My Father was a seaman. From my earliest childhood I remember his comings and goings, I remember taking a cab to the Gdynia harbour with my Mother and my Brother and then standing on the quay, trying to make out the man who was my Father among other officers on board. Often he was different than the Father Id remembered: more tanned, with or without a beard, slimmer. He always brought exotic gifts: oranges, honey from Argentina, coffee from Brazil and real blue jeans from Moszkowiczs shop in Hamburg.
He never stayed home for very long, but sometimes long enough to take us to Wilcza Jama by car or to go all the way to Ksi?? near Wa?brzych. Then, when I was sixteen, he worked for Associated Levant Lines and his ships home harbour was Beirut. We would not have seen him for several years had he not invited us to come join him. He called it program maximum: we flew to Brussels, boarded the Lebanese vessel in Flushing and went all the way to Cyprus, then Lebanon, Syria and finally the Turkish ports on the Mediterranean and on the Black Sea: Mersin and Trabzon.
It was a real sea voyage, with storms and mutinies, with deck hands from different political and religious factions knifing each other in the mess, with arms smugglers and deserters. We tasted the patisseries in Beirut, smelled the French fragrances in the drugstores and looked at the world from the Mountains of Anti-Lebanon.
It was a trip of a lifetime that lasted much more than the summer vacation because the ship was old and slow. We thought that program maximum was indeed the maximum, but the following summer my Father took us on board again. He wanted us to enjoy ourselves, to make up for the life in Poland, to eat grapes and oranges, to be free. Once again we went across the Mediterranean. But this time we ended up in the middle of the First Lebanon War, and the moment the ship entered the harbour of Beirut, the Lebanese crew left the ship to go home. My Father had a gun and relanium in his desk drawer, and he had us: my Mother, Borys and myself. There was also an Egyptian steward and a Polish second mechanic. We managed to leave the harbour without the rest of the crew, who caught up with us in Chekka, north of Beirut, the following day. Little did I know that that same summer of 1982, Henryk Grynberg was also in Beirut, as a volunteer in the IDF. At the time, of course, I had not read him and the fact that both he and my Father came from nearly the same village and both knew Dobre, would have been of little relevance. Now, on that great map of our lives, the lines that crossed in Stanis?aw?w near Mi?sk Mazowiecki and then again in Beirut, all seem meaningful. So when my Father is no more, I send Henryk Fathers Day wishes. But every time I go to the beach and see ships on the roads, every time I read a Conrad short story, or smell an orange, I think of my Father.