Remembering a Heroic Father

Remembering a Heroic Father

In 1935, shortly before Father was transferred to Hrachovo, near Rimavská Sobota, close to the Hungarian border, he caught a large fish, a hlavatka, in the Hron River. It was a large catfish weighing over 9 kilograms. It created much excitement in the community. People didn’t know that such large fish existed in the River Hron. Father was photographed with it, and I was with him when he cleaned it and cut into many pieces. All fathers’ friends wanted to taste it.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”  

                                         — Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love, 1973

My late husband Charles Novacek loved his father Antonin Novacek and loved writing about him, too. On Father’s Day 2013 I posted “About My Father – Antonin Novacek 1896-1971” on this blog, an essay Charles penned for a writing class.

This Father’s Day I’m posting a slightly edited document I found in old computer files — notes Charles wrote about his father while writing Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance. Some of this information made it into the book, some didn’t.

As described by Charles, Antonin Novacek appears to truly be the “competent man” exemplified in literature. He could do anything perfectly or at least demonstrated a vast range of abilities and knowledge that made him a sort of “Polymath”. . . a Superman. . . a Hero.

I never met Charles’ father. Some people might think he sounded “too good to be true.” But if you knew Charles you know his father was that good and that true!

MY FATHER: Notes from Charles Novacek

World War I, 1916 – Antonin Novacek is seated in the front row, second from holding his violin

My father Antonin Novacek was a police officer.  He had substantial training in World War I, in the Czechoslovakian Legion in Russia as a POW, and the Police Academy in the new Czechoslovakia when he returned home in 1918.  Father had the strongest influence on me.  He was a nature loving horseman, he liked fishing and hunting.  He only killed animals on the overpopulation list.

He was a master carpenter.  He made beautiful, exotic furniture, musical instruments like violins, cellos, and occasionally enjoyed working on house construction.  He made shoes and gloves for all in the family, improvised clothing and coats not available to buy. He was a self-educated engineer who could produce anything he put his mind to.

At home he was a loving Father, husband, excellent cook. He learned about exotic foods from the Gypsies and learned baking by experimentation.  During war and the times when many things we’re not available Father could concoct anything.  When he was cooking he made me observe. He used to say that a good man must know how to prepare food and help his woman keep up the house.

From potato and fruit peels he fermented mash and distilled it in a device he made to produce moonshine Moravian style, ‘palinka’.  He explained that alcohol made like that wasn’t pure enough, so he had to run it through the still several times to reduce the methyl alcohol that could damage one’s eyes.

He encouraged me to read and supported my efforts to draw paint and carve with his knife.  Father would carve an animal from a piece of pine, let me observe how Imade certain cuts, showed me how to sharpen knives on a flat stone and how to make chisels from steel bars.  In the winter during the freezing night he would make a large piece of ice in the backyard by spraying a pile of snow with water and let me carve whatever I wanted.  He personally supervised my violin classes and singing.

In prison I remembered Father very much, I would ask, “What would Father do in this or that case, how would he handle the prison conditions?”

On outings in the wilderness he let me kill a hare or a rabbit, or in the river taught me how to fish.  Cleaning and preparing meat to cook was a special chore.  Father stressed many times how to wash it when there was plenty of water.  When he killed a rabbit and there was no water to wash it, Father showed me how to separate the portions of meat from the body of the animal, apply the cooking condiments, and roast the portion that was not contaminated.

He explained what to do when I injured myself and how to attend such an injury, or how to treat the horse when mounting or dismounting.  When the hunted animal wasn’t killed, Father made me kill it at once so it wouldn’t suffer.

Father made me very attentive to my Mother.  I always had to treat her with care and respect.  Discipline at home and in school was a priority.  I was made to obey Mother, my teachers and older people implicitly.  When I was facing elders (especially ladies) I had to be attentive.

When greeted I had to wait until a hand was reached out for me to shake.  I was not allowed to extend my hand first.  I had to follow the established rules without questions. I was not allowed to change any rules until much later.  I also went through a rigorous process to learn to tell the truth.  Father was straight and fair with everyone.  His son was not allowed to lie.  Later I was given the alternative to keep my mouth shut when I felt wronged.

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