About my father Nifont Dolgopolov. Part 2

I wrote this text for the annual journal of the Institute that he founded (Moscow Institute of Geshtalt and Psychodrama), for its students and teachers, for pepole who miss him and for people who would like to get to know something about him and never got to meet him.

06 December, 2023

You taught me not to give up.

You told me many times that 'a crisis is a time to build.' Those who go far will be able to build during a crisis, and it is precisely in a crisis when the greater part of the foundation for the future is laid. Now, I have had the opportunity to face a real crisis that has affected many countries and places. Not just my own individual crisis, but a global and widespread one. I remembered your advice that it's time to build. It's not easy, but I haven't given up. We, your family, have come a long way. I hope the seeds will grow into strong, enduring plants and trees. It's difficult to find our bearings right now, but we haven't stood still. We are living with the brightness and activity that is available to us.

You taught me to trust myself and to do what I believe in.

What struck me about my father is how he managed to live his life exactly the way he envisioned it right up until the end, even if it seemed impossible from the outside.

For instance, when he first got sick, eight years before his passing, everyone around him began to anticipate which of his quirks would finally conform to a more typical pattern because of his illness. For example, I and others naively assumed that maybe he would stop flying on airplanes or at least flying less frequently. But no, right up until his last days, dad continued to fly just as much as he always did, with only the slightest adjustments to allow for diminishing physical strength.

Yet, he still had enough strength to observe all the peculiarities of life so that in his final year, he organized a professional trip to Brazil, which he in the end missed because of his own mortality - his passing. He didn't see any reason to limit himself in experiencing life in all its fullness, even considering his condition, and that included the joy of having a business trip to Brazil.

Social expectations and roles for someone who is dying often lead to a narrowing of interests due to illness. They are expected to lose the ability to support others, and all that remains for them is to accept new limitations and receive sympathy. I believe those who visited my dad in hospital can attest that there was no need to speak to him in hushed tones or express pity. He yearned for people to share news, impressions, thoughts about work, affairs, relationships, and creativity with him. He was never a passive recipient of support; he continued to share his experiences, thoughts, and news that were mostly unrelated to his illness. It was astonishing to see how much he managed to participate in everyday life, both mentally and physically.

Dad continued to work with some of his clients until the very last day of his life; his last sessions were on Friday, and he passed away from this world between Sunday night and Monday morning. As far as I know, he had sufficient resources to support and assist these very clients. Despite being terminally ill, everyone was willing to stay with him and continue their work. He was their resource, not someone in need of help.

As it happens, I was planning to attend his group session, scheduled for a week after 22 January 2018. I wanted to be there to spend time with him, his active and enthusiastic self; but also, because I knew of the value this would bring to my own group work and my professional education and development.

It was important for Nifont to remain a giver; he was truly just that until the very end.

You taught me to grow and seek perspective.

One cannot ski in a 'plough.'

My father had strong beliefs about parenting and teaching. When I was five years old, our family went to the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia for a skiing trip, where I was supposed to learn how to ski for the first time.

Dad, as he sometimes did, took a firm stance on this matter and decided to take the initiative. The three of us went to a local ski school affiliated to the resort. There, children were taught to ski by forming a line and zigzagging down a gentle slope while keeping their skis in a 'plough' position.

Dad observed them carefully and declared, 'This doesn’t work for us!'

Mom looked at Dad with surprise, and I, too, didn't quite understand what was wrong with it and what we were looking for.

'This plough technique is unacceptable,' Dad explained.

Mom's face remained puzzled with more than a hint of curiosity and just maybe a bit of apprehension, I can't recall.

Dad led us to the gentlest of the non-training slopes and continued his explanation, 'I will teach you that skiing snow-plough style is a dead-end path.'

I asked, 'What is skiing in a plough, Dad? And why is it so bad?'

'It's when you go downhill positioning your skis in a 'V' shape to slow down. You should use the edges of your skis to brake but not to brake simultaneously whilst skiing instead of skiing’. He went on, ‘I want the child to learn to control speed, not to adopt an unnatural way of skiing. It's very dangerous to rely on voluntarily positioning your skis in such a complex situation and those who insist on skiing in a plough regularly collide with those who are learning to ski using edges of their skis, making it nearly impossible to avoid them without excellent skills.'

'But it seems like many people on the slopes consider slow-plough descents to be the safest for beginners, and kids who aren't part of a sports club almost exclusively learn to ski this way.'

'Let them do what they want,' Dad firmly replied.

You taught me to love life and cherish opportunities.

Once, I flew to Israel to visit you. You had just undergone surgery which had complications. Doctors were not planning to send you back to Russia, so your wife and I took turns flying in to stay with you and provide emotional and practical support.

I spent most of the day with you in the hospital, usually about eight hours on average. In the evening, I had to work because I hadn't taken a long leave for this trip. I needed to work for at least 4 hours daily, preferably 6 if I could manage. The schedule was tough.

Outside, however, there was the beautiful sea. Before going to the hospital, I had a large breakfast sufficient to keep me full until supper time; allowing for a snack in between times. Yet, the sea was so captivatingly beautiful that despite it not fitting within my reasonable time planning, I managed to swim in it every morning. I was often quite tired after a night of work. Still, I was ready to embrace the azure waters of the warm Mediterranean Sea on the most beautiful beach of the planet that it felt sacrilegious to miss such a chance, such value, such a rare opportunity. After all, in the heart of Moscow there's not much sea, sun or white sand. The rest of the day plans and activities had to be arranged indoors, away from nature and water.

So, I kept running between the sea, the hospital and my night work. My schedule was at its limit. But close family members don't fall ill every day, so this moment was significant and required an effort. One day, while we were talking in hospital, you suddenly changed your expression, looked a little sad, even seemed a little frightened as you asked, 'Are you swimming in the sea?'

'Yes,' I replied, a bit surprised. 'Every day.' Your face relaxed and lit up with calm joy.

'Well, then everything is fine,' you said.

In those few minutes of our conversation, I felt how disappointing it would have been for you if I had given up and I hadn't had this beautiful, unique, and wonderful experience in the sea.

Dad, you were a very passionate person, driven by a tremendous zest for life. You didn't want to have any sense of restraint. Once, you were flying to Australia. There were no direct flights from Moscow to Sydney, so you had a layover in China. In the city where you had your layover, there were ancient temples considered architectural masterpieces and significant places of oriental culture. You had 8 hours to leave the airport and come back for your next flight. You needed about 1.5 hours each way traveling to and from the airport. Within those 8 hours, you needed to find time to eat at least once, the only question was, 'Where to put your luggage?'

In recent years, I often travelled with a backpack instead of suitcases. This allows me some flexibility yet with relative comfort. However, you always had a wheeled suitcase for your carry-on items and a clumsy, oversized bag into which you stuffed everything that didn't fit in your suitcase.

With all this baggage in hand, you decided to visit all the planned temples, mostly scattered around the city. It was a hot summer’s day and you had to use public transport to avoid traffic.

You managed to visit all the planned temples within the that time. I know that when you said ‘run’ it meant not ‘hurry’ but ‘to run as long as your legs would carry you’ You were prepared to do anything to grasp and absorb the beauty whenever the opportunity presented itself.

About me

Maria Dolgopolova – a certified clinical and a jungian psychologist (Moscow Association of Analytical Psychology, an IAAP training candidate studying in CGJung Institute in Zurich) with a background in gestalt therapy (Moscow Institute of Gestalt and Psychodrama, Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) and in psychoanalysis of object relations.


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