I didn’t have a chance to know my father growing up. My parents divorced when I was very young, and circumstances (and my mother) kept him away most of the time. I would see him sporadically, but he always had a kindness about him, a spark of warm joy, that I will always associate with his presence, and that joy was always memorable to me as a child. He was also a wise person, never one to speak just to fill up the air with words. I was fortunate enough to have a surrogate, my step-father, whom I will always hold close to my heart and in my thoughts. But growing out of childhood and into adulthood, one of my greatest regrets was not being able to know my father more than I did.
What I do know is that he was a hard worker, a survivor, a thinker, and a wanderer. He was a Mexican Gandalf, a wizard of the Southwest. He was caring and sweet, never one to hide his jubilation at seeing one of his sons or daughter after a long absence. I recall one such meeting, when I showed up to meet he and my sister unexpectedly, and the sound and sight of him openly weeping at seeing me will be a memory that I will always cherish.
He was also a storyteller, and never at a loss for a good yarn. Long have I thought about the attributes that he passed on to me, and telling a good story is the one I’m most grateful for. Even after an accident that left him badly injured, and unable to speak, his need to tell a good story remained. With his expressive face, fiercely beautiful eyes, and hands that shaped the narrative from thin air, his storytelling continued.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how good of a son I was. Life has a way letting the years flow by like so much water, and my visits to him weren’t as frequent as I would have liked, and I know not as frequent as he would have liked. I’m not really sure if what I can say in a thousand or ten thousand words will ever explain what my father meant to me. What I can say, though, is that he was as strong a person spiritually as I have ever known. I can vividly remember a visit that my wife, sister, and I had with him while he was working as a ranchhand in southern Arizona. It was summer, and HOT, but we had arranged to stay a cabin that my father’s employer owned, which was in the mountains where it was considerably cooler. However, the cabin was situated in a remote area that necessitated a lengthy four-wheel drive expedition into a small canyon. My father had stayed back at the ranch and was to join us later. As we were slowly making our way down the rocky path in my sister’s SUV, my father, like a scene from an old Western, comes up behind us on horseback, no saddle, no reins, on a horse that he had been training. As he approached my sister’s SUV, he asks her to hand him a couple of beers (but only because it’s so hot, Mija) from the six-pack that we had picked up in town earlier, then continued on at a gallup ahead of us, a beer in each hand and controlling the horse with only his legs. So, to say he was rugged would be a bit of an understatement.
Only a few years later, after his accident, the calluses on his hands had receded, his work-hardened muscles had atrophied, his singing voice silenced.
But his Faith remained. Everything that he had been, had been seemingly taken. Except for his Faith, and it gave him the strength to keep fighting. It gave him the strength to be a storyteller and a joker in the face of desperation. A few years after the accident, on one of my visits I walked into the room, saw his eyes light up, and I told him how good he looked. He smiled, and said that I looked good, too, except…”Estas un poco panzon” (you’ve gotten a little fat).
Rest in Peace, Father. I love you