Some of you may already know that my father passed away last night after a year-long battle with ALS.
Some of you may also know that I received the news from Facebook, or rather, from a Facebook post publicized by his pastor within hours of his demise, who I’m sure was given permission to share the news by my father’s wife, Miriam. Because being a good person only matters if everyone knows.
And so here we are.
My father, Jose, the only father I know, was a complicated man. I don’t know the impression that he left with church friends in his last years, but the man I remember loved his weekend parties, his salsa, his Budweisers and his Malboros.
He was also a man who resented his domestication. The man meant well for the most part, but he showed that he cared in the most ass-backwards ways, thinking that because he had a job and he came home every night, he was A Good Man. The threats of violence and emotional intimidation? It was still better than the way his own parents raised him.
His favorite phrase was, “Yo, el hombre de la casa!” (“Me, the man of the house!”) Followed by some complaint about an unfair indignity he had to suffer through, like sweeping after he got home from work or something. He said this so much that when Good Charlotte’s, “Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous” was popular and my sister and I would sing the chorus randomly, (“always complaining, always complaining.”), he thought we were talking about him.
He had no patience for idle activities, often hovering over me while I would be reading a book, asking me if I had nothing better to do. If I was done with my homework early, he’d yell at me to do more work, not understanding that that’s not how homework works. How could I explain to the man that as the youngest in my class I was already a freak? I didn’t. Instead in high school I stopped doing homework all together. Out of sight, out of mind.
He was unsatisfied and unhappy with his life, often putting the burden on us to provide him with the happiness he could not find himself. Often expecting us to answer the questions he could not formulate.
He would often control little pieces of our lives to feel powerful. When my sister and I shared a room, he put a phone in our room and took it back within hours because we were using it. He would listen in on our phone calls. He would hide the mouse to our computer so we’d have to ask permission to use it, not knowing I knew what F keys are for. And when he got into his moods, it was only a matter of time until he found something, anything, no matter how small, to be angry about for the rest of the day.
When I was a teenager, I’d had enough. I was not okay with being humiliated, sometimes publicly, because of his moods. I started talking back, sometimes physically blocking him from my sister, and after he moved out for the last time, I was the one who made it clear to him that he was not welcome back.
My entire adult life has been an exercise in untangling myself from him. He mourned that I never contacted him, but his attitude had not changed and I had nothing to say. And after he started dating his wife Miriam, the nastiness only continued through her.
He divorced my mother on the same day my sister graduated from college. He got married on Father’s Day and did not invite my sister or myself, and only informed my mother after the fact, and it was that one single event that gave me the excuse to cut him off forever.
I was ready to let my father die without forgiving him. I knew that my silence hurt him more than anything, and when I learned of his diagnosis, I thought: Good. Now he’s going to know what it’s like to need compassion, and patience, and understanding. Now he’s going to know what it’s like to be depressed, and small, and sick, and depend on others. Now he is going to know what it feels like to be powerless.
I was ready to let my father die without forgiving him, but in the end, it was Miriam’s nastiness that allowed me to forgive him. Miriam was nasty to my mother until the very end, and in part, my father allowed it because it made him the center of attention. But then, she blocked my sister from seeing him, and that’s where I drew the line.
It was one thing for a disease to break down his body. It was another for one person to take it upon herself to decide who had access to my father after he could no longer speak for himself. I did not want a bully for the bully. I just wanted the bully to learn compassion, to understand others unlike him, and to find his happiness himself.
In the end, I reached out, sending him a series of messages to let him know I did not take any joy in his humiliation. That I did not wish this for him. In the end, my sister was able to see him again, and she made sure to tell him I was no longer angry at him. He died the next day.
I am my father’s daughter. He taught me my temper and my impatience. But he also taught me how to dance. He taught me to love music. He inadvertently taught me to speak up for myself, to hold my ground, to not be afraid of men twice my size. He taught me not to be intimidated, to stand up for what I believe in, to depend on logic above all else.
He also taught me to avoid men like him: men who are wholly unsatisfied in their lives, the kind of men who would expect something from me that I do not have or cannot give.
But in the end, he may have taught me how to forgive.
In the end, yes, I am sad, not because my daddy died, but sad for the relationship we never had. I’m sad that it took a rare disease, and muscle death, and intubation, and a oxygen mask for him to really realize all that he had.
I need to believe that in the end, he realized all that he had.
May you finally find peace, dad. May you finally find some peace.