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Janko Krotecjanko's obituary

May 24, 1946 - September 6, 2009

Am I My Father’s Son?

Where would I be without my father? I would never have been born? Not long ago, not now, not ever? However, I say … He was my progenitor, you say. So? I need to be eternally grateful? For what? One of my parents could have been someone else … then you would not be you, as you’ve been since your birth … then I got it! I, Janko Krotec, of this body and soul, would never exist without both of my parents. Not as me. They gave me the most precious gift of all: my life. For this magical gift, I am, and will be, forever grateful.

04-1-1963-mom-dad

Mom, Dad, me 1963

My father Jozef was born on December 18, 1912 just barely before World War I, a firstborn son of ten children. His father, my grandfather, died four years after his birth. (They said it was a stomach ulcer, today I wonder.) The custom was that a relatively new bride, my grandmother in this case, would re-marry within the family in order to keep the farm intact. The farm was transferred to my father. His uncle Franje was named as guardian, who would essentially become our grandfather. He died in 1945, just a year before I was born.

The family farm — the sustenance of life. Without a father or any other elder to guide him, my father had a lot in front of him. His stepfather spent a total of seven years in the army; three as a conscript and another four due to the breakout of war. It is through contemplation of my father’s early years that I begin to understand and realize how these shaped him. Of course this understanding is only my personal assessment.

He was the boss, always in charge, the decider, the judge, the jury – no right to appeal. These traits became even more ingrained during World War II which for him lasted more than five and a half years. It started with a general call to arms to defend the kingdom. He served as a blacksmith in a cavalry unit, deserted, and went into hiding. While in hiding some “friendly” neighbours managed to find him and turn him in. After using various torture and threat techniques, they decided not to kill him. Instead, they brought him back into the fold of the army which he promptly deserted again after a protracted argument about where to set up a kitchen. He would spend the remainder of wartime in hiding under a false wooden deck, beneath the sheep. At the end of the war he was arrested and jailed for six months due to an earlier “departure” from the partisan army.

During the war he contracted tuberculosis and spent a lot of time around hospitals or in bed at home. A deadly combination of illness and alcohol and cigarettes had hurt his body and spirit beyond repair. A lot of his rage and despair manifested in his disastrous relationship with my twin brothers. They both suffered horribly.

My first memory of my father brings me back to ploughing a field beside my beloved river Kolpa. I was perhaps four years old, good enough to walk in front of the oxen while guiding them back and fourth. I too “deserted” when he tried to quickly improve my knowledge one day by pulling me down to the damp spring soil by my ear and identifying something by name, a name I have still not learned. I cried all the way home – I have no memory of the consequences.

Another time, perhaps at the age of five or six, I was supposed to be helping in the blacksmith shop. Sent by the “god of thunder” to find and bring another required tool, with a German name of course; I had my nose rubbed in it. I still remember the name: durchschlog.

I remember a few instances when I rose to the defence of my mother and even my older sister. Following my departure from our homestead at age twelve, I would occasionally return “home”. During my visits my father and I had a distant, uneasy, mostly cold-war like relationship. Only once, for a brief moment, when I experienced my first infatuation, which I of course experienced as profound love, did he open the jail cell door of his heart to tell me that he too was once in love … a very long time ago. I still wonder if it was my mother he was talking about.

My father never escaped the dark shadow his mother cast over him. She was a silent shelter of his ways, always taking sides with him against my mother and my uncle, who on the basis of his stuttering was declared incompetent. This shadow grew until her death in 1967.

My family in the early 60s

My family in the early 60s

As I was pushed out of the warm and prickly nest of home, I made many promises to myself. Only one mattered to me most for many years: I would never become like my father. Life gave me many opportunities to challenge this commitment, often testing my resolve. My marriages collapsed one after the other — I was defending who I thought I was, limiting the possibility of seeing my father instead of myself in the morning mirror. I clearly succeeded in not being the same person as my father was. How could I be? I am another being.

I promised: I will be a better husband! Well, perhaps only different … my ex-wives would certainly vouch for this one.

Another commitment of mine: I will be a better father. Have I been? Will I ever know? Searching my heart and soul I conclude that I have been a different, not necessarily better dad. Trying to understand life I come to the conclusion that we are all products of our inheritance and life circumstances, the time we live in, the people we surround ourselves with … I am no different. It is hard to accept that I am not necessarily better, just different from my father. I am still working daily to improve my connection with each of my children, my family, my friends. I will only stop after my heart gives up.

Some messages taken from my father’s behaviour:

As a child I was in awe of my father’s intelligence – he knew everything. Observing him through the years, I realized that he was a very intelligent, if not brilliant, human being. To this day, I do not know how all his brainpower served him. Even if his first duty was to farm and feed the family, he preferred to leave “lowly” farm work to debtors of his earnings in the blacksmith shop. His exchange rate was 4:1. He was an excellent blacksmith. Most difficult and challenging tasks, like fire-welding and installing steel rims on wooden wagon wheels, stirred up the whole village. His commands, sergeant like screams, were heard far away. His helpers (us children) trembled on our bare feet.

Message I received from this experience: a clear command is necessary, while yelling is not.

His interest in politics drew him first to newspapers, then to radio, and eventually he was glued to TV. He spent his last few decades reclined in bed. We believe he invented the first remote control by fashioning a ten foot long branch into a channel-changing implement. He was very well-informed … and highly opinionated about world affairs. Too bad he had no one to share it with.

I too am a political news junkie.

Another memory with me to this day: I was sent to a larger General Store across the river which functions as a border with neighbouring Croatia. On the way back I lost ten para, one tenth of a worthless Dinar, with an official exchange rate of 3000 Dinars : 1 CDN Dollar. His royal cruelness sent me back to find it. What a selfish order, certainly destined to failure. I still believe that belittling me in front of all was punishment enough just by itself. Again, I do not remember the outcome or the punishment. I know it was not a belt of a cow whip, that treatment was exclusively used to tame my twin brothers.

Conclusion: There is always something positive in any action, by anyone. Always express both positive and negative sides. I am still working on this one.

During long winters, while others were preparing for spring work in the vineyards and fields, my father with his cronies would gather and endlessly play cards, eat prosciutto … and drink … usually until the barrels ran dry. Us children could only observe in silence from behind one of many beds in the room. We were even allowed to serve as long as we did not by accident taste any of the offerings. These gatherings ended as my father’s friends died one after the other.

Benefit of this experience: Share, be generous, treat all people around me like real people.

One way my father tried to indoctrinate his offspring was through slogans:

– Life is a battle.
I have taken this one to an extreme. For many years, I was against anything and everything. For the longest time I never developed my own world view.

– Save shiny pennies for dark days.
Perhaps influenced by this one in that I went in the opposite direction. I was going to show him what I could accomplish. When I tried to tell and show him, he did not want to know.

– Who, why, for what purpose?
My father was was a very inquisitive, deep digging, far reaching person. I too have developed, perhaps was born with a most curious mind. Only seldom can I find a bottom line that I can be happy with. My never ending search has served me both ways. In the army I ended up in jail for asking a question that the sergeant could not answer. Perhaps I had an agenda … In general, my profound curiosity has served me well. Often I have discovered a “better” way to operate in business and lately even in my personal relationships.

– Moving slowly we get to go far.
Fed up with his self-absorbed existence, I sprinted through most of my life. Late in my life, I was told to slow down and get real.

– There will be shortage of everything — only we will exist.
My determination to provide, to materially do all I could to sustain and feed my family has always been a very sacred obligation. It was an obsession I took too far for too long and missed my children’s childhoods. What a price to pay …

– Forethought is a mother of wisdom.
Hmmm … and where did it get you? In my shortsightedness, I ran through much of my life causing carnage and disarray taking no prisoners. Finally, I started to accumulate shreds of wisdom. I tried, I failed, I learned. Finally, I can claim small successes and thus get to know myself better.

In conclusion, these thoughts come and settle in my core:

The more accepting I become of who I’ve been and who I am today, the more appreciative I become of my father. Respect for others begins with respect for oneself. I am my father’s son, as he was his father’s son. I am finally beginning to understand him a little better. This process, and it is a long, drawn out process, would be somehow easier if I could share these discoveries with him. He died almost thirty years ago and we were not ready for dialogue. We never corresponded, never really talked to each other about anything meaningful. Alone, given my life’s circumstances, I finally have an opportunity to start working it out. Perhaps I will never finish, though I am on the way. The more accepting I become of myself just as I am, the more I allow for the memory of my dad to rest comfortably in my mind — as he was in our experiences together during my younger years.

To all who have followed me this far:

Keep searching, communicate whether or not your father is still alive. Tell him you accept him; even more, tell him you love him … just the way he is. It will be perhaps the beginning of a healing process. Perhaps you have a great connection with your dad, you can always strengthen it. Be kind, gentle, generous, curious, and loving. As the saying goes: love conquers all and is the only one remaining at the very end — it is eternal. When I ask, “ Have I lived?” I am really asking, “Have I loved?”.

For myself, I need to add this to the memory of my father: Thank you for teaching me what you knew. I am grateful for your contribution to my experience of self as your son. I may not be in love with you, I however do respect you. Fair well my friend …

Until next time …

With love and affection,
Janko

Hope is a waking dream.” Aristotle

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