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Fatherly Advice 

For my sons Lucian and Tristan

My father was Joseph Stalin. When I was six, I had his portrait on my nightside table and every night before I went to sleep I told him this prayer my grandmother taught me: "Our Father who art in Heaven/ Hallowed be Thy name ...." Then I slept securely under the shadow of his mustache. Stalin was much more of a father to me than my biological one, whom I barely knew, or my mother's new husband, a brutal railroad engineer who once beat me for writing the words "Mail Box" on his painstakingly constructed wooden trap for mail. Granted, my writing was shaky, but it got much better when I wrote "F. You!" on his map of the world that hung over his hobby bench.

At school, we had large posters of Stalin smiling, surrounded by loving children. When I grew a mustache it was Stalinian and I didn't shave it until the '90s, at nearly the end of the 20th century, when it had been incontrovertibly proven (to me) that Stalin was indeed dead. In 1963, when he really died, I cried like everybody else in Romania. People tore their clothes and hair in grief on the streets when the one they called "Little Father" ("Tatucul") left his mortal and atheistic coil and was embalmed next to Lenin in Red Square. My mourning was cut short when I came home from school early on that momentous day and overheard my stepfather (the beast) telling another man, with no small glee in his voice, "The son of a bitch is finally gone!" My world stopped for a second but then, considering the source, it started again with a greater love than before.

As well as a grim determination to make myself worthy of Little Father who couldn't possibly be dead. I took some comfort from the idea of the Heavenly Father who, though ideologically the nemesis of Stalin, had the undoubted advantage of being immortal. The true qualities of a father, I reasoned, are to be both absent and divine and to sport an impressive mustache. Later, when I learned that Stalin had been a mass-murderer who disposed of tens of millions of people like they were ants he danced on with his Cossack boots, I became confused. As an adult, I couldn't condone such a man. But I couldn't erase my childhood love, either. So what if my daddy was a psycho killer? He was still my daddy, at least secretly, because I couldn't very well defend him any other way.

Nor did the Heavenly Father have such a great record of benevolence, come to think of it. If Stalin killed tens of millions, God the Father, who lives in Jerusalem where my biological father is buried, is guilty of ten times that -- and yet you'll find people defending Him every Sunday in churches all over the globe. Is there something about the idea of Father that involves something very bad, downright criminal? Maybe. I sure as hell hope I've been a figure of much less importance, and more vulnerable proportions, to my own children.

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