Notes on Making My Father’s Portrait

Frank Rodick
13 min readMar 29, 2019

There’s music in everything, even defeat.
Charles Bukowski

Joseph (who can be trusted?) Archival pigment print, ©Frank Rodick, 2016.

So, here’s a funny story. Or maybe it’s not funny at all. My mother told it to me when I was around 25, swearing it to be truth not mischief, though she sometimes couldn’t help mixing the two together. Here’s how our conversation went:

“On the day you were born, do you know what your father did when the nurse told him he had a son?” I told my mother no.

“He fainted. He really fainted. Out cold.”

I said, “You mean he fainted because, what, he was overcome with the emotion of becoming a father?” I knew right away how stupid that sounded.

“No,” she said, suppressing what I think was an eye roll. “Because he wanted a girl.”

To which I said, “You mean he fainted from disappointment?” (I was thinking, Who in fuck faints from disappointment?)

My mother smiled and said, “That’s right.”

And we both laughed, in a conspiratorial kind of way, quite liking each other for a minute or so.

Months before I was born, my father, not hedging his bets, had chosen my name: Rita.

Rita Rodick, Rita Rodick. Roll that over your tongue a few times.

Put a Rubber Band Around It

His last days: painful indignities behind hospital bed curtains, mind-fucking drugs, an arsenal of tubes, bedpans, and machines monitoring what was left of him. Intubated, he couldn’t speak. The only way to talk was to write.

Some of what he wrote was cryptic, others things banal. (I have a green notebook falling apart but still useful. I would like it here. Put a rubber band around it.). Some was illegible. My father was proud of his beautiful handwriting, but by then his hands shook so badly all he could force out were scrawls.

For years now, in the bottom drawer of my desk I’ve kept seven loose-leaf pages in a blue file folder labelled USEFUL. I photographed these pages, taking from them the following sentences, which I would embed in the first five Joseph portraits.

Did I fall?

--

--

Frank Rodick

Photo-based artist whose work is exhibited and collected internationally. He writes about art and creativity, fog and mirrors. See frankrodick.com.