I’ve been thinking about my dad a lot lately as the seventh year anniversary of his passing approaches. As many of you know, I decided to study German in college and spend my third year abroad in Austria and Germany because of my dad, Gene Bryant.
My dad was stationed in the army in Austria in the 50s (a trick of fate that he didn’t get sent to fight in the Korean War), and there cultivated his life-long love for the Germanic culture, with its history, classical music and opera, Bratwurst and Bier. As a kid, I poured over my dad’s army photos, fascinated by pictures of my youthful, confident father and his army friends taking on Europe. These pictures showed my dad as a young man I never knew (he was 58 when I was born) and a very interesting Europe that was in the process of rebuilding itself after the war. My dad never became fluent in German, but, fifty years after being stationed in Austria, he still studied his German books, teaching me such useful words as: Schweinhund, an insult that literally translates to “pig dog,” and Mach schnell, hurry up. When my dad passed away during the spring of my senior year of high school, I returned to his army photos and felt this incredible urge, maybe even compulsion, to visit the places in the photographs and learn to speak German. However, I was not prepared to meet my husband, the man who would turn my world upside down and who would mark a before and after in my life.
Looking at his pictures, today, I am stunned by the fact that I not only recognize but also know so many of the places he photographed. What was once an intangible dream–living in Europe like my dad–became a reality for three years and will remain an ever-present memory. I can only imagine what it was like when my dad was there in the 50s. He never liked to talk much about the army, although it’s pretty safe to assume looking at his pictures that he’d had a good time. I think it made him sad that he didn’t keep in touch with any of his friends after they got out. I remember prodding him once about it when I was 15. I got him to agree to let me use an online search engine to look up a few of his old comrades. Fifty years had passed since he had spoken to any of them. I managed to find the phone number of one of his friends in Chicago, whose name I can no longer remember. I shared the news with my dad excitedly. But it turned out we were too late. My dad called and his friend’s wife informed him that his friend had passed a few years prior. That was the first and last attempt my dad made at contacting anyone.
Reflecting on everything that has happened in my life, I see the truth in the saying, “Sometimes the bad things in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” When my dad died almost seven years ago, I never would have imagined that this tragic loss would somehow put me on the path to finding my future husband. As a photographer, I guess it’s fitting that my dad’s photographs were what inspired me to move across the world and learn a foreign language, thus falling in love with a Slovakian-born, Austrian accountant in the process.
In short, the worst thing I’ve experienced in life has directly led me to the best thing to ever happen to me. Without my dad’s passing, I have no idea whether I would’ve chosen to study abroad in Austria or if Miri and I ever would have found each other and fallen in love. The universe works in mysterious ways and although I miss my dad terribly and will never stop feeling the pain of his loss, I still thank God for the seventeen years we had together and for turning a tragedy into a blessing by connecting my soul to Miri’s. Love is the most powerful force in the world and it will change your life, if only you let it.