Stanley Burdette Pafka
I was told that my father Stanley was a bum, a drunkard, a liar, an indigent, a wanderlust, and just plain crazy and that he was dead. I was told he abandoned me and didn’t want anything to do with me and he couldn’t take the pressure of having a child which is why he made up the last name “Pafka”.
On a weekly basis my brother was given money to light candles in church for his father and trips to the cemetery where Frankie's father was buried occurred monthly.
When I dared to ask about my father, my mother's fervent prayers were that she hoped the “bastard suffered.”
I lived with the pathetic images my mother painted and was continually reminded by Mary of my father’s shortcomings and how I was just like him. I’m not sure what the similarities were, not being any of the things in her descriptions of him, but she seemed confident that I was a mirror image and would disappoint her in the same sweeping manner that he did.
I dreaded every Father’s Day. I would fantasize what park bench he was sleeping on with beer cans strewn all around him, or living in some homeless shelter or in a cardboard box on the street. There was no other image I could conjure up. Any and every bum on the street would be a focal point. I would drive by a bum and mutter to myself, or anyone else who happened to be in the car, “Hi dad.” Ludicrous I know, but I could never let it go. No amount of therapy in the world could convince me that a person like this would be better off NOT to partake in my life.
That was until I was in my 40’s. I was working at the Yale Computer Center and out of the blue I decided to “Google” my last name Pafka, just for laughs. Having lived with the theory of the “made up last name” I was curious as to whom indeed, would have the last name Pafka.
Imagine my surprise when I found 6 living Pafka’s in the New York state area. My curiosity was peaked. Who could these people be? Could it be possible that my mother had been lying? HA! When wasn’t she self serving? But to lie about something so essential, so important was beyond even her, or so I thought.
I called each and every Pafka I found and said the same exact line to each and everyone. “Hi, you don’t know me, but my name is Suzy Pafka. Can you please tell me if you’re related to Stanley Pafka”? I received the same response from everyone. Yes they replied, “Stanley is my cousin/uncle/brother in law.”
As the conversation continued these long lost relatives filled me in on what they knew to be true. Stanley had left New York, joined the army, lived in Connecticut for a while then moved on to Boston where he died.
To say I was on a roller coaster of emotions would be to put it mildly.
A few weeks later I went to Boston and spent 5 hours in the Hall of Records researching the Vital Statistics stacks for father’s death certificate. But when I found it, it was like hitting pay dirt.
There it was, in black and white- no grays about it. Stanley Burdette Pafka, the same name that was on my birth certificate.
It took me a few days later to digest what had happened. My father did exist. He did have a real last name and so did I and it most certainly was and is Pafka.
His name wasn’t made up as my mother said. At least I had uncovered one piece of a puzzle that over shadowed my life.
So on to the next. I noticed at the bottom of the death certificate a woman’s name, Loretta Reynolds. The box was checked next to her name as the “Next of Kin.”
As I searched Directory information for this woman it occurred to me that I spent the last 40+ some odd years hating this man, my father who I never knew.
The possibility of finding the truth, any truth terrified me. As my friend Richard pointed out, to be rejected by your mother each and every day while she was still living was difficult enough. Why would I want to possibly make matters worse and find out once and for all that my father didn’t want me either? The overwhelming sense of rejection was outdone by all my questions as to “why” he would choose to leave. There had to be a concrete answer that would finally make me understand this issue of abandonment and let me go on.
I phoned Loretta with a new greeting, “Hi, I’m Suzy Pafka, Stanley Pafka’s daughter.”
I’m sure I threw Loretta for a loop, although she was kind and helpful, she was of course cautious. Who could blame her? I told her of the saga and search I had been on. She told me that she was a friend of my father’s at the hospital where they both worked and that yes, that was her signature on the death certificate.
She agreed to meet me at a restaurant in Buzzards Bay, Cape Cod. I brought all the identification I had, birth certificate with my father’s name on it, my license and University ID, not wanting her to think I was some looney tune claiming to be someone I wasn’t.
As we sat and talked, my father’s life became real and clear for the first time. He had died in 1982 from a brain hemorrhage. Loretta had found him. My father had lived with Loretta and her family for 15 years. He raised her 5 children after her husband had left her for a younger woman. She was very much in love with my father and her kids considered my father to be theirs.
After a few hours, Loretta excused herself to make a phone call. When she came back, she inivited me to her house to meet her children. They were expecting us she said.
I hesitated. The emotions were mixed. I found him, yes, but too late.
They knew him better than I did, but he was my father. This wasn’t fair.
Loretta would not take no for an answer. I agreed and was met with friendship, love and acceptance, from this “extended family.” They were wonderful. The house was full of photos of my father. Up until this time, I had never even seen him. Photos of him with Loretta, her children, her grandchildren lined the end tables and bookcases. Stories of my father, his likes, his dislikes, came pouring out from this family that truly loved him. They wanted to share the memories of this man. This was all bittersweet to me. I was jealous of this family that knew him and lived with him. The only thing I could contribute to his memory was the insane story of my mother, fearing all the while the insanity would be associated with me.
Loretta gave me his favorite blanket, his key chain and his photo, took me to the hospital where he worked as a cook, and told me what an avid reader he was and how much he loved baseball and driving cars. It seemed I had so many things in common with this man, but was I just grasping at straws? How could I have anything in common with a father I was never allowed to know.
My father it seems was in the Army, spent time in the Panama Canal and then spent a short amount of time in Connecticut before settling in Buzzards Bay- 2 hours away from me..... only 2 hours.
Loretta said my father never knew about me and that if they did, they would have come to get me. She said he always wanted children.
I later found out that my mother "confessed" to my father that I wasn't "his" to get rid of him. She did just that.
He had a military funeral when he died and is buried in a National Cemetery 10 minutes from her house. She took me to his grave.
This is where for some reason, it all came together. Seeing his name on the grave stone didn't accomplish closure. It opened up a world to my father that I had been searching and longing for.
I wrote to the Army and requested his medals and honors.
I now own those medals, a piece of my father.
And I finally pieced together probably the biggest mystery in my life.
So much for the father that never existed.
So much for the “made up name Pafka.”
My mother died in 1989 and I still have not gotten a grave stone for her, and I won't. Let my brother do it. She never liked any of the gifts I picked out for her anyway.