As you may know (or will soon learn), our family has roots in Russia. Some of my great-grandparents (your great-great-grandparents) came to this country from Russia. The Russia they left was not so different than the one that exists now — huge income inequality, an autocratic ruler, Jewish people not particularly welcome in the country (though Czarist Russia was definitely tougher on our people than the current state, what with the whole “Pale of Settlement”). At the same time, the Russia of yore likely didn’t hack the U.S. Presidential Elections.
I mention this because it’s nice to be able to be proud of one’s heritage. But, it’s a little difficult to be proud of our family’s history in Russia these days (though, of course the Pogroms of Czarist Russia and the Pale of Settlement of that era always made Russia-pride a little difficult).
But, now the country where our family once proudly lived in a ghetto (again, Pale of Settlement) has really stuck its finger into the politics of our home – America, that is, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we don’t live in a Pale of Settlement (though some might argue that the Upper West Side is sort of a self-inflicted “Pale of Settlement” chosen by progressives like us). And, because of this “interference” it’s a little hard to feel any pride in Russia.
And, I’m here to tell you, as your dad, that’s okay. You won’t always be proud of everything in your life. The trick is not to deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist. You just face it and say “Okay, that’s there. I acknowledge it. Now, what do I do about it?” That’s the key — what do you do with the knowledge. The best course, is to do something positive. Be motivated to take steps that will benefit you and others. Remember, there are Germans of today, who remembering Germany’s history in the Holocaust, are absolutely committed to guarding against hate crimes. That’s a good model to follow.
So, don’t worry, just because you’re named “Ivan” doesn’t mean you’re destined and doomed to be a despotic Czar. You just be you.
In the meantime, that doesn’t mean you have to disdain all things Russian. For example, “Back in the USSR” is a very good Beatles song. Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky are pretty good. And, though smelly, kasha varnishkes is delicious.