Dad

As the year ends and we prepare to launch into 2014, a year of TWO Assignments for Jake per month … oh my! Jake has us looking back into when we first started to have an interest in photography, what gave us our purpose. He asked us to share a photo that touched us, made us cry, want to travel the world, or just pissed us of to no end. For me my motivation for taking photos was simple … I have a photographic memory. From a very early age photos called to me, the camera easily came next, I wanted to create what I remember, the experiences, the people, the messages I receive from nature … I want to create the world jenuinely.

The first instant when the concept of photography telling a story became real in my mind/life occurred when I was 6. My stepfather insisted on taking a Polaroid picture of my brother flexing his 4 year old arm standing beside me with a HUGE shiner. The photograph implied he had hit me, that he was proud of it … when neither reality could have been further from the truth. I had gotten the black-eye that day while helping my family on the sheep farm we managed chase/capture over 20 hens that had escaped from the chicken coop. I was in the lead, when I literally managed to achieve a feat The Three Stooges would’ve been proud of … I stepped on the end of a perfectly lengthened 2 by 4, that flipped up to nail my right eye smack on! My brother had been the one to leave the coop open, he felt terrible that I hurt myself, and he was crying/refusing to pose for the picture. Yet, what turned out in print was a completely different story … I was very ANGRY! That image has never left my mind, nor the lie it was able to portray.

My parents took many Polaroids, we had a shoebox full of them. I remember the last one I placed in that shoebox … it was one my mom took the Christmas I was 7. We were traveling from our home in Scio, Oregon to LA for the holidays the next morning and while I slept peacefully, she took a photo of me snuggled up in my favorite blanket on the couch. I had never seen myself in that way … I was touched. The morning we were about to leave, while everyone was waiting for my stepdad to join us in the car, I realized I forgot that blanket, I never went anywhere without it, so I ran back into the house to get it and I vividly recalling startling my stepdad as he stepped out of the attic door to find me holding it. We got in the car together, drove down the road, and while getting last minute repairs on the vehicle at the local shop, I made what I thought was a joke when a fire truck whizzed around the corner and headed down the street our house was on. All us kids laughed after I said, ‘hope they’re not going to our place’ … none of us were laughing when on Christmas Day the authorities had tracked us down to my stepfather’s family’s place in LA to tell us that the beautiful farm house and all our belongings had burned to the ground. The fire reportedly started in the attic … something about faulty wires. The shoebox was lost in the fire, yet that photo stays in my mind as innocence shattered.

After that, I began searching for/demanding photos of my ‘real’ dad … I wanted so desperately to know him. I had no memory other than witnessing him nearly choking my mother to death before my eyes when I was 2.5 years old and an unwavering sense he loved us. It was when he was in jail for that act, that my mom moved us out of state with my stepfather … I had not seen him in many years. I didn’t believe that memory to be who he was. I thought he would save us from the man who had done worse, who the least of his ‘crimes’ was burning our house down. Well, the summer after we lost everything in the fire, after finding us when we returned to California and my mom running away with us again, my ‘real’ dad committed suicide … he had just lost his girlfriend and was unable to hold employment from suffering from similar physical conditions that I experience. The doctors told him it was likely MS, he couldn’t afford an MRI to prove it wasn’t. So he took his own life.

My quest for photos of him never ended, up until my birthday summer before last, all I had were two pictures the size of quarters, it was then when I received the picture I share and a handwritten letter he sent to my grandma when he was in jail. In that letter he revealed himself as the artist I always heard him to be … he had drawn several animals for my sister and I. That letter also confirmed for me for the first time in my conscious memory that he loved me, all I had up until then was a vague memory of talking to him on the phone a couple months before he died, saying he loved me, that I sometimes believed I had made up. Well, the letter left no doubt … it was written in his beautiful script for me to see.

It was through these experiences that photographs became tied to the past for me, I always scoured them for the reality within … knowing the truth may not always be what the eye’s see. I loved my dad with all my heart, for years I felt his choice as a betrayal. It wasn’t until three years ago, when I encountered circumstances such as he, when I was recently divorced, spending 50% of my time as a mom, not 100%, unable to find employment, struggling with my health, thinking I was a complete failure, and considering ending it all … that his act became the gift that is truly was. I knew instantly that I could not do that to my daughter and I immediately became grateful for the strength it gave me. It was in those moments that I knew I was meant to pursue my photography, to capture the world jenuinely, to embrace my physical conditions no matter how they may limit me, and make a difference in the world for people like us.

Every time I see this photo I am reminded that had I made the same choice as he, I would never’ve received it … nor the gift his love was. This Christmas I was especially grateful, watching my seven year old daughter enjoy a loving holiday with her father and I as true friends/parenting partners. His support of what I am out to contribute to the world, a blessing beyond words … him being the best dad in the world.

Love.

Dad

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Jen Baptist
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