My father had so many friends, he was active in all these charities and in the town and people all thought he was so generous and charming. Not to me! I was the family scapegoat, his punching bag. But I can't say that, can I? No one would believe it. Except my sister. She's often said to me that she could never understand why my father was so cold and cruel to me. If he had behaved towards her as he did to me, she couldn't have stood it, she says. I couldn't stand it either, but what could I do?
Comes the funeral, everyone said to me, "You're creative, you're the writer, you must write something that can be read in synagogue." What could I write? What could I say that wouldn't be a lie? He's my father, yes. But as soon as I could I put distance between us, to put a limit to how much he could hurt me. Am I to say that? Shame the family? In the end, I went around and gathered little stories from people, about his charm and his jokes and his good deeds, and put them together as "so and so says about my father that..." even though to me he was nothing like that. I don't think anybody noticed that it was all hearsay, not admissible in court. I didn't actually say anything in my own voice. Not a word of false witness-- just a false impression, with the terrible black facts left out.
Shakespeare says "the evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones." But here it's the opposite. I am burying the evil, consigning it to silence. All those years in the family he must have thought that what he was doing to me was right, that he was doing the right thing according to some principle or other. He was a righteous man. Everyone said so. But what principle? When he was cruel to me, when he punished me for no reason, no one ever questioned it or confronted him. I tried, but he never explained. "You know what you've done," he'd say. But I didn't know, I don't know to this day, and no one else knows either. When I asked them they'd say, "you did nothing, you don't deserve this"-- or "that's just how he is. It isn't fair but what can you do?"
At the funeral I wanted to speak up at last: to say he wasn't fair, he was terrible and cruel to me-- can't any of you tell me why? You knew him. Give me some sort of explanation! I can't forgive what I don't understand! And that's the truth. I can't forgive him. But as God's my witness, I can forget him. I have the strength. I can let my father's dark side go in silence into his grave, to be interred with his bones -- and let his good live after him. Amen.
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