Saturday, September 14, 2019

My Father, The Younger Years

Growing up, my mother didn't work.  It was my father that worked and I spent time with my mother.  My father would wake up early to take the subway to his job in Lower Manhattan.  I knew he worked in an area called "Delancey."  Associated with this locale was "The Bowery."  My father took my to Katz Deli the first time and ordered me a hot pastrami sandwich with spicy mustard.  I didn't like roast beef at the time so this strange meat with mustard, my nemesis at the time, was not going to go down well.  I can remember eating it on rye with tears in my eyes because my finicky self was about to consume the things she loathed.  I have disliked rye bread all my life and now that I'm gluten-intolerant, I'm thankful about it.

My father worked for Bunker Ramo.  He would bring me old stationary to write and draw in.  He understood my love for writing even then. Looking back and remembering who I was, I didn't understand my father.  He could be harsh.  He was logical.  I didn't understand his logic.  He would tell my mother in his precise and fine Spanish to speak to me in Spanish.  He would demand that I only speak in Spanish and he would correct it quickly when my verb tenses were off.  I didn't speak English first.  My first words that were written down were, mama, no.  My father loved poetry.  He loved the lyrical nature of literature.  He would make me memorize Bible verses and poems.  I would recite words I had no idea of what they meant.  Now that I think of it, I would ask him the meaning of words and he would tell me their definitions without looking.

My father to me was a stocky man,especially when I was little.  I had no idea of height nor I got the sense that he was short.  I knew that he worked hard. He would come tired in his dress shirt and suit.  He wore professional dress all of his life.  Even his hang out clothes were button down.  He never looked good in t-shirt.  He would wear socks with his sandals.  Black socks with sandals.  These were all forgiven back then.  My mother and I would conspire around my father.  She was submissive to him in a way that I marvel at now, but she was more real to me.  She loved mysteries and puzzles.  She was sweet and kind.  She was well-loved.  An extrovert of the highest kind, she could talk to anyone about anything.  My father, sweet man, was an introvert, highly intelligent and highly logical.  Sometimes when I talk to my son, I can see my dad there.  He has his exact eyes down to the astigmatism which means that both my father and my son has to wear glasses all of the time.

I think I have mentioned this before but if I had to choose a parent to live with, I would always pick my mother.  She was my best friend and my hero.  I loved her in a way that bordered on worship.  And she loved me.  My father was the man who was not affectionate who could be harsh and demanding who worked all of  the time and was older than the other dads.  He slept too much for my liking and showed me love by surprising me with random gifts and with limited time.  One day, he came home and brought me a beautiful Dorothy doll from The Wizard of Oz.  She was complete with basket, Toto and ruby slippers.  She was so beautiful.  I didn't understand why I got it, it was just because.  He would read to me with his halting English accent, so mangled that his English was hard to understand.  He couldn't say the s sound without saying the e before it, even if the s came at the middle of the word.  Cinderella was really Esinderelia.  He would pronounce the ll correctly and he would roll the l sound so it was neither y nor j sounding.

It's hard to recall my father prior to my mother dying.  He became more real to me after she died so in my mind there is a division of time: before my mother's demise and after my mother's demise.  Here is one thing that my father had that I utterly respected.  He could be a hard man but he loved God.  He would cry singing songs with his horrible out of tune voice.  He would cry anytime he had to talk about God.  Every. Single. Time.  It was embarrassing for me as a child to see my father cry this way.  Now I think about the work that God had been doing in his life.

My father was an electrician.  Why did he wear a suit to work each day? We owned our little house in the Bronx and it was paid for.  My father dutifully changed out his car ever 5-7 years.  I was sent to St. Frances of Rome, the Catholic school when PS 21 was so much closer.  I didn't understand then that my father worked in technology, not just electronics. I didn't understand that my father made good money for an immigrant coming from Cali, Colombia.  I didn't understand then that when he was harsh, he was protecting and preparing me for a harsh world.  My father understood that the lessons I didn't learn in love at home, the world would teach me, without love or grace.  I didn't appreciate this then but as I teach and parent my own children, I often ponder the wisdom of my father who I love so much still.  How blessed am I to have had a dad like him!

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