A Colombian writer delivers a rousing, affecting tribute to his father, Héctor Abad Gómez, a professor and physician who was murdered in 1987 by radical political opponents.
Gómez—who, according to the author, had limited skill with his hands and once inadvertently hastened the death of a surgical patient—moved from private practice to become a passionate advocate for public health, in Colombia and elsewhere, and a fiery writer of books, essays and op-ed pieces opposing violence and promoting personal freedom and equality—ideas sure to get you killed in many places. The son adored the father and writes about what in many ways was an ideal, if not idyllic, childhood. Gómez was extraordinarily affectionate and latitudinarian in just about everything. He continually encouraged his son, profoundly patient with him and loved him with a patent preference that in some ways, as the author recognizes, was unfair to the author’s sisters. Abad remembers the conflicts in his family, notably the deeply pious Roman Catholic women who struggled mightily against the father’s more liberal religious views. He also remembers with lingering horror the death of his own talented sister to cancer. The author creates enormous dramatic irony in his text: We know from the beginning that his father will be murdered, so Abad imbues every moment with an aching pathos. The translators have preserved his facile and sophisticated uses of the language. One 205-word sentence, for example, unspools with absolute clarity. Sometimes the detail is grim and wrenching—a sewer pipe clogged with tapeworms, his poor dying sister’s physical decline, his father’s bullet-riddled corpse. One small reservation: a tendency—somewhat understandable—to quote excessively from his father’s publications.
Is there a father alive who would not weep at such an artful, tender tribute?