Friday, June 17, 2011
My Dad is my hero.
Ugh, I must have been such a pain in his ass...
He used to tell me "One day you will thank me for being a hard ass on you." He used to say "You see all your friends that you think are so cool because they get to run around and do whatever they want, but watch how they turn out." It's crazy, because Lawrence Fishburne gave almost the same damn speech to Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Boyz in tha Hood" like 5 years later, apparently I wasn't the only one raised by a dad who knew more than I did. Of course, he was right... well, partially. Some of those friends ended up getting fucked up on meth and turning into losers, some of them ended up getting their girlfriends pregnant in high school or just afterwards and having to become parents when they weren't even done being kids yet, but some of them also ended up going to college, getting good jobs and raising great families. I mean, it's not like I'm some rich, successful, well-disciplined man today because my dad was a hard ass on me during high school, but I guess I'm not in prison or sleeping on my mom's couch and stealing stereos to buy crank with either, so he probably was right, at least a little bit, about that one.
He used to tell me "When you get out on your own, you'll understand." Now that he was completely right about. When I moved out for the first time, my relationship with my father changed dramatically. For the first time since I was a kid, my dad and I got along amazingly. In fact, even better than when I was a kid, because he wasn't telling me what to do anymore. All he wanted to know was that I was doing ok and what was new with me. Of course, he called me at least once or twice a week to check in on me, so there really wasn't much new to report, but that was another thing that changed. His interest went from making sure I wasn't doing anything wrong to making sure I was doing ok. As time went on, we became closer and closer.
When I moved to Salinas with my wife while she finished college, my dad would ask me to come down every weekend and visit. We would bring a bag or two of laundry and pretend like we had other reasons besides just wanting to visit my dad to justify making the trip, but really it was just so we could see each other, make sure we were both ok, and not lose that bond we had built. The older I got, the more I dealt with the struggles and responsibilities of trying to make it on our own, the more I understood all the things my dad had told me growing up. He was right, he was always right, all along. The more I understood that, the stronger our bond grew.
When my wife graduated college, we moved back to the valley, to Fresno, and my dad would visit often. He was always making excuses to come to Fresno so he could call me up and ask if he could come by and say hello. Sometimes, when he had nothing else to do, he would just offer to take us out to dinner or a movie, just so we could spend time together. We saw a LOT of movies. We would talk, about what was going on in my life mostly. I was playing in Los Cochinos back then, and he was proud of my talent and believed we would go places, so he was always eager to hear about what was new with that. Sometimes he would ask when Shannon and I were going to finally get married, mostly because he knew she wasn't a big fan of marriage and it gave him material to bust my balls with. He'd say to her "I don't blame you, I wouldn't marry the son of a bitch either!"
That was the other thing about my dad, he loved to bust balls. I guess when you're Italian it comes naturally, he definitely learned it from my grandpa, who learned it from his dad. My dad was a pro at it though. My friends all had nicknames thanks to my dad, and the worse the nickname, the more he liked you. "Bitch" was like a surname "What's up, Bill Bitch?" That's how he always greeted my friend Billy. I remember the first time Bill flipped it on him and walked in and before my dad could say a word he shot off with "What's up BITCH!?" My dad laughed his ass off and said "Hey Bill, what's up?" That's how it worked. I'm guessing that if there's a heaven, they're both up there right now, giving each other an occasional dose of shit and waiting for me to get there so they can really light my ass up. If people wonder where I get my acerbic wit, my propensity to talk shit, my smart ass sense of humor and sarcasm... It's all my dad's fault.
Then again, if people wonder where I get my generosity, compassion, gregarious personality and readiness to make new friends whenever possible, it's all my dad's fault too. Often I have heard said about my dad "He never met a stranger," and it's the absolute truth. Everyone my dad talked to, he talked to them like he'd known them his whole life. He would always have a smile, a firm handshake and talk in a big voice. He wasn't timid or shy, he would walk right into the middle of the room and start talking to anyone who would listen. I know that's where I got my personality from. When people tell me that I have a way with words or that I am fearless when it comes to just walking up to someone and talking to them, I have my dad to thank completely for that.
He was a truly caring and generous guy. Not just as a father, but as a person. I remember when he came home late from work one night, with grease and brake dust smeared on his clothes, because he had stopped and helped someone on the side of the road change their tire. I remember when he woke up in the middle of the night and yelled for my mom to call 911 as he ran out the door because our neighbor's house across the street was on fire, and while kicking their front door to wake them up and warn them and turning their hose on at the same time, tried to help keep the flames down until the fire dept. arrived. I remember when our next door neighbor used to beat his wife so loud everyone outside could hear it, it was my dad who called the cops and stood in the front yard when they hauled him away, and when he screamed and cursed at my dad for it, my dad just stood there and said "Keep beating your wife bitch, and I'll keep sending your ass to jail for it!" He was the guy who would do something when other people would just walk by and pretend not to see what was happening, when they couldn't be bothered. My dad felt a personal responsibility to always do the right thing when he was able to. That's an amazing quality in a person, and unfortunately all too rare.
I remember when I heard the news about his tumor. I was speechless. Even now, I can't describe how I felt, I can only just feel it like it just happened. It's like finding out the sidewalk under your feet is about to fall away into nothingness and leave you hanging there. All I could think about was the years I had wasted being mad at him for trying to raise me right. All the time I was such a pain in the ass and all he ever did to deserve it was give a shit about what kind of man I would grow up to be. I cried like I've never cried before or since because I knew I had wasted so much time fighting with this guy, time that I was never going to get back. The doctors operated, removed the tumor and he went through chemo. It was a horrible time for me, so I can't even imagine what it must have been like for my dad. His memory wasn't the same, he talked a little slower, struggled with his words a little more and I could see the frustration in his face. He was used to being sharp as a tack, always on the ball, always first to pop off with a witty remark, and seeing him pause mid-sentence because he forgot what he was saying broke my heart. The doctors told him if the tumor came back, they wouldn't be able to do anything about it, so we hoped and prayed and made the best of it. When the tumor came back, the doctors told him he had 18 months. During that year and a half, I spent as much time as I could with my dad. I visited him, he visited me, we spoke on the phone. I was determined not to waste another minute. In that time, my dad told me a lot of things that he never spoke to me about before. Things about his life, his marriage, his values and principles. He spoke frankly to me in a way that he never had. He told me things I'll never tell another living soul, personal things that are special to me and I will keep inside me for the rest of my life. Things that let me know that my dad is so much more amazing than I already thought he was.
Eventually, the tumor got so big he couldn't talk anymore. It was the size of a softball when he finally went to the hospital. I saw him for the last time about 3 days before he died. He hugged me and held my hand and told me he loved me, as best he could through his horribly swollen face. Cancer is a motherfucker, it takes away the greatest people in the world, it turns them from the people you knew your whole life into sick, tired, suffering wrecks. It took the greatest guy I've ever known in my entire life, and it did it in 2 years.
Every time I do something that I know my dad would want to hear about, it feels like I swallowed a nail for a second. I get a brief, sickening pain in my stomach because the one guy I most want to tell about it isn't there to hear it. I finally married my wife, after 16 years together, and my dad wasn't there to see it. I got tattoos I know he would give me shit for, but he's not here for me to show him and laugh about. I've accomplished things that I'm proud of, like this blog for example, and he's not around to read it and tell me "Yeah, it sucks." and then smile that shit-eating grin as I tell him "F you old man!"
I want to believe there's a heaven, because I want to believe that my dad is up there and that he is still keeping an eye on me and watching my accomplishments, no matter how small, and that he's still able to feel proud of his son. I want to believe that one day I will see him again and we can catch up, apparently we'll have plenty of time to do it if these churchy bastards are right. Either way though, I know my dad still lives on in me. Every time I catch myself doing something he used to do, saying something he used to say, behaving in a way that he taught me to behave, I think to myself "Damn, I sound just like my dad." And that's a great fucking feeling.
I love you dad, and I miss you. Happy Father's Day and Happy Birthday, you will always be my hero.