Saturday, June 18, 2016
Father's Day - A Personal Post
Whenever I hear those sounds I think of my dad. Its the sound of playing catch with him when I was a kid. My dad lived for baseball the way I do for boxing. And he was damn good too.
He'd always threw the ball too hard for me. I was terrified. The whiifff sound was the noise the ball made as it cut through the air on its way towards my head. Snap was the sound when it hit my glove, usually followed by some grunt of pain from under my breath.
I hated playing catch with my dad when I was little. But I learned from it. I learned that life wasn't ever going to take it easy on you and that if you didn't learn how to catch life's problems, even if it hurts a little bit, its better than letting it hit you right between the eyes.
As I got older, I learned even more. I learned that once you catch that ball, turn around and fire back as hard as you can. I can still remember the first time I did that too. I was 11 and playing little league. I finally stopped being afraid of the balls my dad threw and starting getting mad. My dad could see it on my face. He saw my eyes water with anger. He even asked me, "Are you getting mad son?"
"Yes!" I screamed.
Now I was embarrassed because it was in front of the rest of the team.
"Then do something about it Rag Arm". That was my nickname during baseball season because I couldn't throw as well as my kid brother.
I think he threw it even harder that time. I reared back and let it loose, straight at my dad's face. I wanted to catch him right between the eyes.
He caught it like it was a routine catch. Lesson: When somebody gives it to you, give it back and aim for the head.
After we were done my dad walked up to me, pulled my cap down over my eyes and said, "'Bout time Rag Arm". He had a million nicknames for me. Actually for everyone. None of the siblings in my family are called by their real name on a regular basis except me. Pedro is Pete, Margarita is Maga, Relles is Ray Boy, Pablo is Paulie, Eleanor is Lala, and Helen is Pima.
Now I don't know if my dad was actually trying to teach me something that day or not, but I learned a lot.
He loved baseball so much that when we were kids my dad would take us out of school to go catch opening day of spring training every year. At that time it was the only professional baseball in Arizona. He had a beer and peanuts. We shared a soda and a big red licorice rope.
Our political conversations were very much the same. It was a lot like playing catch. Only the older I got, the better I got at catching and firing back. My dad was the best prep for talk radio ever. He made me defend any position I took starting at a young age. Eventually I became better at it than he was.
But I could never throw harder.
I miss my dad, like many of you that no longer have yours. And if you know me personally, then you know I really looked up to my dad. We all tend to idealize people once they're gone and I guess I am the victim of a little hero worship of my pop. But if you are going to hero worship, why not let it be someone who shaped your life?
My earliest memory of my father was when my Tata Remigio died. Remigio is my middle name and it might as well have been my first name because we were so close. Closer than I was to my father at the time.
My dad was the one who broke the news to me about his passing. I remember it was the first time someone tried to explain the concept of death to me. I started crying when they lowered the casket in the ground. My dad nudged me and whispered in my ear, "Abeytia's don't cry."
That became something my dad said to his children and grandchildren regularly. It became a saying in the family, usually when one of the kids fell down, scraped a knee, or was throwing a fit about something.
Fast-forward to September 13, 1994 at Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I was a 19 year old soldier at the time and a newly wed. I had married my first wife, Sandra Abeytia in February. She had complications in her pregnancy and they had to take the baby out early to try to save her.
We were hundreds of miles away from home and family. My dad was the first family member from either side of the family to show up when she first entered the hospital from Fort Sill a couple weeks before. We'd take turns sitting by bedsides, either my wife's or our baby girls. I named her Sandra after her mother. She was born on August 29th, and after a couple of weeks fighting for her life, my wife died.
My dad had gone back to Arizona during that time and my mother had come and gone as well. It was a lot of time off of work for them to take off and it turned out that none of my family was there with me when she passed away. I drove home alone to Arizona to bury my wife.
I was 19 and suddenly a widower and single dad. My parents and family nursed me through that time. I tried to hold back the tears, I guess out of some stupid idea of what it meant to be strong. But I broke lose when my dad put his hand on my shoulder and told me it was okay to cry.
Its still a bad habit I have. I still try to hold things in because "Abeytia's don't cry".
A few years later, my Nana passed away. She was my dad's mother-in-law. My father cried. I put my arms around him and told him, "Abeytia's don't cry."
I made a lot of bad decisions in my life and my dad was always there. Either to scold me, tell me I told ya so, or to just listen. Sometimes to get drunk with and listen to sad oldies or mariachi songs. And sometimes, to just play catch.
My dad had health scares since he was in his 30's and had a quadruple by-pass. Every couple of years there after, my dad was in the hospital for this or for that. After a while, you harden up to health scares. Eventually we had strange conversations like, "Hey, dad's in the hospital again."
"Is it serious?"
"Nah, just another heart attack."
But toward the end of his life, the hospital stays and brushes with death become more and more regular. I took advantage of what my dad once called "over-time". The last visit I had with my pop was the Thanksgiving before he passed. I sat and talked with him for hours about every beef I ever had with him. From throwing the ball too hard, to mistreating my mother, to hitting us too often and too hard when we were little.
My dad apologized for every wrong he'd ever done and I apologized for everything I had ever done. I hugged him and we cried. And I told him, "Stop dad, Abeytia's don't cry."
He said, "then stop being a pussy and quit your crying."
We both laughed.
The rest of the time I spent with him then was spent just listening to and documenting stories of his activist days. I recorded them and I listen to them every Father's Day and his birthday.
Dad died the following February. Before he died I got a phone call from my tia telling me that it was time to come home because my dad only had a few hours left. Pop hung around for 13 days. Everyone got a chance to say their good-byes to him.
Dad was a die-hard Dodger fan. At some point later in the day when my dad died, someone noticed what the day was. It was the day that pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. It all made sense.
He asked me to give his eulogy. Up until recently, it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I literally bit back the tears as I eulogized my father. I kept hearing my dad's voice in my head saying "Abeytia's don't cry".
Dad loved his grandchildren more than anything. The stern disciplinarian with a short temper and a long belt was quickly replaced by a gentle Tata with an abundance of patience and affection for the second generation.
I often wonder if every father looks at their kids the same way I do. I wonder if every other dad thinks their kids are the most beautiful, handsome, intelligent, kind-hearted, and talented kids God ever put on this planet. I guess we can't all be right about that, but luckily I am.
I can't be with my kiddos this Father's Day and those of you that are my friends know I'm going through some tough times right now. I wish I could be with them. I wish I had them with me.
And I wish I had one more day with my dad. I could use his consejos right now.
Most of all, I could use one more good game of catch.
I love and miss you dearly Dad.
Posted by The Lion Star at 8:00 AM