Inventing my father • Diana Markosian • Magnum Photos

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Inventing My Father

A search for a missing father from Armenia, to Russia and the United States via family photos, memories and a final reunion

Diana Markosian

Diana Markosian This is the closet thing I had to an image of my father. A cut out of him in my mother's photo album. An empty hole. A reminder of what wasn't there. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian I am standing in the courtyard of my father's home. It's the same gray, decaying Soviet building I remember as a child. You could say I've come home. But that's not how it feels. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian An image of my family together in Moscow, Russia. It was taken the same year we immigrated to America in 1996. USA. 1996. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian When I would ask my mother about him, she would look at me disappointed, "Forget him. He's gone," she would say. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian I eventually stopped thinking about him. I stopped listening to the stories told by my mother of the man who destroyed our family. Instead, I invented my own father: he was the man who always wante (...)
Diana Markosian My parents met in university in Armenia. It's odd to look at images of them together. They look so happy, so in love. All I ever knew was my mother’s disappointment towards him. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian All these years later, I found my father standing just how I left him. In a doorway, neither fully in or out of my life. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian My father said he had been looking for me. He opened a suitcase filled with newspaper clippings, undelivered letters and a shirt for my brother's future wedding. Items my put aside in hopes of meet (...)
Diana Markosian In the classified section of a local newspaper my grandfather wrote: "My grandchildren are missing. They lived in Moscow with their mother who took them overseas. Anyone with information, please he (...)
Diana Markosian For 15 years, my grandfather would trawl the newspapers in search of addresses to mail letters. Hundreds of them, sent to homes in America. None made it to our doorstep. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian But that was the past. The man standing across from me didn't recognize me. I didn't recognize him either. I felt out of place. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian Even now. There are moments when he seems to have changed, to have opened up a little. One night he shares his poetry with me. Another time he surprises me with tickets to the symphony and sneaks i (...)
Diana Markosian Not too long ago, my father had another child, a little girl. I should be happy for him, but when I watch him play with his daughter, it feels like a bruise someone keeps pressing. I can't help but (...)
Diana Markosian When I look at him, I see so much of myself. His desire to be alone and his need to create. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos
Diana Markosian I keep looking for him. I think I always will. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos

For most of my life, my father was nothing more than a cut-out in our family album. An empty hole. A reminder of what wasn’t there.
I have few childhood memories of him.  In one, we are dancing together in our tiny apartment in Moscow. In another, he is leaving. My father would disappear for months at a time. Then, unexpectedly, he would come home. Until, one day, it was our turn to leave. The year was 1996. My mother woke me up and told me to pack my belongings. She said we were going on a trip, and the next morning we arrived in our new home, in California.

We never said goodbye to my father. For my mom, the solution to forget him was simple. She cut his image out of every photograph in our family album. But those holes made it harder for me to forget him. I often wondered what it would have been like to have a father. I still do.