al narrative profileMy Dad and the Sphinx! It wasn’t so much the the photograph that jolted me, because it was fuzzy and very small. It was the dear, familiar handwriting on the back. On the reverse of this photo, numbered 3 in a sequence, my father had written: “These were taken in front of the Sphinx. I’m 4th from the right. Old Moe (the guide) rode a donkey on this tour.
By the way, Moe has 3 wives and I don’t remember the no. of kids.” I examined the face of this man, holding the bridle of a horse standing behind him. My father, before he was my father, had traveled to Egypt and stood before the Sphinx! To see him in such an exotic locale stunned me, as if I had walked down the same street every day of my life and only now noticed the bright purple house near the corner. This lanky Pennsylvania boy, transplanted to Indiana after a war in Europe, had died when I was very young, so I’d never really understood much about his existence before me. I knew my dad had been part of a bomber crew based in Italy during World War II. That’s how he came to be in Egypt-he and his friends traveled there on leave.
In this series of photos, he is young and happily surrounded by the camaraderie of his buddies. The terror and gravity of dropping bombs while flying under enemy attack is not visible here. Neither is any suspicion that he will die from lung cancer at a young age. In the years since his death, I’ve thought a lot about my dad and wondered about his life. We didn’t have the opportunity to grow older together, and he left no messages for me, in his clear, round script or otherwise.
He was simply my dad, and there were so many things we never talked about: Egypt and the war, how it felt at 41 to know you were going to die and leave your wife and five children behind, or about what I hoped my life would be and what it has become. His death trapped me in a wrinkle in time. I’m forever the shy little girl he never got to see grow up. He is eternally the one-dimensional man who left his daughter too soon, remaining as much a riddle to her as the Sphinx.