I once watched my father leave us in the middle of family dinner to break up a fight between the drunk neighbor and his even drunker brother that we barely knew because the wife called our house in a panic.
Our family living room was more like a counseling center the way that family, friends and mere acquaintances stopped by on weeknights and weekends to visit with Papi and seek his counsel. Papi always listened to them and prayed with them, in spite of the fact that he was often finishing a twelve-hour work day or a six-day work week and had a dinner that was growing cold on the kitchen table.
That old man of mine taught me how to take the time to buy food for the homeless. He would walk and talk with people in the most need and purchase a family dinner for them before looking them in the eyes and telling them how precious and special they were to God.
A few months ago, I sat next to him on a plane on the way to a family funeral and watched as he pulled out an Ivory Hallmark card with gold embellishments and a gold engraving that read, “Con El Mas Sentido Pesame.” I asked how much he was giving, out of curiosity, and when he told me I could not help but comment on how much this trip was costing him.
He gave me a big smile, his braces gleaming in between his thin lips. “I’m not taking anything with me when I die”, he said with the tenderness of a father bestowing wisdom to his first born.
When I looked outside this morning and saw sheets of rain crashing against brick buildings and threatening to break off tree branch limbs, I was overcome with a sense of catharsis.
I could not help but think of my viejo sitting in his recliner, reading his bible next to countless storms and downpours on display in the front three windows of our childhood home. He always said that the rain brought him peace of mind. The pitter patter of raindrops against the security bars that protected our window panes was his soundtrack for the most relaxing and productive of days. And I came to learn to love the rain, just like him.
I have only seen my father get mad once in my lifetime, a lifetime full of memories in which my father is very much present. I was seven or eight years old. I watched his face turned a purple shade of red as Mami told him the news at the dinner table.
From what I remember, Mami hadn’t yet served his food when he threw his dinner plate against the kitchen wall. I watched the white porcelain plate shatter into countless pieces, so many that I knew no amount of superglue could reconstruct the mess back into functioning dinnerware.
In recent years, I asked him what was going through his mind in that moment of rage. He told me he wanted to kill the man that violated his daughter. He told me that the God he knows and lives with left him for a moment and all that was clear in his mind was revenge.
But then he thought about me growing up without a father if he went to prison, and he told me that one thought put everything back into perspective. He figured I would need his guidance and presence growing up more than I needed retribution. He was right.
Even in his anger, my father was cautious and considerate in his approach.
And for that one decision, I am forever grateful.
***This is Week 20 in the #52essays2017 challenge started by Vanessa Mártir.