Inside their parents’ eyes and heart, children never grow up.
On a TV commercial, a dad talks to his little girl sitting on the driver’s seat of a car, pretending to drive. Her little legs stretch straight in front of her, she tries to reach up to the steering wheel. Her Dad talks just like me when my toddler son rolled down our driveway on his Big Wheel tricycle. “Be careful…pay attention…I love you….”
Flash on the next scene and we see that Daddy”s little girl, is actually a mature teenager, trying to take off in her car. I have a little child too, who “pretends” to drive, only he is 17, not a toddler, and he too takes off now and drives. Yes, Dakota drives, and have to let him roll down that driveway without me.
No wonder my Daddy – Pappie didn’t tell me of his lost childhood. He still wanted to protect his little girl.
Being a survivor of Japanese Concentration Camps, he showed love through worry. “Be careful, think about what you are doing, you never know…” His worries went on and on. The worst anxiety for him was when family traveled, “Where are you, did you land okay, call me when you touch down.”
But, like the Stutterheim poem that follows, I wanted to be
the hand that was there
for him, and I wanted his hand to not check on all his worries, but to touch who I really was. I remember once Pappie came all the way to Colorado to help me move to Texas, he wanted to be that hand. We rumbed over a 1000 miles, home to Texas. The whole way I felt his hand, and still yearned to be the hand that touched his past pain.
When Pappie died three years ago, it was his brother, Oom Herman Jobsis who told me the concentration camp stories I never knew. At the end of the war, in the chaos known as the Bersiap period, Pappie was brave, rallyihng his family when he was only 16. As you know, my son is 17. Sixteen is young. I have a loving hand I would like to pass back to Pappie (Dad) when he was 16 and went from one “liberated” camp to the next to reunite family.
Older children, adults, we WANT to hear the true stories of the past, however wrenching. We want to be that hand, not being helped by our parents, but helping, being the hand that is there.
Who reaches their hand to you? Who do you reach out your hand to? Tell me. Tell your story.
The Diary of Prisoner 17326, John Stutterheim . This is a memoir that tackles it all for us: the actual survival experiences as a boy in Japanese slave labor camps in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia)– the before during and after. Also includes an excellent account of the time, in a foreword by historian Mark Purillo. This poem from Stutterheim’s son, illustrates a son’s love, and the impact of war on the next generation(p. xx, Preface).
The Hand I Would Be, John Stutterheim’s son
I’ve seen eyes with dust from a hurtful past
Hide ghosts of tears too defiant not to last
I’ve had hatred towards fairness for not being there
In stories where even my God didn’t care
I’ve only regretted that I could not be
A hand back through time
To change it, you see?