My daddy

I am a daddy’s girl all the way.  I grew up with my father, my mother and two older brothers.  I have always considered myself a “guy’s girl” because I was always close to those three men.  We watched baseball and basketball and fights.  We watched Westerns and Gangster movies.  I can be girlie too, don’t get me wrong; but I was raised with brothers and for the most part my dad did not differentiate between me and them.

I always tell people my dad was a feminist.  For a Puerto Rican male born in the 40s this is something rare.  I do not know what he said to the world.  He might have cracked sexist jokes or what not – but I never saw that side of him so I do not know.  I know the way he treated my mom on occasion was not the way he brought me up to be treated.  Maybe that is hypocritical, I don’t know.  But I prefer to view it as him wanting his kid do better and go further.  I honestly do not think he was always conscience of what he was doing.  To this day I don’t think he would openly consider himself a feminist, but he was.

In a world where women were frequently taught to be demure and “ladylike” my father always encouraged me to be loud and outspoken.  At times when my mother would protest that my skirt was too short or my bathing suit too revealing, my dad always laughed and said I looked beautiful.  From time to time he would laugh and say “You look kind of slutty” (pareces un bollito loco) and laugh.  As if to say “Do what you want, let them judge you, who cares?”  In a time and a place when women were taught to “know their place” my dad would tell me I should be a lawyer.  “This one, this one will be the first president of Puerto Rico” he would tell people when I was in college. 

My dad was always an athletic man.  My childhood memories are full of baseball parks.  He was always on a team, playing in some league.  When his eyes started to fail him, he started running.  We would frequently go to the beach and my dad would run, swim, snorkel.  In this regard I was always a girly girl.  I never wanted to exercise.  I would go to the beach with him and read on the sand while I worked on my tan.  He’d get home in the afternoon after a run and try to convince me to go with him next time. “You have the legs of a runner!” he would say.  “Yeah, but not the lungs” I would retort. 

A blue collar worker, my daddy worked hard his whole life.  Because of his hard work and his brains he would make it to places of authority in the factories he worked in. When I talked about getting a job he would always say “focus on your school work”. My dad didn't get to go to College, he went to a Community College for awhile in New York and always talked about the astronomy classes he took.  He got a telescope once and was always looking at the stars.  Another time and another place, who knows?

My dad was the proud black sheep in his family.  The youngest of 5 surviving siblings of a broken home, he saw his share of trouble in his youth. He was always proud of telling truth to power, and always being on the side of the underdog.   Even though he was on the straight and narrow most of his adult life, he seems to never forget the wild man he was and always welcomed those with a streak of independence in our home.  My extended family is huge.  My dad has 4 siblings, my mom  had 5, and then there were their cousins and all of them had their own families…each with their own black sheep (or two) who always knew they were welcomed at Tio Cano’s house (or Luis, or We).  My oldest brother claims my dad told him when he was growing up “If you are not in bed by midnight you better be home”.  My brother also says my dad would talk to the street junkies in the neighborhood in the South Bronx like they were friends.  When my bro asked why he said “you should treat everyone the same, no matter what trouble they are in.” And that’s how he lived and that is what we learned.

I left home at 22 and returned in ten months.  My parents took me in no questions asked.  For the next 9 months I was unemployed and sort of floundering.  I decided to go back to school and I had to go to San Juan because of credits and transfers and what not.  I had no money, no financial aid, and no job.  My dad took out a personal loan to get me set up so I could go back to school.  That was August.  By May I had eloped in Vegas and had quit school.  My dad never questioned me.  Never second guessed me.  When I called from Vegas to say: “Hey, I just got married”. My mom was speechless.  My dad said to my new husband: “Welcome to the family”.  No lectures.  My dad will always say: “It’s your life doll”. “Papi, people keep asking when we are going to have kids…” My dad: “They won’t raise them. Ignore them.  You have kids when you’re ready.  You will never need or miss children…until you have them.  Then you can’t live without them.” I eventually called again to say we were separating and it was amicable: “There is no need to get ugly.  You guys should always consider each other family.  It didn’t work out.  You move on.”

It would be over ten years before I could get back to graduate school.  This time I did it myself.  I worked as a staff member so tuition was free.  Working full time and grad school part time was not easy, but there was something in me telling me I had to finish what I started.  When I told my dad I was done: “That money you borrowed finally paid off.” He said: “I never gave it a second thought.  Best money I ever spent.” A few weeks later we are all sitting around the breakfast table, the whole family together again getting ready for me to marry in a few days and my dad stands behind me, rubs my shoulders and asks: “How does it feel to have your Master’s degree?”.  My mom said: “She is getting married, she is changing jobs, moving, and you are asking about school?”  My daddy said: “Most of us in this room have been married, changed jobs, and moved, more than once.  She’s the only one who has a Masters.”

That is my daddy.  There are a million other stories to tell but I won’t keep bragging.  He is older now.  More mellow.  His health has ups and downs.  I cannot get him to get a plane for anything so to see him I have to pack up the family and fly down to the Caribbean.  I know, not exactly a hardship – except for the cost of flying a family of four.  At 73 he is not the spry young hell raiser he once was.  Instead he is gentle grandfather in love with his “mun~ecas” as he calls us. After two sons and one daughter, he has been blessed with five granddaughters and says “All my granddaughters are beautiful, they really are.”  I know you think that what he is supposed to say.  But the dad that I know and love doesn’t say what he is supposed to say.  I am pretty confident that if one of us gave him an ugly grandbaby he would just say: "The grandkids are all beautiful…well, except for______.  She just isn’t.”


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