I’ve written a lot about my father here on this blog over the years. Stories and anecdotes about his life, his work, his sacrifices and the little things that make him unique. Ive written about how he brought the family over from Cuba in the prime of his life with nothing but the clothes on his back and sheer determination to keep us safe, to keep us free and to provide us with a fruitful future. Ive written also on how hard he has had to work his entire life, sometimes two or three jobs at a time and how I never really got to play catch with the old man. Or how we rarely went fishing or camping or to baseball games like most kids do with their fathers.
But regardless of the fact that as a kid I didnt get to spend all that much quality time with the old man, I always knew that he loved me. I always knew that he was proud of me and wanted me to succeed. I always knew that all that hard work that he put in 12 hours a day, every day, was for me. So I would always have food on my plate. So I always had new clothes. So I wouldnt need to go barefoot. So I could have that Huffy bike for Christmas. One way or another the old man was always there for me.
When the older kids in the neighborhood picked on me an beat me up once and Id gone home crying, my old man didnt storm over to their houses and demand an apology from the kids and their parents. No. My old man took me aside, told me to stop crying and explained to me that in life, you just cant let people push you around. And when I told him almost through tears that they were older and bigger, he didnt urge me to back away and run home. No.
“If they’re older and bigger than you,” he said. “Find yourself a big stick and whack the shit outta them.”
And when I got in trouble with mom that one time because I had done exactly that – except that the stick had been a two-by-four with nails sticking out the end and I had basiclly stabbed the crap out of Frank the neighborhood bully – the old man didnt spank me, he didnt punish me. He supported me. He didnt condone the use of that nail ridden two-by, but hey, the kid was bigger and nastier and sometimes people get whats coming to them. Frank the neighborhood bully never pushed me around again. Come to think of it, no one ever pushed me around again. I think the old man was a bit proud of teh fact that Id listened to his advice and stood up for myself.
At the tail end of ninth grade, we were all herded into the auditorium at Citrus Grove Junior High for the annual awards ceremony. That’s when they gave out those awards for attendance and scholastic achievement and such. I remember being incredibly bored, messing around with my pals as they called different students up for their drama awards, or their math awards and such. As I sat there with my buddy Gerry, joking around, making fun of this or that, I heard my name called. It was a bit of a shock, actually. I wasnt the best student nor did I have perfect attendance nor was I particularly good at math or sports or science or anything. I was just your average,everyday, run of the mill student.
But my name was called and my teacher urged me to get up and go up to the stage so I did. As I made my way to the front of the auditorium, there on stage were two older gentlemen in uniform waiting for me. They held a placque in their hands. I had been awarded the American Legion Award. And as I accepted the award from the two veterans, right there, in the audience, front row center, dressed in a suit and tie, was my old man giving me a standing ovation.
Today is the old man’s 77th birthday. And after work we’ll head over to their home and have dinner and cut him a cake and sing him Happy Birthday and give him a birthday gift or two. And he’ll smilingly tear open the gift wrap, open the fancy boxes and pull out the shirts or belts or colognes he’s received and then thank us with a hug or a kiss. Yet, the best gift he receives today will be all around him. Having his wife and children and grandchildren and great grandchildren there with him and knowing that that decision he made back oh so many years ago and the sacrifices and sweat and worry and hard work have truly paid off. Every single one of us there today with him are the product of his life.
It is he, my old man, who truly deserves the standing ovation.
Happy Birthday, Dad! And thank you.
You can get to know him a little better by reading the following:
The Gospel of Bonachea
How to get runover by your own truck.
Turkey and Lard