Author’s Note: I published this entry on my father’s birthday for the first time in 2009. I still miss him and not only on his birthday, so I post it again today. This is the one post that gets picked up most by search engines. Other folks who missed their departed dads come here to read about mine. If you’re reading this, I wish that you were as lucky as I was in having known someone like my dad Gilberto. Blessings to yours and mine.
If my Dad was alive, today would have been his 81st birthday. He died in a car accident in Cuba in 1979. He was 47 years old. I almost died with him.
On a day like today, I am remembering his courage and his grace.
I would love to tell you a little bit about both.
We were in Cuba visiting the family we had left behind a decade earlier. Ours was one of the first groups to travel back to Cuba under the Family Reunification Act. This was a recent agreement of the Cuban and American governments that allowed family members living in the US the opportunity to visit relatives on the island.
Like a lot of Cuban families, ours had been split along political lines. After supporting the Revolution from its infancy, my Dad broke with it in the early Sixties. He felt the original promises of the Revolution — a return to democracy after Batista, with the Constitution of 1940 as guide — had been betrayed. He called the Castro gang the real counter-revolutionaries. After the nationalization of private property — including my Dad’s humble-single pump Sinclair station — and the declaration by Castro that communism, not democracy, was the future for Cuba, Dad filed the necessary paperwork for our family to emigrate to this country. I can only imagine the pain Dad must have felt leaving his family and friends behind to move to a country that spoke a different language and lived a different culture. He was only allowed to take with him the clothes he was wearing.
About a quarter of my family did the same thing. The other three quarters stayed behind with different degrees of involvement in the Castro government. Some close relatives, believers in and defenders of the Revolution, were high up in governmental circles. I loved these people as much as I loved the ones that made it across the Florida Straits. My Dad taught me that. I never heard him say one negative, unloving thing about any family member that had chosen differently than him. He had a big, accepting heart.
My Dad was a simple, honorable man. He believed in the promises of this country and he lived by it’s rules. He paid his taxes. He voted. He complained about Nixon and had forgiven JFK. Dad was a giving person. Because he had little financial wealth, he gave of his time. He taught most of my cousins how to drive and then took all of them to their driving test. He helped my cousin’s parents settle here, searching for decent apartments, helping with cleaning and painting and then helping with the move as well. He helped pay for my college tuition on a shoe salesman’s salary and he still managed to contribute to charity and worthy causes on a regular basis. He repaid an SBA loan on a failed business, even after the loan officer told him that he was crazy not to file for bankruptcy. He believed in keeping his word, my Dad.
On the day of his death, I saw my father embrace his older brother — who had refused to speak to him after Dad announced his intention to emigrate — with joy and acceptance. They cried together over my Grandpa’s tomb in a Havana cemetery. Dad was already living in the US when Grandpa died. It was as if nothing had happened between the brothers, except maybe a minor disagreement or a stupid argument. Dad was the most generous person I have ever known and he didn’t waste time in holding on to resentments.
I try to model my life after his. I am grateful that I got to know him. Sometimes I get pissed at God for reassigning him so early on. It doesn’t last long because I get that at least I got to know him. Occasionally when I see a friend who’s Dad is still around to go to a ball game together, I feel an envy that is deep and painful. I am saddened by the fact that he never met my wife or my kids or some of my friends, but I know he would have approved. I also work on being the the kind of father to my daughter and son that he was to me. So far, that’s working out real well.
So many people came to my father’s funeral, that not everyone could fit inside
I read somewhere: “A man is not dead if he’s not forgotten.” I think those were the words. Thanks for letting me keep his memory alive. I just want to remember my old man and hear about yours. Thanks.