My father died thirty one years ago this September. The world looks a lot different today than it did then. We walk down the street looking at our phones instead of each other. It’s no longer necessary to wait until Sunday to get cheaper rates to make a long distance call. We have 24-hour cable news, social networks, email and text messaging. The movies he took of us with his 8mm camera when my brother and I were kids are now possible to create with our smartphones. Desert Storm came and went as did Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton, George W and Obama. The Twin Towers that he watched being built, fell and a memorial exists where once they stood. The Brooklyn he grew up in and loved so is now hot and trendy. Coney Island where he “slung hot dogs “ as a teenager is making a comeback and now the Nazis that he spent four years, four Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters separated from his parents, his four siblings and his friends fighting to stop are being embraced by the President of the United States.
I can’t help but wonder what he would say.
I know he would have embraced computers as he had embraced the early days of television and stereo equipment and he would be the first to tell me what Apple was up to next. There’s no doubt that while he would be 95 today, he would be texting me pictures of what he was cooking Mom for dinner, FaceTiming me at every opportunity and sending me emails with links to new Apps I should try.
He would have marveled at how millennials aspire to live in Brooklyn and beamed with pride at its gentrification. He had fallen in love with its charms when he was a teenager growing up on Kings Highway. In his letters home from the War he had written how he had told all his army buddies about Brooklyn and how great it was. Now he would get to let everyone know that he was there first.
My own heart hurts to think how his would have been broken the day the Towers fell, staring at the smoke consuming lower Manhattan for hours upon hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette, just as he had stared in disbelief at the television when JFK was killed. He would not have much to say as he had little to say then but he would have held my hand again, only this time I would be old enough to pour the scotch not just for him, but for me too. He would tell me we would we get through this. He had, after all, grown up in The Great Depression and survived four years of active combat in North Africa and Italy. He would assure me we would get to the other side of it.
Maya Angelou has said that when someone tells you who they are the first time, believe them. My father let you know from the start who he was, a good, kind and decent man with a big laugh and a bigger heart. He raised me to have an open mind, to be kind to strangers and to listen to my gut. He was a proud Greek who never thought he was better than anyone else and was quick to shake your hand. He never judged people by the color of their skin or ethnicity but by who they were as humans. He was raised by a strong Greek woman who immigrated to this country when she was three and he married an equally strong Greek woman. His roots trace back to Crete, where as the legend goes the family left for the Peloponnese in boats in the middle of the night to escape the oppressions of the Ottoman Empire.
He would have seen right through Donald Trump from the start. My father was a New Yorker and as Michael Bloomberg said last summer at the Democratic Convention, New Yorkers know a con man when we see one.
Still, once elected my father might have given Trump more of chance than the couple of days that I did, but not much more. He would have had a lot to say about the craziness and constant chaos we’ve bore witness to since Inauguration Day, but that weekend in Charlottesville would taken him to the edge and tore him apart.
He risked his life to fight the exact intolerance we saw on display in Charlottesville. He watched friends shot and killed in front of him as they fought to stop the Nazis. He took a shrapnel wound for which he received a purple heart. He lived with internal scars that would come alive in the nightmares that would jar him awake for the rest of his life. He fought as a Private First Class in the 133 Infantry of the US Army to stop people who think they are better than others because of their religion or the color of their skin and to stop the horrific genocide that Hitler was responsible for.
Charlottesville would have made those scars feel fresh, but he still would have been hopeful that Trump would rise to the occasion, be a real leader and display true compassion, perhaps leave us with words to unite us.
But that hope would be short-lived and he would be crushed after that Tuesday press conference that confirmed the ugly truth, that we have a President who condones racism, white supremacy and Nazis. He would stare at the television in disbelief that after all he had been through and survived in his life, he had to bear witness to this. He would shake his head when a week later there was a speech in Phoenix that did nothing but further divide us. He would tell me to speak up and to do whatever I could to preserve our democracy. And despite the hurt that would sear through him he would be hopeful that the good guys will win in the end. He would tell me we’ll get through as this better people and he would ask me to be hopeful too.
Joanne Tombrakos is a Digital Strategist, Social Media and Content Marketer, Personal Brand Advisor, NYU Adjunct and above all, a writer.