by Jordan Abraham
I’ve been thinking about personas lately—who we are and who we are perceived to be; how people only ever see slivers of our lives, and how everything that we are, or have been, is hidden from view.
In my father’s art room (my old bedroom), there is a montage poster which his staff created for him when he retired. Among others, it includes a picture of him as a young bandana’d-dude playing bongos with an ecstatic look on his face. Another depicts him playing soccer, superimposed with images of “the director of city planning”.
Whenever I visit, I find myself contemplating that poster. To my sister and me, Dad was a quiet, slightly mischievous guy who was well-respected and honourable to a fault. We never really thought about what he did for work because he never brought it home. We saw oil paintings with his name on them from the sixties in a closet, but, you know, that was before we were born, so, who cared?
To us children, he was a great dad who allowed us to explore life knowing that we could always go home again. That was it. And then, the poster. There was a man who loved sports, sports cars, jazz, visual arts, architecture, reading, and traveling—what happened?
Us. Jordan and Ramona.
He became the perfect family man: Put his brushes down, bought a house and a station wagon. He started going to synagogue with us and helped us to see a larger world.
He didn’t just fool his family. He fooled everyone. His colleagues had no idea that he could paint or use an SLR camera. Nobody at Beth Jacob Synagogue knew about the Datsun sports car or the Volvos that he owned, when they were so rare that owners waved at each other on the streets. His Bene Israel community in Toronto didn’t know he played the bongos and the wood flute.
The sports cars, soccer balls, and bongos may be gone, but the art remains. By now, most of the Beth Jacob community has seen Dad’s Chinese brush art with the vibrant colours and messages of hope, the lighthouse paintings—depictions of lone beacons in the darkness and turmoil. I wanted to show something different.
The simple landscape on display at Beth Jacob Father’s Day exhibit speaks to me because he based it on a shot I had taken at Coote’s Paradise early one morning. he photograph is dark and, frankly, boring, but in that landscape, Dad imagined rich colours, textures, and atmosphere.
In a way, it is an example of how I perceive our father: always finding the extraordinary—even in the mundane.
Thanks, Dad, for teaching us to experience every moment of our lives in colour and for (finally!) allowing us to see beyond the personas.
Jordan Abraham is a founding member of the klezmer group Touch of Klez. His father, Victor Abraham, is a stalwart and long-time member of Beth Jacob Synagogue.