honesty only made me covet him more… I continued doing so until I left Tunisia the next year.

You liked this young man who obviously had no intention of seducing your gullible daughter. You welcomed him into our home and he gladly accepted, especially on Fridays, when he knew you’d be baking bread… You told me I had good judgment in choosing a man, because I fell for one with principles and empathy. You and I both were disappointed more than a decade later, when I met F again and he had changed into a sour, disappointed and unforgiving man. At least I didn’t have to get over him the second time!

At 17 yrs – Netherlands
I finished secondary school, left for university in the Netherlands and met my first official boyfriend, S. He was very tall (especially next to me), fun, loud and full of life. We had a lot of great times together as I discovered what it was like to live in the “Free West”. I remember our motorbike rides, the sport  matches we attended, his family and lots more. I suppose I fully expected us to stay together forever, but then I found out he’d been kissing with a mutual friend of ours for quite a while.

In retrospect, Dad, I think you and I weren’t sufficiently used to life in the “Wild West” at that time. I think it was as shocking to you as it was to me that this behaviour was thought to be normal. This time, it was hard for you to console me. You just didn’t know how. Instead, you advised me – as you have done throughout my life – to concentrate on my own wishes and my independence. You also told me to beware of all men, as their notion of loyalty and honesty is not necessarily the same as mine. You explained that the biological differences between men and women are such that they have different interests and therefore different values.

At 19 yrs – Netherlands
I met G through S. They shared student digs in those years. He especially liked photographing me, saying that I looked great in black and white. We had good times together for a couple of years, but his heart was never really in it. I suspect he never got over his former girlfriend, maybe even to this day. I have often wondered what became of him. At least I still have some of those photographs to remind me of younger days…

At this point, you started worrying about me. You were certain I spent too much time having fun and too little on getting my life organized. Despite my fine grades in secondary school, my attempts at a higher education all failed. I explained to you that I was sick and tired of Academia, after having spent all my school years learning new languages and catching up. You didn’t understand. We quarrelled. A lot. I told you I wanted a career in radio. You told me to find a reasonable dream. I told you I’d show you and took the very long, lone and winding road. Your early lessons in perseverance paid off, because years later you told me you had been wrong and I had been right. You were very proud of my achievements in Dutch media.

At 21 yrs – Netherlands
J had the most incredible voice, full of authority, knowledge and self-confidence. I fell in love with the voice before I met the man, as I listened to his weekly radio show. Definite sparks flew when we did meet but it never became much more than one-sided adoration. He liked me a lot but was just too caught up in his own life (and, as it turned out, a couple of very bad health habits). We were friends for ages, sparring with each other, throwing witty remarks at each other and trying to change the world. Although our meetings became less frequent over the years, it was always great and quite exciting to link up with him. His habits must have caught up with him… He suddenly died a couple of years ago.

Once again, you asked me why my healthy brain allowed me to fall for men who aren’t strong enough to hold me up. I told you no man but you ever could be... You laughed. You always laughed when I told you that.

At 24 yrs – Netherlands
F was my colleague at work. I found him obnoxious and not particularly attractive but he was persistent in his pursuit. Maybe all that attention did the trick, because I finally gave in. Little did I know he was having a parallel affair with another co-worker. They ended up married.

Your simple reaction was that “a good-looking woman does not have to settle for an unattractive man”. Once again, you urged me to set my standards high and to concentrate on being me. I did. I got my first job as a radio presenter at a tiny radio station right across the Belgian border. You were amused and probably surprised that I put so much heart into it.

At 27 yrs – Netherlands
My phone call to a record company (enquiring about Lenny Kravitz’ first album before it was out) brought me in touch with H, who had a major impact on my life without ever meaning to. H made me music compilations, cooked for me, taught me all there is to know about roots reggae and introduced me to the island of Jamaica, long before it was possible to get there from Holland in less than 24 hours time. H was a troubled soul who should’ve kept to himself and our relationship left a lot to be desired, but I will forever be grateful for what he taught me! Reggae and Jamaica still play a key role in my life, even though H no longer walks this Earth. His spirit still greets me from time to time when I am in Jamaica. I always salute him, although he caused me lots of grief. Certain songs will always remind me of him, like John Holt’s Strange Things.

You didn’t care much for H. You found him weak and furtive and you were probably right. You did acknowledge what he brought to my life and were very proud of me for starting my second life in Jamaica – from scratch. I won’t ever forget standing with you on the roof of Pocadise and you telling me you fully understood my need for a place like that. You told me how proud you were of me and enjoyed the tropical life there for the same reasons that I do. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity of having you and Mom with me in Jamaica three times. We had so much fun and did so much talking, as we did during all the travels we shared in my adult years!

At 32 yrs – Netherlands
A man I really thought I'd keep was W. He ticked all the boxes: intellect, eloquence, poetic nature, his great sense of adventure, love of travel and music, and looks! W and I shared the wonders of life and never had trouble finding topics of mutual interest. Unfortunately, I was not his dream girl, at least not physically. His constant commenting on other women made me so insecure that I ended our liaison. He finally settled down with the girl he met after me – as happened with different men I gave my heart to. Glad to report we’re still friends and still laugh about the same things.

Although you really liked W, you wondered how it is possible for so many Dutch men to not “recognize a prize woman when they find her”. I told you once again I would probably never meet a man who lived up to the standards you set by your own actions.

At 34 yrs – Netherlands
In order to help myself get over W, I let myself be seduced by V. V is a hotshot photographer, quite a bit older than I. He wooed me with stories about his travels but couldn’t hide the fact he was primarily searching for someone with whom to make babies. At his age, that was the last thing remaining on his to-achieve list, he said. V proposed to me - the only man who ever did. Tempting as it was – he was, after all, offering me a life of luxury – I had to say goodbye. I had never wished to become a mother and his stories started to bore me. Our short fling ended and six months after I broke up with him, his next girlfriend was pregnant. I hope the three of them have a good life!

You were impressed by his stories and hoped that our liaison would help me get on further in life. You always found it hard to bear that certain media colleagues of mine had it easy due to the networks offered by their parents. I explained I rather prided myself in being totally self-made and independent. You warned be there would be a limit to what I could achieve in those circles and you were right, as I found out many years later.

At 37 yrs – Netherlands
M’s beautiful, lazy green eyes and laidback manner were simply irresistible! We had first met during a work project, when he was not available. Fate brought us back together when he was and things went quite naturally from there. He and I had a good thing going, until we didn’t anymore. Intrigues and work-related matters got in the way and I let him go. I now see him once a year on average; he’s doing fine!

The four of us had good times together. You found him easy to talk to, as did Mom. Remember our week in Italy together? We went to four open-air operas and enjoyed each other’s company. You also met his two sisters – quite a memorable afternoon! This was a man you thought was good enough for me, although you did understand my reasons to end the relationship.

At 42 yrs – Netherlands
Rastaman L brought new horizons to my life. He was the only man who could deal with all sides of me, even the most volatile. The adventures we shared, on the road with his reggae sound system, are too numerous to describe. L has the mental and physical strength to be his own man and I loved him for that. It still hurts me that he got the worst version of me… Life was catching up on me in difficult and painful ways, when Aisha got sick and I was at war with my former bosses. Finally, after several attempts, our relationship crumbled.

I always loved watching you and L together! There you were, two men from Surinam, born on the same day in August, feeling totally at ease with themselves and each other. You finally had the chance to speak Sranang with somebody one of your children brought home. Maybe it surprised you that I could fall for someone from such a different background, but you saw and acknowledged that he was good to me in many ways.

Later years
I suppose I gave up on love after L. It was a time of struggle and sadness for me. My career in the news business ended and you helped and supported me throughout the many months of battles with the powers in charge of Dutch media. I guess the only time I ever heard you express the need to really knock somebody senseless was during that time, whenever you spoke of some of the people I had to deal with. Their unjust treatment of me, their lies and conniving ways were probably even more of an insult to you than they were to me. I will always be thankful for all the hard work and thinking you did on my behalf during that period.

Perhaps the most important reason for my concentrating fully on my own life was the fact that Aisha’s health continued to deteriorate. We lost her after her heroic 4-year battle with cancer. During those four years, you often had to fend for yourself, as Mom was in Hilversum, keeping Aisha’s life going. Never ever did I hear you complain or express feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, you took over Mom’s chores at home and made the best of a lousy situation. Losing your youngest child in April 2011 was simply unbearable to you, although you insisted you were coping with it.

Your own health started to deteriorate but still you never complained. In fact, I believe none of us knew fully to what extent you must have been suffering. “No need to fuss,” you used to say. You said you were thankful for the full and precious years behind you and enjoyed the bonus time you had. You bore your fate until that fateful day, one year ago yesterday, when you embarked on your final voyage in dramatic but stylish fashion.

During all those years of worry and grief for Aisha and you, until this day, there simply hasn’t been room available in my heart for anyone else than family. 

I am now 51 years old. I very recently met a man who awakens me in many ways. He is attentive, very clever, romantic, genuine and caring. Who knows? Maybe you sent him to me? I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as I do!

Here I sit, Daddy, with a huge hole in my heart where your Earthly you used to live. I miss you every single day but am grateful that you did not suffer in ways you might have found unbearable. I carry your lessons with me, have silent conversations with you and will remain honouring you in every thinkable way until it is my hour to meet you again. Please continue to watch over me until such time, as you have always done.

This Wednesday, we buried your ashes; a tiny ceremony at a location of Mom's choice, just the way she wanted it. Whether or not it was divine intervention, our ceremony coincided with a day of national mourning in the Netherlands to honour those who died in the MH17 plane crash. The tolling bells, the flags lowered to half-mast and the sense of solidarity among all Dutch citizens gave extra meaning to our own grief. In many sad ways, it was a beautiful day.

With deepest love, I dedicate this video to you… My personal adventures during my off-duty hours in that week in Rio de Janeiro… I am positive you made it happen, as the Ministry of Economic Affairs signed my proposal on the very day you departed...

Aldith Hunkar

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