I don't really know my dad, or more correctly, my papi . I mean really know him as a person - what made him get up in the morning, what he dreamed of when he running about as a 10-year-old, what his favorite color was. I thought of asking mami, my mother, who he was, but realized it would be him through her filtered eyes and not really him.
Oh, about stories about my dad. Nothing singular stands out. I pull at the yarn of my memory and just a short snippet here and there comes out - it doesn't unravel whole at my feet. Little fragments, brief snapshots. A few disjointed scenes from family vacations in Atlantic City, another at a beachside cottage on the Jersey Shore and a couple of excursions to Disney World when we lived in Florida. I remember tiptoeing at home because my dad was sleeping from his night shift job - his second job. Most of the time I remember my dad was working and not home. He was more mythic than real and was often a powerful symbol to instill good behavior. "If you don't stop it, just wait until Papi comes home," Mami would often scold.
My parents came to the U.S. in the short window of opportunity that Castro let Cubans leave the country - if and only if they left all their worldy possessions of value behind. So they packed a few clothes and photo albums and hopped on a plane to New York City.
He was 31 years old and my mom was 21. He had never quite graduated from high school. There is one photo of him in my mind on the famous Varadero Beach before all of us where in his lives. He is lounging out on the sand full of ease and there is a sparkle in his hazel eyes. I don't have any pictures of him right now to share, but he was tall and resembled Errol Flynn when Flynn was sporting a swashbuckling mustache that is. (That's Errol Flynn in a shot that looks a lot like my dad at end of the post.)
It probably obvious why an immigrant man without an education and three daughters and a wife to support was often working two jobs. He took any job he could get. I remember one stint as a car salesman. But more often he was working at Teamsters Union warehouses and he eventually became a grocery store warehouse foreman. He was very religious about saving every penny. I certainly remember all the times I asked for a toy, or to go skating, or to a movie, or for designer jeans. I knew the answer before I asked (if it cost money the answer 99% of the time was invariably "No".) I don't recall ever going to dinner out as a family. By the time I was in high school, we were living in a middle-class neighborhood in Miami and my parents were constructing another house from stratch in a tonier part of Miami. They had stumbled onto real estate as a way to get ahead.
But the twinkle was long gone. My dad's eyes were vacant. Maybe immigrants are different. Always striving for a better life for their children. "We're sacrificing for you." The light at the end of the tunnel isn't even, necessarily for them, but there as a distant beacon for the next generation. The word sacrifice was like a close relative in our home. The American Dream beckoned; and they were beginning to see signs that maybe in their own lifetimes they would have a two-car garage in a beautiful house, a TV in every room and whatever else Americans desired and possessed.
Work, eat, sleep. When he was home, he was visibly exhausted and on edge. He was more of a caricature than a live breathing person. That was unless you riled him up - oh, then he'd come to life. It was best to avoid flaring him up. Almost anything a self-centered teenager asks for is yet another task, another burden, another stress. I kind of knew that but I'd often ask anyway.
The truth was I didn't want to live in the snobby neighborhood they were building a house in. Just because they had a house didn't mean my parents could afford the rest of the trappings necessary to keep up with the Joneses and I resolutely didn't want to go to that high school as the new poor kid on the block. By the point I was in high school, we weren't scraping by to live in middle-class surburbia so I never understand why they sought so hard to ratchet it up another level and scrape by in an upper middle-class neighborhood. The house construction was a real stress point for my parents because it turned out the general contractor was a crook. I don't know the details, but it was the topic of many after-dinner conversations my parents had between themselves. His stomach ulcers got worse.
Papi died a few weeks before my senior prom. I think I was in denial that he was terminally ill. In a blur of probably less than three months, he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. It sadly ironic but he was more mellow and gracious in that time period than I ever remembered him. I wondered if that side of him was closer to his true nature.
I think as I write so why am I sharing the condensed version of my dad's life? I don't mind sharing the personal but only if there is a revelancy to others. Really who cares besides my family?
Possibly no one that could use a jolt will be reading my blog. I think he would want me to hit "Publish" for him. And I'm writing this for myself as much as anyone. A few weeks ago a friend says, I notice you are not there when I call you. You're not present, he continues. He recognizes the change. One must stay vigilant for life. I drive by a billboard for me: "Develop a strong play ethic." The T-shirt on the clerk at the Saratoga coffee stop reads: "The best things come out of the blue."
I see that Anita Sharpe at Worthwhile reads obits. "I look for long life and, if there is a photo, a twinkle in the eye," says Anita as she scans obits. Did I mention that my dad was seemingly "healthy", slim and still very handsome until near the end of his life. He died at 52.
I recognize vacant eyes when I see them but they don't even register me nor notice I can tell. Our eyes don't catch. Everywhere there are people dimly focused on a distant faint light. Footsteps barely lift the ground in a dry, dull slog. The desert sand is hot and gives too much under our weight but the oasis beckons. Everywhere people are so focused on the surface of life out of their immediate reach that they miss the moments, the sunsets, the relationships - the priceless. If my dad were here he would probably tell you the same thing now. Don't wait. Don't postpone. Not "when this happens....then we'll....then I'll"
Live now. Now is all that matters.
"Work, eat, sleep" is a self-imposed life sentence. Some leaders may think that little of their lives and their futures, but millions of employees and consumers are just dying to hear one say "Enough! I want more out of this for me, too! (No, not more money.) - Fouroboros blog
Just this Friday, I hear a start-up CEO reminding his team to remember the journey along the way to the destination.
Just this Friday, I see that ex-venture capitalist Jerry Colonna also hands out the book, The Monk and The Riddle, to entrepreneurs (I do the same). The subtitle, The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living, was added only after the dot-com collapse. It wouldn't have sold with that subtitle back when I read it in hardcover in 2000. Randy Komisar speaks eloquently of the life deferment plan. (I'd call it the life deferment trap). After the IPO, I'll... When I retire, then....
Just this Friday, I write (coincidently, my dad rarely enters my conscious mind) about Kahlil Gabran's On Work poem because I get a short quote from the poem in my email inbox. I scour Google to find the full poem to share. Along the way I stumble across Henry David Thoreau's On Work. It whacks me straight across the head. Read it -slowly - in its entirety. (I'll post later as well.)
How can one miss the reminders?
The stuff of life is not stuff. Not the bigger house or the BMW or closing the next sales commission or jetting to the next overseas meeting. The stuff of life is in the precise unfolding moments with the people in front of you and the relationships themselves - the family that will play in that house or the son who will drive the car, the customer you'll share a drink with at the pub, or the taxi driver taking you to the convention in London. It's Father's Day. This post is not only about you as a father or mother or son or daughter but all the people you come across. Stop. Share a laugh, a smile. Exchange a life moment. Restore the twinkle in yourself and another simultaneously.
I'm not saying to quit your job and run off to Varadero Beach. I'm saying don't postpone joy until the perfect fill-in-the blank - it's there right in front of you in every moment wherever whatever you are doing. If you wait to live, as Thoreau points out, the risk is that fire in you has long been snuffed out - unaccustomed to joy and thus unable to enjoy the fruits of your efforts - by the time you get there.
It's Father's Day. I could care less if our family ever ate out of fine china. Heap up some black beans and rice on a paper plate and maybe we - just papi and I - could just sit on the porch and chuckle at the neighborhood kids come by to play with the dogs. I'd look over as the laugh lines crease around his face and he throws his head back, I'd catch the glimmer sparkling in my real papi's hazel eyes.
 Papi, is pronounced like the flower poppy than the British Daddy equivalent, pappy. Papi is Spanish for daddy and it's the only language I knew until I hit kindergarten. Old habits die hard and I never think of him as "daddy" but simply as "papi".