When I bought my 82-year-old father a computer, I never imagined the repercussions that act would have on our whole family. My father was no longer as physically active and I knew of other retirees that were keeping contact with ex-business friends on the Internet. Every member of our immediate family was online and in a total role reversal…the son bought the father a computer.
Dad had no computer experience whatsoever but my agreement with him was that within one week of set-up he would send me an email. That deed accomplished, I was amazed when the next week, he forwarded me a copy of an email that he’d sent to B’nai Brith Canada in search of the email address of the B’nai Brith in Uruguay. The body of the Uruguayan email held the answer: my grandfather, Harry.
80 years ago, after two trips back to Russia to bring my Grandmother’s family to Canada, my grandfather deserted his wife and two children(my dad and his brother), running off to South America with my Grandmother’s niece. My grandmother, not able to provide for her two children, placed my father and his brother in an orphanage. In the early 1920’s, it took seven years to declare her husband legally dead so that she could marry again and seven years later she reclaimed her children. The children had a new and loving father, but the scars left in my father’s psyche were deep. He never forgave his father’s flight.
In the 1950‘s, an Aunt contacted my father and tried to establish a relationship. From time to time she would furnish him with some news of his father’s family, but even what she knew was sketchy at best. My father learned that somewhere in Uruguay he had a half-brother and that other members were dispersed throughout the world. Their family history was similar to many Jewish families: dispersal and reunion.
Within one week of the now famous Uruguayan email he received a response titled “Your father’s family found”. Eighty years of pain melted as he was able to establish an e-mail relationship with his elder half nephew. Sadly, he found that his half brother had died just three years earlier, and his father had died in 1945. His half brother had three children: A daughter living in Israel and two sons in Uruguay, all of them on the Internet.
E-mails with old family photos began arriving and then were forwarded around the world. Finally, my father flew from Edmonton, Alberta to join us at Toronto International Airport to meet the elder half-nephew and his wife. We spent the afternoon trying to piece the family tree together and trying to soothe some of the hurt my grandfather had left as we began new relationships.
All my life, I’d watched my father struggle with abandonment issues from with events that took place three-quarters of a century ago. Years of pain seemed to fade away in the joy of coming together with our Uruguayan cousins. For us, Cyberspace has proved to be an excellent form of family therapy. I now know that buying my father a computer was the best money I’d ever spent.