Yearning for my father - or: The dates I will never forget. / by Wolfgang Leander

December 8, 1905, the birthday of my father, and the day he died at age 58, June 22, 1964.

Wolfgang Julius Leander (Photo: Foto Estudio Bene, Cochabamba, 1950)

Even now, as a grand-father, I miss my father, no less than back then when my mother called me to say she had 'bad news' for me...

It is not too long ago, perhaps 20 years or so, that I realized that, deep down, I have never left my childhood, and that I will always remain my father's little boy who looked up to him, loved him, and felt secure and protected in his presence. 

Yet, our relationship was not always harmonious, not even when I was a small kid. 

My father was not a children's father; children had few rights in his traditional world-view, and what mattered most to him was that they had to behave, be obedient and well-mannered, make a bow or curtsey to grown-ups, and never challenge in any way the authority of parents and teachers. 

"Muttans Besta" (= Berlin dialect for "Mom's Darling"); photograph taken circa 1909 at the famous photo study E. Bieber, Imperial Court photographers, Berlin.

Given his education and background, my father felt Prussian to the bone. He was raised in Wilhelmine Berlin by a father who was a staunch monarchist and who believed in unconditional loyalty to the fatherland, discipline, modesty, frugality - virtues that marked my father for life.

Little Wolfgang Julius with his father, Alexander Leander (Berlin, circa 1911)

It was, thus, absolutely normal that my father considered corporal punishment as a reliable and effective educational method. So, yes, I got spanked when my father, and my mother, thought a wrongdoing had to be corrected. 

Obviously, being hit by a strong hand on my butt hurt me, and the utter helplessness that went with it touched deep layers of my soul. However, I won't forget that my father once told me, quite moved, that spanking me caused him much pain - an admission I then felt was sincere. 

As much as my father wanted to give the impression of being 'tough' and what he thought to be 'manly', he was a sensitive and vulnerable human being who would not harm a fly. Hunting was to him, for example, a most brutal and senseless 'sport'. He accepted my spear-fishing because he probably thought that fish feel no pain. 

My adolescence put a strain on our relationship which is what what typifies any father-son bond, no matter how close. 

Yet, compared to most of my German friends who had seemingly insurmountable problems communicating with their fathers in an open manner, which was quite common in those days, I felt privileged to have a dad with whom I could discuss just about everything that went through the mind of a 15 year old youngster reaching puberty, and who was beginning to be intrigued about the metaphysical mysteries of our existence. 

I could even entrust my dad with the most private emotional and sexual anxieties which, as I remember, could be overpowering occasionally. There was no subject that was taboo for me to talk about and seek his always comforting advice. In that respect, my father was a wonderful father. His compassionate understanding for human imperfections more than out-weighed his own short-comings.

I was 23 when my father died, and although I did not believe in God, not even then, I somehow hoped for a reunion in an after-life. That won't happen, as I now know. But I will carry the memory of my young old man alive in my heart until its last beat. 

And I will keep missing him beyond.... 

After all, who am I to be so certain that there is no life after death?.....  :-)

Also dann: Leb' wohl, mein lieber, guter Alter...