My father, Gordon Bishop, created myths and lived them. It was a marvel how someone who was half the person they used to be—walking around without one leg, one eye, one breast, and the love of their life gone with one wrong turn—could make you laugh so hard and still have so much sparkle. When you were with him, you knew you were in the presence of someone rare.
We tugged at the strings of our single-father, only-child relationship. Living together in cramped quarters, our souls grew intertwined as vines. My manuscript was always parked on his desk, waiting for his pen. I woke up each morning to find his toothpaste-scrawled notes on the bathroom mirror and went to bed listening to his wild stories.
Dad outlived his six-month prognosis for ten years. He had been dying for so long that when the moment of his death actually came, I was shocked. But true to my Jewish-Javanese upbringing, I thought it kismet that he died—after a long battle with cancer—on the anniversary of my parents’ wedding.
They were soulmates, indivisible even by death.
I’ve dedicated the years since my dad’s death to writing a memoir about my childhood, my father’s role in overthrowing Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship, and the global journey I made with his ashes. The memoir recounts these discoveries through the lens of new motherhood as I raise my beautiful daughter, Sienna Jane, and carve out my own identity separate from—but entangled with—my parents’ looming shadows.
When I returned to Indonesia for the first time, I happened to land in Bali on Kuningan, a day when the ancestral spirits descend from the heavens. On the road, I buried some of my dad’s ashes next to my mom’s grave. The rest, I unearthed. I salvaged family relics, revisited childhood memories, retraced my parents’ footsteps, interviewed anyone and everyone who knew them, and chronicled it all. A CIA recruitment? A Parisian artist commune where Dad lived with Salvador Dalí? My mother’s death—a possible murder plotted by the regime?
Deciphering their stories was like trying to read burnt pages of a book that crumbled away as soon as your fingers touched them. I played detective—a fierce attempt to interpret fragmented fables passed down my ancestral line and try to make sense of them while shaping them into literature. Writing this memoir has given me the opportunity to bring my parents back to life and spend extra time with them. It is my attempt to heal.
I adapted the last line of my character sketch from For Gordon, as ordered, a poem written by my dad’s friend Robert David Cohen. I feel that it encapsulates my dad’s unbreakable spirit.
NAOMI MELATI BISHOP is a writer, editor, and educator from New York City. She received her MFA in fiction from New York University. Naomi was born in Indonesia to odd soul mates: a Javanese countess and royal court dancer mom and a quixotic poet-activist New Yorker dad. Her work has appeared in The Best Women’s Travel Writing, VICE, NYLON, i-D, The Hollywood Reporter, and Billboard. She is the recipient of the Nancy Lynn Schwartz Prize for Fiction, Silver Medal for the Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing, and honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award. Naomi runs an editing service and is currently working on her first book, a memoir—a weave of travel narrative, magical realism, and family folklore. She lives in Manhattan with her daughter. Find Naomi on Instagram @NaomiBishop and Twitter @Naomi_Bishop.