My dad recently turned 70 years old. When he turned 69 last year, he half-jokingly declared that he was six years away from death, based on something he read about the life expectancy of the average American male. I dismissed his fatalistic prediction the same way I dismissed his mother’s $5 bet with her own daughter that she wouldn’t reach the age of 90. She was 92 when she died in 2013.
I admit, it shook me when I first heard him talk about his mortality. That’s not the strong father figure I’ve always known. This is the same guy who stood with a rifle in the street in front of my childhood home when teen-agers would tear around the corner at high speeds. As far as I was concerned, my Dad could fix anything, and he could do no wrong. To this day, even when he is upset with me, he has always been there to help me.
So when he broached the subject of his final years, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Surely, he will be around for a few more decades, just like my Grandma was. Then again, my Dad lost his own father at a much younger age. My Dad was just 36 when his Dad, my Grandpa Carlos, died at the age of 62. How did he get through those years without having a father to lean on? How did he take care of his own family, my mother, my brother and me, when times were tough?
I have had to deal with tough times myself. But I always had my father and my mother to help me out. I know how fortunate I am. Whatever poor decisions I’ve made, I can thank my parents for supporting me and helping me make better decisions.
My daughters don’t always greet me following a long day at work, with the “Hi Daddy” I used to love to hear. But they usually call me, or text me, wondering when I’ll get home. Just this evening, Carin told me our family dog was waiting at the front door for me. I thought about the days when my dog, Benji, would wait at the corner of our backyard, underneath the big bushes, for my Dad to get off the bus and walk from 4th Street, down Green Valley Road, and across our front yard, at the end of his own long days. We could always count on Benji to let us know that Dad was home. He would pop open a can of beer, mix it with tomato juice and relax, just like I mix my evening Martinis. I always felt more comfortable when my Dad was home. Every time Isabella begs to go to my Downtown office, I think about when I got the chance to hand out at my Dad’s Downtown office, and his walls filled with our school and Little League baseball photos.
Despite my Dad’s joking, I know he is happy and proud of his two sons, and especially his five grandchildren. We all love him unconditionally, even if he wasn’t such a generous father and Papi.
It’s been more than three decades since he lost his own father, who would have been so proud of his son. My Dad had his own mother around much longer. I’m so glad he was with my Grandma during the last few years, as he took her daily green chile hamburgers, or the beans and chile she looked forward to getting. My Dad loved his Mom and took care of her until her final days, which is the best lesson he could have taught his own sons. I’m also grateful that my own daughters got to share that relationship with their Papi and their Grandma Rise.
As each year passes, it’s increasingly more difficult to find a gift that my Dad might appreciate. This year, I thought I would simply do what I do – and put my thoughts in writing.
Happy Birthday, Dad!