There is a Polish saying: “Jakos to bedzie,” which translates, loosely, to “whatever happens, happens.” It’s a phrase that Danek Zasada often repeated to his 18-year-old son, Borys, whenever he was going through a tough time. Borys has been holding those words especially close to his heart lately, after the sudden passing of his father on January 1.
Mr. Zasada, a Sag Harbor resident, suffered a burst aorta unexpectedly on New Year’s night. He left behind his only child, and wife, Agnieszka Zasada.
Mr. Zasada’s death is obviously a tragedy, not only because of his sudden loss but because he was still in the middle of what he considered his most vital job as a parent — saving money for his only child to attend college. It was, according to his family, the most important goal in his life. With Borys currently in his senior year at Pierson High School, the family has set up a GoFundMe to contribute to Borys’s college fund for those who would like to extend their support and sympathies for the family. Mr. Zasada’s older sister, Monika Zasada, said she set up the page after an outpouring of requests from friends and others who wanted to know how they could help the family.
Borys has been doing his best to cope with the sudden loss of his father while in the middle of his senior year at Pierson. He has currently been accepted to a few colleges, and is waiting to hear back from his top choices — Fordham University, Georgetown and Clark. Until then, he’s keeping “jakos to bedzie” in mind.
“He would always tell me that, whenever I was worried,” Borys said last week, while on a break from his job at the Sag Harbor Gym. “The meaning of it is basically that everything will work out in the end. Maybe, in the moment, you’re having a bad spell but the opportunity created because of that will allow it to work out in the end.”
When sharing those words with his son, Mr. Zasada spoke from experience. The Zasada family is, in so many ways, the embodiment of an immigrant success story. They arrived from their native Poland when Borys was only a year old. Mr. Zasada took a job working in Schiavoni’s IGA, but always had bigger dreams. He felt drawn toward carpentry, and taught himself the trade, according to his older sister, Monika, who also lives in Sag Harbor, emigrating to the states ahead of her older brother. (They are the eldest two of four children). Mr. Zasada voraciously read any books he could get his hands on about carpentry and construction, working as a helper on construction jobs, and before long, started his own business, Agda Properties, doing everything from framing through window and door installation to exterior trim, siding, and interior carpentry.
“We ended up being pretty in awe of his ability, for someone who was not necessarily talented in manual labor or mathematics,” his sister said.
Mr. Zasada worked as a counselor in a juvenile delinquent center when he still lived in Poland, which perhaps had something to do with his strong belief in the value of higher education, and his desire to pass that on to his child.
Mr. Zasada’s sister said she did not intend to settle permanently in Sag Harbor, but fell in love with the town after visiting in the winter.
“It was a cold day, and all the lights were on in peoples’s homes, and if just felt like a fairy tale,” she said.
The Zasada family is from northern Poland, near the Baltic Sea, and so appreciated the proximity to the ocean that the town provides. She said they were also interested in being in the vicinity of New York City.
Ms. Zasada described her brother as a “curious” man, a trait he seemed to pass on to his son, whom she said shares a lot of his father’s qualities.
“I see Danek in Borys in the sense that he’s very talkative and loves a good argument,” Ms. Zasada said. “He also doesn’t shy away from a situation in which he’s the only person presenting a completely different point of view.
“Danek wanted for Borys to just have as much of an opportunity to higher education as possible,” she added. “Perhaps he felt that as an immigrant, it was even more important.”
Borys seems determined to fulfill his father’s wish and make him proud. He is hoping to study psychology.
Two weeks after his father’s death, Borys says he started writing essays and letters about topics and concepts he and his father had talked about or debated during time alone together, whether at home or in the car on the way to the gym to workout. They were close, and spent a lot of time together working out or playing soccer. (Borys was a member of the Pierson soccer team.) He says the writing has been therapeutic, and he’s shared it with friends and teachers, who have given him positive feedback.
It’s also helped him put his thoughts and feelings in perspective in what has been a difficult time.
“Life isn’t always going to be cherry blossoms or happiness,” he said. “You have to have the attitude that, despite the circumstances, you’re equipped, whether you realize it or not, to deal with it.
“I mourn him every single day,” Borys continued. “But I still have to do something that I think gives my life purpose. He always thought education was exactly that.”