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This is just rambling
By Stefan Stoykov
*Editor's Note: This piece was previously published in the 2019 edition of The A-Journal from the University of Frankfurt am Main.
My father is the perfect epitome of a businessman. In fact, he’s so deep into his work that some years ago he moved away from home and relocated in his hotel. Then he’d be closer to the people he works with. To be fair, they work for him, or at least that’s what he’d say. He’s always been the one in charge and has had quite the number of people to manage in the last 30 years, and at some point in his career he turned into that type of a person who can only communicate with others by telling them what to do. His authority allows him to guide, instruct and sometimes even outright command people.
I had always thought that I was in no way an exception to the rule, and that he was constantly trying to command me as if I were an employee. Those orders, I was convinced, he hid in the guise of semi-fatherly advice, always introducing them with the words “No, the truth about (insert topic) is…” or “How (insert topic) actually works is…” Growing up I heard that a lot. Actually, the two of us never really shared personal things. It was either me talking about history or cinema or him telling me how the free market works, how to run a hotel and how to fire a dysfunctional employee. Every time my alienated father attempted to teach me something, I always thought, instinctively that is, he had no right to lecture me, so I always resisted his guidance.
But then the last time I was in Bulgaria, he gave me a ride from my home town to the airport, so we spent two hours alone. And as I’d expected, he began counseling me on how to find friends, how to negotiate for a car, how to thank people who’ve done you a favor by sending them a box of chocolates and a bottle of alcohol. I was quiet on the outside but all thinking on the inside. Then I had an epiphany, just like one of those moments in movies when a character comes to a realization and is illuminated by a light bulb appearing above his head. In a single moment, maybe even shorter than a moment, I remembered all the advice he had ever given me, processed them and linked them to my father, his background and personality. All of a sudden, my father seemed not so estranged and mysterious. I could understand his behavior. He wasn’t treating me like an employee he’s trying to boss around. Until that moment I was limited by my own prejudice towards my father’s words. The wisdom he’d always shared was his actual concern for me and the way I present myself to the world. For the rest of the ride I listened attentively. Everything he said made sense.
So, once I was on the plane, I began contemplating more deeply on all the advice he had ever laid upon me, and they kept me busy for the duration of the flight from Sofia to Frankfurt. I can write an entire book with his rules for life. More than 12 for sure. But for aesthetic reasons I’ll restrict myself to the three pieces of advice that both kept me busy on that flight and best illustrate him as an individual:
I remember the first time he told me that. Even life itself, he said to 8-year-old me, is a contract; God gives you life and the opportunity to experience it on this beautiful green earth but also puts diseases, addictions and debt in it. It’s always a balance between gain and loss. The goal for a successful life is to gain more than to lose. On the flight to Frankfurt I no longer had an argument against the life-as-a-contract idea. I didn’t agree with the narrowness and odd simplicity of it, but it helped me understand that my father was not only a businessman by occupation, but that his whole psyche was oriented to spot market patters even in the most obscure and abstract of places.
Number two is, too, business-like but rings a bit more personal:
2. If you end up having a boss, you’ve failed
When I was 12 or 13, my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. He wanted to hear me pledging my future to expanding the company he’d started, I’m sure. But that was nowhere near my “I want to be a filmmaker” reply. That did not bring him down, though, and he immediately began making plans for me: “You’ll have to be a producer then; they are the ones who win the most money and are the top people on a project. Everyone else works for them.” I was too young to counter his simplistic view then, but I doubt it would’ve made any difference because he continued with a speech on the importance of being financially independent, and the only way was to be your own boss. I thought if I became a filmmaker, even if there were a hundred people telling me what to do, I’d be happy. Now I see it from his perspective. I thought this particular view came from the times and ways he was raised. When he was the age I am now (22), he was living in a Communist regime, he was a professional swimmer and his parents were poor. So, not only was he supposed to conform to ideological rules he didn’t believe in, not only was he expected to train like mad in return for nothing, but he was also further limited by my grandparents’ financial hardship. And then he saw the pattern that money sets you free. And that was his prime drive. So, when Communism in Bulgaria fell, he didn’t hesitate to start a company. Maybe he was just low-key flexing or bragging by calling everyone else failures while he himself was his own boss.
Disclaimer for the third one: keep an open mind:
3. Never marry and never have kids.
I still feel rather ambivalent about this one. Not because it makes me and my brother sound like the biggest mistakes of his life but because I was 14 when he said that to me.
Just to clarify, he is not urging other people to never marry and never have kids. He is urging only me to never marry and never have kids. It’s not a good deal, he said, you’ll be legally bound to be responsible for another person. And if you’re a man, the chances to lose everything you have are quite big. Beware deceitful spouses; it all starts with hugs, kisses and promises but then you’ll find yourself in a courtroom because your wife wants a divorce because she no longer likes the way you talk to her about cheese. Or worse, you want a divorce. Or worse, you want a divorce and she doesn’t. All very unromantic I thought back then. During my time somewhere above the clouds between Sofia and Frankfurt I came to the conclusion that now I’m more inclined to agree with him. You can have a partner, I say, but marriage is yet another pointless label. Well, in Germany you get the tax cut but not in Bulgaria. The kid thing scares me, so I just don’t think about it. I’ve heard rumors it’s nice having kids, but so far I haven’t been convinced.
There is a pattern I found about my dad: all three rules are about personal freedom. You can be more objective in your decisions if you expect everything to have a good and a bad side. Being a boss comes with a great amount of personal liberty. No marriage and no kids mean no accountability. He does sound indifferent, but good thing that his actions contradict his wisdom. I’ve seen him treat actual contract not like contracts. He doesn’t have a boss, but there are people he’s responsible to, like business partners, the government and his family. And if he hadn’t followed that third one, you wouldn’t be wasting your time reading this. As Emerson says: “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
Anyway, it was enlightening thinking about my father and then writing about him. This article might have made no sense for most of you, but believe me I learned more about my father writing this piece than 20 odd years talking to him. And although I cannot illustrate a person fully in a mere 1000 words, there is a sense of exploration in them, a journey even. And just to make this article somehow applicable to your lives, you can experience the same journey, too. All you need is an alienated relative, some time to reflect and a pen and paper. Start with “This is just rambling”. That way you lower the expectations and give yourself some room to freely explore your subject without being judged.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.