My Father, Guest Column by Horst Vollman

Dear Shekhar “the Mother” is a beautifully written ode to the eternal mother in all women. But there are also fathers out there who deserve all the love we can give to them. Here is my story:
My father.
When the phone call came from Germany on this gray winter morning a few days past Christmas 1990 and my sister had uttered the ominous words I knew that our father would soon leave us. The words fell like a hammer, there was a finality to them that left no room for a sliver of hope: pancreatic cancer. This was a cancer with a reputation for swiftness and a survival rate of virtually nil. Neither my sister nor myself had the courage to break the dreaded news to him or for that matter to our mother……


… We made them understand that the pancreas had been seriously inflamed with the possibility of a malignancy developing. Only later did it become clear to me that my father was in on this white lie almost from the word go. It was my mother who was the most vulnerable who steadfastly refused to face the inevitable truth. Later when the denial stage had slowly been traversed, even by her, did my father drop hints that he had known all along and that he had wandered the house during night hours in crushing pain trying not to wake her lest she would finally get a glimpse of the horrible reality.
Early in May, 4 months after the diagnosis, I had flown to Germany to be with both of them and on an achingly beautiful day when I had taken them to a mountain resort in the Alps I walked with my mother through fields of flowers and made it clear to her that her mate of 60 years was very close to leaving her. It was liberating for both of us to be at long last free of all pretense, deceit and self-deception. The road was clear and straight and could now be walked with dignity, the eyes didn’t have to be averted anymore. At that moment my mother must have entered her grieving phase, and ultimately her strength had become our strength as well. Her tenderness towards my father was touching, they still kissed like two lovers as though the years of toil and struggle had not interfered with their love for each other.
It was during that visit that I wanted my father to talk about his childhood days and those horrible 6 years when he was a soldier in World War II. How did children cope in an era when fathers in Germany had to be addressed in a stilted and formal manner, when one’s own father was an alcoholic and one’s own mother had died of consumption, a disease whose progress was hastened by bad nutrition or, more brutally put, by starvation. Almost shyly my father told me that there was never enough food in the house and that his mother in her final year at the age of 36 wanted the 8-year-old boy to sleep in her room on a cot to discourage my grand father from forcing himself on her when he came home, usually late at night in a drunken stupor. This was a moment when I wanted to cry.
There was one more thing I just needed to know. How did he stay sane during those six years of war. He told me that my mother never stopped begging him in her letters to him
on the Russian front to aim high when shooting at the enemy. “They also have wives and mothers”, she told him “who would be heartbroken”. He chuckled at the memory that he always had to chew and swallow the stationery for fear of being found out to be a defeatist. He did follow her advice though; he just wasn’t cut out to kill, no one needed to remind him of that.
The night before I flew back to New York I played chess with him, the last time, barely four weeks before he left us. He urged me to go all out and not feel sorry for him. He didn’t want to win because I let him win. I assured him that I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity like that, him being weakened or not, I was playing to win. It did not happen, he was just too good, his illness had not diminished his skills.
On a sunny morning in June I received a frantic call from my sister that our dad had slipped into a coma and would I please come fast. I flew out the same day and rushed straight to the hospital where he had been for his final week. There, in front of the hospital my sister waited for me to tell me that incredibly he had come out of his coma and had asked for me. After my father and I hugged and exchanged our silent “I love you” half an hour later he slipped back into a coma. That last night the hospital had put a cot into his room for me and aside of a few exhausted naps I sat at his bed and looked at those loving hands of his, hands that had held us, had always been strong and gentle. His face was at peace and all I could do was to sporadically moisten his tongue and spray some mist into his mouth that was slightly ajar, to avoid dehydration.
At 6 in the morning the nurse entered the room and called out to my father a “Good morning Mr. Vollmann”. At that very moment he made a loud, almost relieved sigh
that to me sounded like he came out of a good night’s sleep. But it was his final sigh. An eerie 20 seconds passed when one more time he took a short jerky breath and then fell silent. I looked at his neck where I could see in slowly decreasing frequency his heartbeat until there was no motion any longer. At that moment there was no place on this planet I would have rather been but right there at his side.
Horst

17 Responses to “My Father, Guest Column by Horst Vollman”

  1. sunshine says:

    so beautiful……….where love is stronger than all the ups and downs life throws at you. in a way much simpler too as nothing else in life draws you except the love that binds…..
    takes me back to the times in my life where my most beloved grandparents were in their last stage before their final journey….my grandfather was ill…..not my grandmother, yet once he passed away, she followed him in just 3 months.they were GOD’s presence in my life… a couple who were loving and gentle and kind and the dearest people one can be blessed with.when they passed away it became difficult to identify with the world for a long time.the emptiness and the resounding echoes when i called their name became unbearable……
    many years later i was put through a repeat of the heart wrenching agony by the loss of my mother who was my friend,philosopher,guide and soulmate. i recall the days when i would not leave her bedside while she was in hospital as my world revolved around her…….she would insist i go home for a few hours and get away from the hospital atmostphere as in her opinion it was a depressing atmostphere for a younger person…..yet what would i go home and do when my world was lying in hospital ?
    yet i consider myself lucky that i had such precious people in my life…..i do believe that people who love you always look over you whether they are in the body or beyond it……
    what else is there to life than the love that gives it meaning ?

  2. Lehar says:

    Dear Horst,
    I lost my dad to cancer eight years ago in this month. He was only 54. I am thankful that I was with him and around him in his last days. But it cut my heart to see that the strongest man in my life could not hold up a spoon by himself…it still does.
    When I think about him, I can sense the scent of colgate-palmolive shaving cream that he used ever since I remember. I wish I could know more about him, I wish I could spend more time with him. He went away too soon. I don’t know what kind of a man he was to the rest of the world, but he was a superb dad.
    May the best memories be with you and me, and the rest.

  3. Himanshu says:

    Dear Horst,
    This is wonderful account of the amazing journey of life that your Dad had. We do love our fathers a lot, just don’t say it enough. Thanks a lot for sharing this great story with us and I hope you have a beautiful 2008.
    And Lehar, I didn’t realize that your Dad is no more with us when I was trying to explain the economics of filmmaking, so please don’t take any offence. Hope you are enjoying your new year.
    Regards,
    Himanshu

  4. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    Latest news in on “Daily Variety” that SAG has announced that all the 70 actors nominated for the Golden Globes this year will not attend the event as an act of solidarity for the WGA strike. That’s really good news for the writers and I certainly hope it helps them get a better deal with the AMPTP.
    Best Regards,
    Himanshu

  5. Lehar says:

    Himanshu,
    There is no reason for me to get offended, and yes, I am enjoying this new year very much. Thank you. I read your post on new years resolutions. My resolution is to beat my boss at racquetball in next two months, and I challenged him in the cafeteria. He has been playing for years and last week was my first time at it. :<(
    Another resolution- stick my head in the refrigerator every morning this year.
    I understand that you are making best of your stint in India.

  6. Serena says:

    beautiful is an understatement…i on not want to say anything for such a piece…cz words cant suffice its beauty

  7. dq says:

    I have parents yet had no parents!!!
    Pity is all thats left in me ….
    When i look into their eyes i see suffering….
    In that suffering of theirs , i pretend to forget my aches….
    Their agony somehow lurk higher than mine…
    Frail they are, children once again, what can I offer them but some laughter to ease their pain!!
    Smiles~~~
    Good Morning Shekhar!!

  8. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    Many congratulations for all the nominations for the BAFTAs. I hope the award season turns out great for you and Golden Age wins many awards.
    Best Wishes,
    Himanshu

  9. Himanshu says:

    Hi Lehar,
    I am doing very well in India. I wanted to be in Mumbai for 6 to 9 months but destiny brought me to Hyderabad – there is a project that may take me to China that is being run out of the Hyd office, so I took that up. It will be a great way to analyze all the 3 superpowers in my own unique way. Plus, I have never been to HK and that may also be covered when I get to South China. Right now I just want to travel to nearby destinations like BKK, Goa, Singapore (I go there just like that – my most favorite city in Asia – have to go check on the status of the Marina Bay Sands, their latest casino, and how Sheldon Adlelson is doing). All is wonderful here and India is treating me great – I am totally surprised that everyone is speaking Hindi in Hyderabad and it’s obviously so inexpensive compared to Manhattan, so it’s wonderful.
    I hope you are definitely able to beat your manager at racquetball. When I was in school I sometimes used to go to the squash courts we had in our campus, but never played it seriously. I play Table Tennis very well and did play for my district, and also for my school and Engg. college.
    Regards,
    Himanshu

  10. shekhar says:

    thank u himanshu – i am not aware of the nominations. I have learnt to distance myself from awards, acclaim or criticism, even box office results once a film is released. As it no longer belongs to me – it’s like a ‘being’ that now lives on it’s own. I merely was one part of it’s birth. And to hang on to it is just an obsession – like a love affair that you must let go. But thank you. I will google bafta to look at the awards sometime though, as I will be amiss if I do not send notes of congratulations to my team that has been nominated. Shekhar

  11. Himanshu says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    Right now the BAFTA longlist nominations have been announced and “Golden Age” figures in 13 categories. The final nominations would be announced later this month but it is definitely good news.
    Best Wishes,
    Himanshu

  12. Astrid Vollmann says:

    Hello dear Shekhar –
    I’m Horst’s wife – I remember you clearly sitting at the lake in Pokhara in 1974? and then later watching the movie Isqh in NYC at Columbia U. Now I’m in Myrtle Beach and closely associated with the Avatar Meher Baba Center here and the local Baba community. Eventually, our search leads us to the goal and I think I’m on my way! Have been to India/Meherabad -near Ahmednagar in 2000 and also a year ago on pilgrimage. Arsenio Rodriguez, associate of Deepak is also one of my local friends here; also met Deepak myself at an Omega Inst. workshop around 1996 – so we indeed are all connected!
    Namaste
    Astrid Vollmann

  13. mehul says:

    Dear Horst,
    This entry…is something…that can’t be applaud with any possible means..it’s way above it all…Perhaps..after reading it..my silence of countless minutes could be considered an applause…you unscrambled a feeling that we all feel but are unable to lay out..
    God…rests your father’s spirit in peace for he has a son..who’s love for his father will even make the almighty jealous.

  14. Here is the synopsis of my story:
    ‘TRAIN HIJACK’ IS THE STORY OF A WELL EDUCATE HELPLESSLY PAKI MUJAHID WHO IS TAKEN TO GRANT AND TRAPPED INTO A TOP LEVEL CONSPIRACY OF INDIAN ‘TRAIN HIJACK’ TO PAKISTAN. HE LOOSES HIS PARENTS, LOVE(DILBARA) AND EVERYTHING….
    ITS TIME TO REARRANGE THE WHOLE THINGS…WILL HE SUCCEED? WILL HE GET BACK HIS DILBARA?
    ”TRAIN HIJACK ‘ IS THE JOURNEY OF EMOTIONS, LOVE, TERROIRISM AND HUMANITY AND COURAGE. IT MAKES YOU FEEL THE DIGNITY OF THE HUMANITY. IT HAS CERTAIN DEEP ROMANTIC MOVEMENTS TO
    REFRESH YOU.
    Respected Sir,
    My name is Dileep Kessani I am from Jodhpur(Raj) India, Sir I am a member of THE FILM WRITERs ASSOCIATION of INDIA. And Sir actually I am a story and ghazal writer, I have written more than 4 stories on different topics, ie. (1) Love, (2) FREE-DOM, (3) Terrorism. Etc.
    Sir I want to try my luck in bollywood and I expect a very positive response from your great side. Because, you are my last destination. Sir please do believe on my work.
    Thanks
    Dileep Kessani
    E-Mail: ddprince1995@hotmail.com
    Mob. +91-9460663396
    http://www.sutharsamaj.com
    http://www.liveforall.con

  15. Manfred says:

    Dear Horst,
    I´m very glad that at least I found a glimpse of you (and Astrid, Posting #12) here on Shekars site.
    I´m Manfred and we were close friends when we were living in Cologne, Germany.
    Now I´m Munich and from time to time I´m thinking af you and I wonder, where you are in this big world.
    Gimme a sign at
    mnoethen@cablemail.de
    Love
    Manfred

  16. Gunter Held says:

    Hallo seid Ihr Horst und Astrid Vollmann von der Versicherungs-Akademie Cologne ? Dann bitte melden.
    MfG
    Gunter

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