The person I am today is mostly because of the influence of my father.
He was the man who taught me how to play chess. Now I know how to play it, and yet I am not very good at it. Doesn’t matter. We still taught how to play chess to my niece and nephew and I intend on showing friends who don’t know the moves how to play chess even if we never actually play.
He was the man who taught me a love of story. He always had so many. He was constantly telling them. There was the story from his early military days about how he got lost from his group in Korea for three days. It was the early 50’s, he was in a segregated group for the Puerto Ricans, and it was his first time off the island. Somehow he managed to survive by hiding out in houses and continuing in the same direction he thought they had been heading when he ran across another group of Americans. He couldn’t tell them who he was because he spoke no English at the time, but when he started speaking Spanish they knew who he was right away. He said when he was reunited with the Puerto Ricans, they were so happy to see him they almost carried him off.
He would always repair things, cracking them open to take a look at how he could fix them. I learned that things didn’t have to be thrown away– my dad could make them work and I could keep them forever. (In truth, he probably just could not afford to buy anything new unnecessarily, and he couldn’t stand seeing his daughter cry about her favorite broken toy.)
He had a love of animals that ran deep. He used to get so upset when my mother brought home pets, but it was only because he hated to get attached and watch them die. The only time I ever saw him sob was when he had to take our dog Shadow to the vet to be put down. Unfortunately for my dad, animals loved him. Every new dog my mom got for herself ended up at my dad’s side.
He loved to make people laugh. King of the Dad jokes I say. He would tell the most groan worthy non-puns. Just a few months ago, we went out shopping and as he walked up to the counter, he leaned in with his eyebrows raised and asked the bored-looking cashier, “What do you do if I can’t pay? Will you buy it for me?”
My dad let me be myself. I’ve always been a slightly strange kid, and he never made me feel that way. He put up with me making up super long stories over my picture books before I could read, and he looked over barely legible stories written in pencil that made no sense. If he couldn’t understand it, he would tell me so. He never made me feel strange. He supported my habits, helping me find boxes to store my comics in or buying me a cassette case to hold my old Teddy Ruxspin tapes in. He was always there for every performance (usually with my big sister, Aida, at his side). He handed me his Royal typewriter when I said I needed to learn to write faster and taught me how to type using all of my fingers (even though he really only used two, he just explained the theory.) After the typewriter stopped being enough, we went out and got the 486 computer that I still have.
Monday night, he had a heart attack. I managed to squeeze his hand in the hospital room as they prepped for operation. Before they wheeled him off I looked him in his eyes one last time. We always said “I love you.” After my sister, everyone always says it in place of good-bye. I didn’t say it, but I didn’t have to. That man was the world to me, and he knew it.