Mixed emotions: Papa was a rolling stone

Life is full of serendipity and awkward coincidences.

I recently wrote about the trip down memory lane which the sorting and filing of digitised photographs was due to take me; what I hadn’t foreseen was how emotional a ride this would eventually become. Anyone looking through old photographs knows to expect to see pictures of those who are no longer with us. This is normal.

We know they’re dead, and they’ve usually been so for a while.

Not so in my case: A few weeks ago I was sorting through old photos of my father while, simultaneously and elsewhere, he lay dying a bitter and lonely man. Life is cruel.

When the police came over to make the announcement the following morning I was overcome by a sense of relief. It was almost… expected.

Emotions were mixed. They covered the full spectrum from elation to grief.

Once the initial shock was over, it was a matter of collecting his stuff, informing others, starting the necessary arrangements, and getting some affairs closed and in order. Reaction to the news was rather indifferent — if not muted. Nobody seems to care. Some are relieved that the Antichrist incarnate is no more. Their troubles are now over.

Mine have only just gotten worse. Along with anger and disappointment, it is I who now is caught in the machinery of German funeral bureaucracy. This is what happens when you live in one country, die in yet another, are a citizen of a third, and spent your life gallivanting and working all over the planet. There were periods where I had absolutely no idea on which continent my father currently was living on. We weren’t exactly “close”.

Papa was a rolling stone
Where ever he laid his hat was his home
And when he died, all he left us was a loan
(which we’ll never see paid back).

My father was a restless nomad. He gathered no moss — only belongings nobody wants.

Mr. Hönigsperger: Man on a wire

When he did stop over while he was on his way somewhere else or when he happened to be working nearby, our home acted mostly as free lodging. Except for criticising, he didn’t get involved in our lives and showed little interest in the core of our person.

It was all about him. He was too important to stoop to humility and most certainly had to be taken with a pinch of salt. As the first-born, I grew up knowing his mannerisms and accepted them as “normal” because in the eyes of a young boy Dad is “awesome”.

Daddy Cool: Father and son, ca. December 1973

When he came to live with us three years ago he was in a really bad situation.

His life plans had crumbled; he no longer understood the world. He had become obsolete. Brexit and the corona pandemic pushed him further down the decline. Instead of affording the chance to re-connect, our relationship grew progressively worse as time went on and I learnt what a bullshitter par excellence the man had been all his life. He sowed seeds of discontent wherever he went and burnt bridges when he left again. Little did he realise that he was burning his boats too.

We should be considerate to the living; to the dead we owe only the truth. –Voltaire

He wouldn’t understand that his present situation was the sum of everything he’d ever said or done throughout his entire life. He couldn’t move beyond tragedies and unfairness from the past; he scratched open old wounds and stubbornly refused to change his behaviour.

He appreciated neither offbeat comedies nor science fiction and therefore didn’t grasp the reference when I once described my efforts to those of Luke Skywalker’s in redeeming Darth Vader. If “there is still good in him” then he certainly didn’t want it known for fear of being exposed as weak or anything less than perfect. He was quick to change the subject when a conversation got too close to revealing his lies, hypocrisy and flawed ideologies.

To a child, Dad was an important guy who had loads of money, knew how to fix everything, travelled to many an exotic location, and worked hard to provide for his family.

Security guard at the Songo village, near Cabora Bassa, Mozambique, 1974

As an adult, I realise how hard he did work to blow money on ephemeral trips and things that are precious to nobody but himself. He was a poor investor, and his lasting legacy shall be that he’s made me re-evaluate my own priorities and values.

Papa never was much on thinking
Spent most of his time chasing women and drinking

My father may have helped raise me but it was my wife who made me a man.

A man is never complete until he is married. Then he is finished.

Jokes aside, here we are, back to sorting photos: Many pictures of him will be filed away. I can deal with those because I’ve seen them many times — but there is one picture that I dread discovering: that one photo that, ultimately, would be the last one of my father alive.

Mixed emotions? Oh, absolutely.

All photos via Herbert Hönigsperger Snr.

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