“Why? They still hate Jews.” That was my father’s response to my proposal that we visit his homeland. He was born in New York in the 1920s. His parents came from the east hoping to find a better life in America. His father, Harry, came from Ukraine. His mother, Lillian, from Rumania.
A small, only child, the product of generations hardened by random and spontaneous violence, he lied about his age and joined the Marines. In order, he says “to fight Hitler.”
He once told me, his eyes sparkling, of the time his father, with whom he used to spar, lost his temper and beat him up pretty bad.
In the 60s he became an ad man on Madison Avenue. A genuine Mad Man.
The lure of a new agency prompted a move to London.
Advertising is a chaotic, capricious industry. Now 40 and with a young family, he wanted certainty.
In the 70s my parents sold their house in Fulham and bought a pig farm in Devon. Not the suburban folly of Tom and Barbara Good, but an ugly concrete mass of buildings on a cold, north-facing hill.
The final job of the day was forking the shit we’d shoveled to the top of a steaming dung heap the size of a bungalow.
Cleaning and feeding the pigs was all-consuming.
A solitary week at the Atlantic Hotel in Newquay the only family holiday I remember.
In the 90s the stink and echo of squealing pigs went. The breeze-block buildings were knocked down. Mum and Dad retired. The farm became a relaxing place but full of memories. My Dad watches TV and rues missed opportunities.
When I became a father, my Dad’s lack of interest in my children reminded me of what I missed growing up, but you only have one Dad and I love him.
A native New Yorker, photographer Harry Borden’s earliest commissions were in the UK for The Observer. Career highlights include two World Press Awards and a solo exhibition at The National Portrait Gallery. He’s currently working on a series of portraits of single parent dads and a book on Holocaust survivors.