To My Papo

I wish I had weeks to celebrate Father’s Day, instead of one rushed day before we enter the dark chaos that is the final week of school. Weeks would barely be enough time to tell him how much I admire, respect, and adore him.

My father, or as I call him, “Papo,” is the most amazing man in my life. His life story is almost unbelievable.

Papo grew up in tough circumstances, and those circumstances seemed to want to wrap themselves around him and never let go. Life was never easy for him.

He had every right to turn out exactly like the mean cur of a stepfather he had growing up. He had every right to grow up angry, bitter, and hateful.

At one point, he told me, that he vowed to never be like the men he had known in his life. He would be a good man, husband, and father.

Let me tell you: he kept that vow. He is an amazing man, husband, and father.

Before he met me, he had put himself through veterinary school, where he met my mom. They set out to start a life and family together, but those pesky, unrelenting circumstances caught up with them and they left it all to move here and start again.

My Papo had to work three jobs when we got here. I was three, so my memory is hazy, but I can remember emotions. I was always happy. I always felt safe. I always felt loved. He never, ever let on how tired he was. He would always smile when he saw me. He would always play with me.

After a few years as a welder, he decided to go back to school to become a teacher. I remember feeling jealous that I would have to share my Papo with these kids.

Together, we would work on his papers. He would tell me what he wanted to say in Spanish, and I would type it out in English. I could tell that sometimes he was frustrated, because the words that I clumsily typed out didn’t match the depth of feeling he had about educating others.

He has taught me so much. So many lessons about life, love, and what it means to be a good person. Because he is the best person I know.

Even in some of my worst rages (I had quite the temper growing up) he would simply raise his eyebrows. Even when I said horribly mean things just to hurt his feelings, he would nod quietly and just say, “okay, mija. Okay,” and then walk away. He maybe raised his voice to scolding volume a handful of times, and I can tell you wholeheartedly that I deserved it.

Once, I slammed the door to my room, angry about some assuredly trivial, petty, teenage angst-ridden problem. I heard his heavy footsteps come down the hall and he threw the door open again.

“Hey!” he said, pointing at the door.

“What?” I said, my petulance pervading the room.

“Why did you slam this door?” he asked in Spanish. “Eh? Porque?” 

I looked at him like he had lost his mind. I was ready to yell about why I had been completely wronged by him and he wanted to focus on the door?

“Because I’m mad,” I sputtered, still trying to figure out his angle.

“What,” he started, sighing, “has this door ever done to you? What has this house ever done to you besides shelter you, feed you, and keep all of your belongings safe?” He knitted his eyebrows together as he peered at me, waiting for an answer.

“It’s not about the door!” I said, just wanting him to go away so I could marinate in my adolescent angst.

“Then why did you slam it?” he asked, his voice even.

I remember gaping at him, my mouth opening and closing like some guppy with bad eyebrows (I inherited my dad’s strong, Spanish eyebrows that also bear some resemblance to the chef on Sesame Street. In middle school I didn’t know how to tame them).  I had no good answer. I just turned away and pouted.

But that’s how he does things. He takes his frustration and anger and tries to teach instead. I’m sure he gets angry. I’m sure that he has been unbearably upset at those circumstances that, one year after he had gotten his teaching licence, landed him the hospital for a quadruple bypass surgery. Right after losing his brother and mother to the very disease that threatened to take him from my mother and I.

Instead, he perseveres. Through it all, he perseveres with a strength and quiet fortitude that astounds me.

He is the bravest, strongest, most loving man I know.

I strive to look at the world as he does. To look at all people and see the good. To look at any situation and find the lesson in it. To see every day as a gift, and to call it a good day so long as there’s salsa in the fridge and The Beatles on the radio.

He has the courage to stare those terrible circumstances in the eye and tell it to fuck off. Then he has the grace and kindness to offer those circumstances some coffee or lunch, because there is no situation that can’t begin to mend with some decent food in your stomach. Especially his Mexican rice.

I know I will never cook as well as he does, but I hope that I can someday have his courage, his strength, his passion for life, and his resolute optimism about the world.  I’m not quite there yet (nowhere near, actually) but I know that with his guidance, I can get close.

Recently, a student slammed a door in my classroom, and before I knew it, I was asking him, “Why did you slam that door? What has that door ever done to you?” knitting my eyebrows, just like my Papo.




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